Slaves in Workfare

If you want to live here, earn it!


There is a lot in the press this week about workfare and the idea of poor jobless fellows becoming mindless drones, slaving away at a supermarket’s shelves without decent compensation.

Up goes the shout: Slavery!

When I was out of work (thirteen times in thirteen years before I employed myself), one of the worst aspects of unemployment was the total lack of communication with other people. Old colleagues were themselves looking for work, others proved that they didn’t value my friendship as much as I had hoped and didn’t help me search for work, and what with that and the inability to go to a pub to socialize because of the cost, I was left alone and miserable.

I did go once, and a guy I’d considered a friend offered to help me by buying my Morgan. I had nothing else left of value, all my savings from my twenties were gone, but I still had my Plus 8. That car was my pride and joy – but I had nothing else. It represented something of value.

Well, my drinking companion offered me less than half its value. When I pointed out it was worth rather more, he told me yes, but I needed the money urgently.

I still miss this car. Waited ten years for it to be built, and lost her in less than half that time!

Oddly enough I never drank with him again. I don’t like people who try to take advantage.

Still, missing company is one of the worst aspects of unemployment. It is the first issue that people contend with. The sudden loss of work means an equivalent loss of confidence and sense of shame, as if it’s the worker’s fault that it all went wrong.

For them it is hard, but for those who have never had a job, it’s probably still harder to motivate themselves. It’s not easy. Much easier to stay at home and hope it’ll go away. Smoke a cigarette, drink another beer, watch mind-numbingly poor television, and wait for someone to call.

The real world isn’t like that.

Some weeks ago, I was looking at a BBC page here – if you look down, you see lots of interesting detail about a family on benefits. For one, their weekly shopping includes 24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco. I had to give up all smoking when I lost a job, and haven’t started again. I had to stop drinking too. Now, apparently, I’m paying for someone else to enjoy the pursuits I had to stop all those years ago!

There’s more. They have a budget for “entertainment”. Not sure what that is. Ah, but there’s “Sky TV” in there. That’s nice. I still can’t afford that now. But at least my taxes go towards someone else’s enjoyment of it.

Now, I’m not sure that too many people who are working shifts to fill the supermarket shelves can necessarily afford Sky either.

In the real world, people get up and go to work. They find jobs – any jobs – that pay minimal amounts, so that they can go out at the end of the week and have a couple of drinks with friends. They don’t enjoy it much, who does, really? But they know that nothing in life is free. If they want beer, they have to earn to buy it. If they want a television, they need to save to get the money together.

And the people who stack the shelves at the supermarkets up and down the country work not because they want to, necessarily. It is menial work: drudgery. But their taxes go to pay the living standards of those who remain on benefits.

Often those in supermarkets are only there a short time. They move up into other jobs, in retail or some other line, and finally discover a career that they do enjoy. But that is the point. People need to try out different jobs before learning what it is that they will want to do for life.

There are many who deserve benefits. The disabled, the ill, the old. But of those who can, they should work. No one should expect a free ride.

It seems absolutely crazy that people who are unemployed – and I don’t mean the disabled or elderly, I mean those capable and strong enough to earn their own living – are paid the equivalent of £35,000 to be unemployed. It is far more than the guys filling the shelves who are employed by the supermarkets – the ones who pay taxes so that the unemployed can have their incomes covered.

In the same way, I do not understand why people should be allowed to stay in council housing when they get back into work.

Council housing was always intended as a stop-gap to help those in most need while they needed it. It was not intended as a gift. Yet now if a family goes out of work, they can be rehoused and will remain there, paying lower rents, in a larger house than they could afford if they were working, and then, in a supreme ironic gesture, I am sure, then they can expect to be offered the house at a massive discount after some years.


Is there any other benefit that offers gifts once the period of difficulty is passed? It is absolute madness to throw away our Council housing stock in this way. Houses should be provided to those who have a passing need for a house, but it should be assumed that if they become fit and well, they should go and find work, and find their own property. The house should then go to the next deserving family in need, just as used to happen in the past.

If you want to live here, earn it!Harsh? No. I never had my mortgage interest paid when I was out of work. I didn’t expect it. And recently there have appeared too many examples of senior politicians and trades union leaders who not only enjoy great incomes, but who also have council flats or houses. It is ridiculous that men and women with good incomes should be permitted to take houses and keep them at low rents, blocking those properties from much more needy and deserving people (Bob Crow, head of RMT union, earning £145,000 a year but using a subsidised council house; Frank Dobson, MP’s salary of over £80,000 a year plus allowances and subsidised food, drink and living costs, but has a council house as well as his other properties).

But a first pass at helping the unemployed would certainly include helping them to get out of their houses, and into working environments, where they can make friends with new people, get themselves motivated, perhaps even expose themselves to the risk of getting a job.


7 Responses to “Slaves in Workfare”
  1. Stormkhan says:

    I’ve heard Bob Crow and his close cronies yapping about their mates extra-marital affairs … in a pub after a Union “meeting” while they spent the members subs on a +£100 bar tab. They all sounded like fat, over-privileged businessmen gossiping after talking about “the working mans wage”.

    Once, Unions represented the workers, fighting against the over-privileged employers.
    Now, the Union leaders want to be politicians.
    Once, politicians represented their constituents in a fair democracy.
    Now, politicians come from University to earn lots of money by repeating the Party line while trousering a bundle of expenses.

    So where does that leave us – the ordinary folk?

    Not represented by Unions, not represented by politicians and seeing a lot of money being pushed around, disappearing and excused as “unaccountable”. We see dim, teenage footballers being paid more per week than an MP earns in a year … and yet it’s all “acceptable”? I don’t advocate rebellion or riot – rioters tend to be more concerned with material gain than politics – but I despair that so many people can be so damned THICK!


    • Bob Crow is a deplorable man, and a disgrace. But like you, short of rebellion, I don’t see a way around him. It just sticks in my craw the way that he can swan around slurping cocktails and champagne (photos in Guido Fawkes) over lunches, earn that much money, and still claim to be a representative of hard up people, when his tube drivers earn about £50,000, and he’s living in council accommodation at hugely reduced rates! Makes me fume!


  2. Mike, you seem to see being out of work as something in need of being punished. I agree with you on people who show no inclination to work, But something I disagree with in general is the idea that if you rent, you get housing benefit to help you keep a roof over your head. that is fair. If you own your property (with mortgage) you get nothing, just the mercy of your mortgage company. Savings go very quickly in that case, and the mortgage company is not always sympathetic.
    Yes, I do think that council houses should not be something to be given for life, but where do you draw the line?
    Yes, I have been Long term unemployed, and the equivalent of workfare helped me get vital experience and references to get a job, BUT stacking shelves in tescos helps no-one except the large supermarket get free labour, it leads to nothing. However, since 1992, I have been out of work on a couple of occasions, and each time, found a job within a month, It’s called being proactive, pushing yourself out there. Each time, the Job centre was less than encouraging and helpful, actually telling me I was doing too much jobhunting (yes!). My answer, sack the lot of them, replace them with those who actually know how it feels to be out of work, and tempt recruitment consultants into higher positions, all targeted to get people working. The attitude would disappear and less people would be out of work longer term.


    • My experience was not dissimilar. Banks, building societies, and job centres, were all hopeless. No, I don’t think punishing the guys trying to get work is right, though. Read the piece and you’ll see that I’m on the side of the poor devils. My argument is, it isn’t all about money. It’s about self-esteem, finding people in the same boat, and having some kind of meaning to life. I’d have snatched at the chance of any kind of work when I lost my jobs (13 in 13 years, as I said). In the end I had no choice and had to start working for myself because there were no companies that would take me on. I was lucky, sure, but I don’t look on the supermarket jobs as a bad idea. Anything that gets people out of their homes, away from the bleak despair of four walls, is a good idea.


  3. Lenny says:

    The same problem here. Of course we just extended our unemployment for another 99 weeks. Lol. That makes six years for some. Also it seems only 48% aren’t paying any income tax. Still get tax refunds too. Lol


  4. Ian Morson says:

    While I agree wholeheartedly with you about the family on benefits who have Sky, booze, fags, and mobile phones, I didn’t understand your comment about council housing. Where did you get the idea such housing was a ‘stopgap’? It was intended originally as decent housing for ‘the working classes’, when the private sector was providing only slums. There was never any suggestion that people be thrown out of them when they started earning decent money.
    I also have to say I am uneasy about profitable concerns such as Tesco making more profits by taking on unpaid workers provided by the state. Yes, give jobseekers an opportunity to choose such work if they can’t find anything paid, but don’t provide it as a stark alternative to losing benefits. Now, if it were possible to find socially useful or charitable work for longterm jobseekers or those on benefits, then that’s another matter.


    • knotrune says:

      Your last comment is something I’ve thought should be obvious for a long time. So much needing to be done, even more now because of cuts, all those people with time on their hands and nothing to do. Such a wide range of voluntary work possible, from charity shops, litter picking, nursing homes where elderly and dying people are cared for as best they can be by overworked staff where volunteers even just spending time with the inmates would help, to manning our libraries or even managing charities if that’s where their skill set lies. So much they could do, and some do it, but not all. It makes more sense to me than having them work for a rich corporation!


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