Step away from forced work experience scheme, charities

Step away from forced work experience scheme, charities

Step away from forced work experience scheme, charities5

Governance | Celina Ribeiro | 20 Feb 2012

Accepting involuntary labour is the last thing that charities should be doing, says Celina Ribeiro. The government’s work experience scheme is a threat to public trust and confidence.

On the weekend, campaigners shut down the Tesco Express across from the seat of government in protest after the supermarket giant advertised for a shelf-stacker at the wage of Job Seekers’ Allowance – plus expenses. So, in essence, work for the cost of the train ticket you used to get in to work.

Payment – or lack thereof - in this way is possible under the government’s controversial work experience scheme, which requires jobseekers to complete 30 hours of work a week for up to eight weeks at an employer, such as a company, charity or public sector organisation.

Really, the Westminster Tesco Express is a bit crap anyway. More of a corridor than a supermarket. But store layout aside, this issue is toxic. Forcing people to work in jobs that may otherwise be filled by paid employees or volunteers has got unions, politicians and even the companies themselves – yes, Sainsbury’s and Waterstone’s have expressed their discomfort about accepting work for no pay – riled. And yet some charities remain on the wrong side of history here.

. Marie Curie has backed away - but not before Sainsbury’s did – and Shelter stopped using the programme last year. Calling around the top charity retailers in the country this morning, I was pleased to find that Oxfam, British Red Cross and Age UK have not taken part in the scheme. I’m still waiting to hear back from many others.

There should have been more of these charity abstainers.

Charities, unlike companies, can legitimately draw on and recruit volunteers. Why then would they want to muddy their hands with getting involved in a scheme which threatens to penalise those volunteers with removing their benefits? This type of ‘volunteering’ potentially pushes those people working for free into a situation of no or greatly reduced income, and therefore capacity, to support themselves.

No. This is one clunky ‘Big Society’ madcap plan that charities should have smelled a mile off. Government has been able to sweeten the distastefulness of this scheme, not just by Chris Grayling labelling those against it as “job snobs”, but by including charities among the employers which these volunteers may lock themselves into working for. What right minded Middle-Englishman would oppose the requirement that the long term unemployed lend a hand to their local, beloved charity shop?

But charities should not be with Tesco and its zero-pounds-an-hour shelf stackers on this one. It’s time that the other charities involved in this scheme either identify the true value their work experience programme is providing their government-supplied volunteers, or retreat. If it’s good enough for 99p Stores, it’s good enough for the organisations that purport to uphold beliefs of social justice and human dignity. 

31 Jan 2014

Oxfam does engage in other schemes, a lot of their volenteers are not little old ladys with time to spare as of old, but people sent from job centres and training schemes. They are treated with contempt by full time staff and are KPI'ed, something that does not happen with 'real volenteers'.

21 Feb 2012

I think the intention is to persuade indolent youth that if they are going to have to work for their benefits they might as well start applying for some of the jobs currently going to the more industrious and less fussy youth from Eastern Europe.

Dave Soper
Funding Advisor
The Ark Trust Ltd
21 Feb 2012

Charities and voluntary organisations already benefit from millions of hours of free labour. Many positions that used to be paid are now taken up by volunteers.

This seems a strange thing for charities to step away from.

Eluned Hughes
Training Manager
Volunteer Centre Liverpool
22 Feb 2012
Response to [Dave Soper]

I think the point here is that when people 'volunteer' they choose when, what and how they get involved. It is something they choose to do, not made to do to receive benefits or have them removed if they do not get involved. Furthermore volunteers are there to assist the service a charity provides. Though I agree that in some cases faced with no service to those in need or using volunteers more is a decision some charities have made

6 Mar 2012
Response to [Eluned Hughes]

No the point is that I, as a hard working disabled tax payer who volunteers in a number of places, object to supporting people who may have made a career choice either not to work at all, or only at certain "select" jobs. I am in a job that is not my ideal but the fact is I’m trying to maintain my financial independence. Some of these people might as well start applying for some of the jobs currently going to the more industrious and less fussy from abroad so tax payers don’t have to support them. There is however a fine line between exploitation and doing a decent days work either as a paid worker, volunteer or a person on benefits who is required to invest some sweat equity in receiving benefits.


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Celina Ribeiro

Celina Ribeiro is the commissioning editor of Fundraising Magazine and contributor to Civil Society News.

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