Unemployed young people will be required to work 30 hours a week for charities and community services across the UK or lose benefits, prime minister David Cameron said today.
But charity sector leaders have reacted with caution to the claim, with some saying the plans are not thought through and that charities should refuse to be involved, and others saying that it has the potential to be effective but needs to be distinguished carefully from volunteering.
In plans unveiled by the Conservative party, “neets” aged between 18 and 21 who have not been in employment, education or training for six months, will no longer receive Jobseeker's Allowance.
Instead, under new Conservative proposals, they will be switched to a “youth allowance”, paid at the same rate as Jobseeker's Allowance – at £57.35 a week.
Under the new plans, young people on the allowance for more than six months will be required to work for local charities, or to do other community work such as make meals for older people or clean up litter and graffiti, or lose their benefits.
And young people who have never worked will be required to do community work from the day they sign on.
"What these young people need is work experience and the order and discipline of turning up for work each day,” Cameron will announce today.
"So a Conservative government would require them to do daily community work from the very start of their claim, as well as searching for work."
'Punitive rather than positive'
George Bangham, a policy officer at chief executives body Acevo told Civil Society News: “Our member chief executives know that experience in voluntary and community work is good for the people who do it and good for their communities.
"But clearly this plan is not thought through – voluntary work isn’t free for the organisations which offer it, and by its very nature it can’t happen if people are compelled to do it.”
Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research for the Directory of Social Change advised charities to “steer clear” of the scheme.
“Compulsory workfare isn’t volunteering. The government should not muddle the two,” he told Civil Society News.
But Justin Davis Smith, executive director of volunteering and development for NCVO, told Civil Society News: “There is lots of evidence to show that volunteering programmes are very effective in helping people to enhance their employability.
"We carried out a scheme funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the results from that programme far exceeded anything that the work programme itself was claiming.
“The results showed that it builds confidence, that people learn new skills, it gives them experience of the structure of the working day. And all of this was done through volunteering”.
Davis Smith also voiced concerns about the affordability of the scheme.
“It didn’t come cheap,” he said of NCVO’s volunteering programme. “It needs to be invested in and resources need to be provided. These schemes aren’t cost-free by any stretch of the imagination.”
Concerns were also raised today about the blurring of “volunteering” and “compulsory workfare”.
“We have been working hard with the Department for Work and Pensions over the years to draw a distinction between compulsory work placement and volunteering,” said Davis Smith.
“There is still a danger that there is confusion in the public mind that such compulsory schemes might be seen as volunteering and if we are not careful, volunteering might be seen as punitive rather than positive.
"We would much prefer to see investment in proper volunteering programmes that can really help to get young people skilled up, ready for work and back in to work. That would be a much more positive way forward."
A spokesman for the Conservative Party told Civil Society News that the scheme is still at an early stage and that no charities have yet been selected for involvement with the workfare programme.