Three reasons why anyone, including conservatives, should oppose workfare

This morning I read that Tesco have again advertised for a job position offering JSA and travel expenses as the pay. Most of the opposition for workfare up to this point comes from the left. But it is not just the unemployed who lose out as a result of this scheme: regardless of your opinion about whether unemployment is the result of structural problems with society and political policy, or down to individual choice, everyone except big business stands to lose from the scheme.

1) Workfare undermines the conditions of the existing workforce. Imagine that you are working on low pay, when your employer finds a source of labour which is cheaper than you. What happens next? Regardless of the ongoing left/right battle over long term unemployment (where the left would generally argue that society creates unemployment and the right would blame the individual), workfare causes real damage to the job stability and conditions of people who have never claimed any JSA. If there is free labour, why bother to offer pay rises, why invest in permanent contracts, why bother about favourable working conditions?

2) Workfare means that the tax payer subsidises wealthy corporations: big business doesn’t have to pay for the worker, so YOU pick up the bill. You may or may not be aware that most of the richest corporations in the UK already receive heavy state subsidy in the form of tax credits: they pay out huge bonuses and cream off massive profits at the top, but don’t actually pay staff at the bottom enough to live on, so the state picks up the bill. With workfare this situation changes from a top-up to the tax payer picking up the whole bill for the labour. So in other words, whilst we experience record cuts to services across the whole of the public sector, including health, education, police, fire services and other things we might think everyone benefits from and so are a worthy recipient of state money, big business is making even more out of the state.

3) Workfare will probably increase “work apathy”. Inspite of the scheme being intended to provide work experience and a pathway into long term work, it is being used by big business as an agency: the pattern seems to be that they will keep on a job seeker for the useful period before replacing them with more free labour. If unemployment really relates to psychological factors within the individual, as the right believe, then this kind of pattern would be utterly unrewarding so behaviourally would reinforce avoidance of work rather than promoting future attempts at employment. Which would mean, in the long term,  a bigger benefits bill.

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