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Community work for benefits?

By Community work for benefits?

Thursday 26 February 2015 Student Journalists

NUS Journalist James McCrory offers his views on David Cameron's announcement that a Conservative government will see young people having to do 30 hours community work each week in order to receive benefits.

If elected in May the conservatives new benefits policy will mean that people aged 18-21 will be forced to carry out daily tasks such as making meals for the elderly, maintaining war memorials or doing charity work.

This scheme means that 18-21-year-olds will no longer be on benefits but will instead receive a ‘Youth Allowance’ of £57.35 a week – the same as regular benefits – which amounts to £1.91 per hour, which is well below minimum wage.

Let me begin by stating that I am all for giving back to the community and I strongly believe that everyone should earn their money. I am fully aware that there are a lot of young people that exploit the benefits system and have no intention of seeking out work, but this scheme is quite simply going to fail if the Tories are re-elected.

Given that this is a government idea, it would be a safe bet to say that this work for benefits scheme would never be deemed illegal. After all these are the people running our country, those who inhabit the upper echelons of public service and would never in a million years advocate an illegal practice. I digress, however it would be interesting to see how this scheme would sit with employment legislation and what sort of crooked tricks would be used to legally justify individuals working thirty hour weeks for just £1.91 per hour.

For Mr Cameron it seems to be about gaining a good work ethic and instilling a set of values within the young people of Britain so that they can apply that to the rest of their working lives, he said:

“What these young people need is work experience, and the order and discipline of turning up for work each day. 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.

“From day one they must realise that welfare is not a one-way street. Yes, we will help them, but there is no more something for nothing. They must give back to their community too.”

This reminds me of a kind of old-school totalitarian teacher whose first response was always to reach for the cane. Continuing with that theme, I can always remember being in school and witnessing disinterested pupils not engaging with lessons because they felt it wasn’t worth it or because they simply didn’t take school seriously. Now apply that dynamic here, young people being forced to do work they have no interest in and for an absolute minimal return. It is safe to say that the exact same scenario will occur only I highly doubt employers or charity organiser would be as patient or lenient as a school teacher. 

What is then the resultant of that is a massive group of young people who have become completely dissociated with the government, its system of operations and the world of work in general. Young people will then feel marginalised and detach themselves from society which could result in a range of issues from mental health problems to crime.

What occurs to me is that this benefit alternative is something of an attack that will venomously grind some of our countries most vulnerable individuals into the ground, and when it all boils down to it what seems to be the end game is the establishment of a new slave labour force that can be used and tossed, when needed, like tools in a shed.

This is the exact same situation that we see with students and graduates across the country, having to do unpaid internships with the promise of nothing in return for their hard work. These kinds of exploitations need to be challenged and rooted out not broadened to completely cover our entire population of young people in a blanket – more like a tarpaulin – of discrimination in an effort to seclude them from working society.

Unpaid internships and prolonged work placements need to be abolished and employers must be forced, under law, to pay their interns the national minimum wage, there needs to be a statutory service and authority dedicated to providing young people in schools with effective careers advice and a pathway to a good career. There also needs to be a much heavier focus on getting young people into apprenticeships that provide them with paid training and a real chance at a good job at the end of it.

These are the kinds of things that entice young people into the world of work and give them real opportunities at good employment. These are the types of schemes and policies that should be getting talked about. This lazy backhanded scheme seeks to only serve the government and not the young people of Britain.




NUS journalist for work in the lead up to the 2015 general election. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am currently a student studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford in Manchester. I studied Broadcast Journalism for two years at Belfast Metropolitan College where I attained a level 5, Higher National Diploma in the subject.

I have had work published for the Salfordian, NUS and various student publications in Belfast. I have had experience working with UTV in Ireland and the BBC and I was also the Vice Chairperson of the Royal Television Society (RTS) Futures programme. I aspire now and in the future to be an activist journalist, never short of an opinion on a range of historic and contemporary issues.