I was watching the telly the other night and I saw the listings showing Back To The Future. I tuned in but got confused. “Doc Brown’s cut his hare” I thought, as I saw a tall-ish man with a crazy glint in his eye and gleaming white hair talk on telly. He was talking about forcing out of work people to do un-paid work. Was this a new instalment of the Back To The Future Franchise that I hadn’t seen? Had they gone back to Victorian Britain to visit Marty McFly’s relative in a Workhouse? But there was no DeLorean in sight, and in any case the acting was awful. Was it a broadcast of an amateur acting group’s new production of Oliver Twist?
I soon found out that I was watching the News and it was Iain Duncan Smith discussing his new proposals to re-introduce the Poor Laws…well, not quite yet but nearly there.
IBS…sorry, IDS has caused a bit of a stir with his proposals to cut welfare payments to the jobless people that refuse to carry out voluntary work.
I am instinctively against this proposal. However most people will probably be for it.
After all who can argue against teaching a lesson to people who choose to waste their lives away at the expense of others? That is how this policy has been sold, and it is how most people will see it.
But its not that simple, and it never is.
I’m a big fan of volunteering and actively support attempts to get people to volunteer. Volunteering work is rewarding for both the individual and the community. People do voluntary work for a multitude of reasons – issues that are cause led, spare time, to help someone out of a hole, to name just a few. And voluntary work comes in all forms, from door-to-door charity collections, training the local sports club, and, yes, political work (both small and capital ‘p’).
In my day-to-day work I am a volunteer manager and I deal with volunteers from all backgrounds regularly. These volunteers are the lifeline of the organisation that I work for. They are brilliant people who love what they do and do it well, and I say that sincerely. They give willingly of their own time, and sometimes go to great lengths to achieve spectacular results, and they enjoy what they do. Some don’t do as much as others, for various reasons. Some are happier holding a collection tin, others are in their element organising a concert, and others like to give a talk to a group or an association. If they feel that they cannot do something then they won’t do it. They only do what they are capable of doing within various constraints. Some times months will go by and I won’t here a thing from some of them, then they’ll phone up and say that they’ve been away on a holiday, or decorating the house, or caring for a loved one or some other reason. That’s the nature of volunteering.
The secret is in the title. Volunteer work. Voluntary. Something that’s done of one’s own free will.
By definition therefore if something is not done of one’s own free will then it is not voluntary work. You can’t force people to do voluntary work. And if you force people to do any thing against their will then things go wrong – it’s not done properly; other people’s time is wasted; it creates bad will; all sorts of lousy things happen and it fails miserably in its objectives.
The argument put forward by the ConDem Government for introducing this policy of forcing jobseekers to carry out ‘voluntary’ work is in order for people to get back into the work ethic, find a working pattern, develop a routine. This is total nonsense. Voluntary work by its very nature is unstructured and dependant on multiple factors which are beyond the control of the individual and the group. It certainly isn’t a template for a private business. Imagine paying full wages to each member of the School Governors – then you’d have to start charging a fortune in fees, and the whole ethos would change. That’s the difference between voluntary work and paid work.
Volunteering is no substitute for paid employment and it should not be used
as such and it cannot be measured solely on economic value. They are entirely different and you cannot exchange one for the other. Certainly volunteering provides people with different skills, a greater network, and is extremely fullfilling all of which will assist a job seeker. But this is because of its very nature, and it is fulfilling because it is voluntary. As soon as you force someone against their will then it loses all it beneficial qualities, and instead will make a bad situation worse.
This multi-millionaire packed cabinet is forcing the least well-off, the most desperate to carry out un-paid work while labelling them publicly as scroungers. This is not the way to treat our brothers and sisters. It is a policy thought up on the back of a Chablis label. It is easy for people who have a regular job, regular income, a comfortable home, to call the jobless feckless work-shy scroungers. But each of these people, our brothers and sisters, have their own unique circumstances which should be considered when dealing with their lives.
It is probably true that some people are actively avoiding work and benefitting from the Welfare system. It is also true that more money is lost in tax avoidance than is being paid out in welfare, George Osborne himself manages to avoid paying tax by having an off-shore account. And it is just as true that the weakest and least well off are those that depend on the Welfare system. As a society we have a duty to help the weakest and the least able and not to target them and banish them to a life of desperate poverty.
If certain individuals choose to take advantage of the system put in place to care for the least well off, then by all means find a way of dealing with those few individuals, but don’t tar everyone with the same brush and make them pay for other people’s mistakes.