Why workfare doesn’t work: a personal story


8:50 am - November 18th 2011

by Éoin Clarke    


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I am a grammar boy born into unimaginable poverty that would the eyes pop out of your head. My two brothers having failed the 11+ (or the 10+ as I call it, since you sit it when you are 10) were destined for the scrap heap.

The only school option open to them was St Joe’s a local comp which I wish all the very best but it done little for them. For example, my brother with a life passion for art had no art teacher for GCSE, although my other brother got pass grades in English & Maths.

They both told tales of misery, bullying, under-achievement and truancy. The best teachers went to the four local grammars.

My brothers graduated from St Joe’s under a Tory government with nothing to progress into. Unemployment in the town was so high that one in every three adult males was out of work. But the Tories had a solution- workfare!

They decided with my elder brother’s math skills that he would be suited to a clerical role. They positioned him (unpaid) in a bookshop where he performed stock takes, ordered replenishment and event reconciled the books. He loved it but it ended after a year with no job.

The following year the bookshop simply hired another unpaid ‘apprentice’. My brother progressed to a mirror glass factory where his computer skills saw him design and manufacture family crests on mirrors.

But after a year it ended with no job. Pity, my brother loved it. Soon, the company simply hired another unpaid worker to replace him.

My younger brother did not have the same academic grounding and he knew it. He was content to convert his excellent artistic ability into painting and decorating. He painted walls faithfully for a year – unpaid. At the end of the year his placement ended only to be replaced by another.

He then took up a bricklaying apprenticeship. He worked for 2 years as an unpaid ‘labourer’ carrying bricks. His already mal-nutritioned physique gathered stretch marks at his biceps from carrying breeze blocks. His skin tore so badly because he had yet to complete puberty. He worked every morning from 7am until 5pm. He never received a penny for his payment.

The placement ended with no job.

All the while I went to grammar, got my 3 A-levels and progressed to University. Within a year of both placements ending my two brothers a) took drugs b) tried to commit suicide.

I aint that fond of unpaid workfare.

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About the author
Eoin is an occasional contributor. He is a founder of the Labour-Left think-tank and writes regularly at the Green Benches blog.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy

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Reader comments


So, no doubt the first thing you did on leaving uni was to start a small business and employ your two brothers. You know – “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” and “I am my brother’s keeper” and so on.

And now it’s the best decorating company in the town and always has its VAT accounts done properly?

No?

You started a ……. left wing think tank?

Strewth.

I aint that fond of unpaid workfare.

Why?

From what you say it saved your brothers from self-destruction for a couple of years at least.

I am a grammar boy born into unimaginable poverty that would the eyes pop out of your head.

Fuck off you silly twat

The London Borough of Sutton with its outstanding maintained selective schools gets better average results in the GCSE exams for 16 year-olds than other education authorities in England:

SUTTON is home to the country’s brainiest teenagers, according to figures released this week.

GCSE league tables reveal the borough’s pupils are the brightest in the UK, with three out of four pupils achieving five or more A* to C grades including English and mathematics. [1 November 2011]
http://www.thisiscroydontoday.co.uk/Sutton-s-teens-country-s-brainiest-figures/story-13721731-detail/story.html

1, 2, 3 – Very difficult to respond as your comments lack substance.

4, May I infer that the point you are making is that Grammars are cool? Perhaps they are. May I ask how the ‘other’ schools in Sutton do?

This is very sad – not sure why you’re getting the vile comments, above.

I recently re-read ‘Love on the Dole’ – the engineering apprentices in the 30’s suffered exactly the same fate as your brother. Obviously, a tried and tested formula for cheap labour…….

7. the a&e charge nurse

[7] I was thinking of ‘Grapes of wrath’ as well – a book that encapsulates better than most how shitty people can be once sufficient economic insecurity prevails.

Disagree, Pagar [2] what saves people from self destruction is not serial exploitation in the work place, but a sense of purpose and the means to provide for oneself.

Eoin, one should avoid the temptation to respond to guys like Dave [3] – life is simply too short.

8. Chaise Guevara

@ 1 Flowerpower

“So, no doubt the first thing you did on leaving uni was to start a small business and employ your two brothers. You know – “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” and “I am my brother’s keeper” and so on.

And now it’s the best decorating company in the town and always has its VAT accounts done properly?

No?”

Ah, yes. As we know, those who cannot afford to start their own business are evil hypocrites! FFS, Eoin, why didn’t you just be born rich instead of poor?

@ 2 Pagar

“From what you say it saved your brothers from self-destruction for a couple of years at least.”

That’s resting on the rather large assumption that the drug use and attempted suicide had nothing to do with spending years being exploited. And it ignores the downsides of workfare (starting with that aforementioned exploitation).

@ 3 Dave

Trolling is against the rules on the forum. You should try 4chan, it’s more your speed.

@5 – Agreed, and apologies for my outburst. Just reading that comment made my blood boil. I can’t exactly explain why.

@8 – I think you’ll find it depends what side the trolls bread is buttered on.

@ Chaise

That’s resting on the rather large assumption that the drug use and attempted suicide had nothing to do with spending years being exploited.

Logic fail, I’m afraid.

Despite the fact that details of the workfare programme and the self destructive behaviour are juxtaposed in Laurie Penny style prose, no connection whatever is made between the two except that the self destructive behaviour began when the satisfaction and feeling of self-worth derived from useful employment ended.

Not uncommon.

Incidentally, I am no fan of workfare. It is utterly pernicious.

11. Chaise Guevara

@ 9 Dave

“I think you’ll find it depends what side the trolls bread is buttered on.”

Fair point. Ok , adjust my statement to: “Trolling in general isn’t cool, regardless of the obvious double standard shown on LC.”

12. Northern Worker

Eoin, I totally agree with the sentiment but there are success stories too. I’m a case in point. I started as an engineering apprentice at 16. It was extremely unpleasant and I still shudder at the dreadful conditions and *work* I was asked to do. I did get paid – in today’s money around one GBP per hour for a basic 44-hour week with two week’s holiday (unpaid). But I persisted and eventually my employer paid me to go to university on a sandwich course. There were plenty of others on the same course from the same background as me.

At the time I thought I was lucky, and perhaps I was. However it was still hard work. It was especially hard for someone brought up in a back-to-back with outside toilet in the north.

I do, though, feel we are storing up trouble by allowing over one million kids to rot on the dole. I don’t know what we should do and I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t offer a solution to the current problems. I agree that workfare or even the old YTS I remember is not the solution. I even agree with the two Eds about jobs and growth. But I look at where I work now and I see an SME crushed by redtape and regulations. I despair for my children and grandchildren.

13. Éoin Clarke

Northern worker,

Point taken.

However, can you see Tesco’s Sainsbury’s, Matalan, Poundland wanting to send any of these dudes on a sandwich course to Uni?

Of course there are enlightened employers to be found in every nook and cranny of the UK, I don’t doubt. But the difficulty I have is that somehow this is the only solution.

Borrowing has never been cheaper. Capital Expenditure can get this country building again. Investment in green technology can also create both a) labour intensive jobs and b) high tech industries. As well as this infrastructure and homes are required to service our burgeoning population. There is another option, and forcing people to work unpaid in dead end jobs under the threat of financial extinction is not the stuff of a civilised country.

14. Chaise Guevara

@ 10 pagar

“Logic fail, I’m afraid.

Despite the fact that details of the workfare programme and the self destructive behaviour are juxtaposed in Laurie Penny style prose, no connection whatever is made between the two except that the self destructive behaviour began when the satisfaction and feeling of self-worth derived from useful employment ended. ”

That’s only a logic fail if you assume that absence of proof is proof of absence. Which is itself a logic fail. Eoin doesn’t say that it was the lack of “useful employment” that led to these things either. If you’re going to criticise my logic, don’t be illogical about it…

What do you mean it does not work? It works perfectly for the elit3s who own the corporations who get cheap labour.

Just like the private prison complex in the US, which is providing an increasing slave labour force for corporate America. The same corporate America that pays nothing in taxes.

16. Northern Worker

@13 Eoin

Em. I don’t think green jobs are the answer because the unintended (or intended?) consequence is fuel poverty for the least able to pay. Subsidies and yet more government spending and debt obviously don’t work or there would be some sign it is working. Much more and we’ll end up like Greece.

Yes, we need more houses to cope with EU immigration, but not social housing because there should be no entitlement until you have waited as long as we have to. The private sector should provide houses for them and that will create skilled jobs.

Retail is at least a mass employer, but I agree that it’s unlikely Poundland will send anyone to university!

Like I said, I don’t know the answers. If I did, I’d work for a think tank too.

17. Éoin Clarke

Northern Worker,

Apologies for not explaining that I include CCS/Clean Coal in my definition of Green Jobs..

@ Eoin

“Borrowing has never been cheaper. Capital Expenditure can get this country building again.”

Borrowing is currently cheap because people have faith, (however foolishly), that this government is not going to spend like a drunken sailor. If we had entered this recession without the mountain of debt and high deficit built up by Gordon Brown then it would probably have been a good idea, (at least if spent on basic infrastructure rather than green elephants).

“Investment in green technology can also create both a) labour intensive jobs and b) high tech industries.”

b fine but a? You honestly think that highly unproductive jobs are what we want? You can’t pay people more that they generate, (not for long at any rate), so the wages for this would be pretty much……… what’s the word……… ah yes, workfare.

“infrastructure and homes are required to service our burgeoning population.”

The only solution that will have any significant impact on this problem is relaxing the planning laws, both necessary and pretty much sufficient in fact.

“Em. I don’t think green jobs are the answer because the unintended (or intended?) consequence is fuel poverty for the least able to pay.”

Nonsense. even if we restrict green jobs to mean ‘insulation paid for by levies on electricity bills’ – which is presumably what you are hinting at – then all this means is poor households get insulation paid for by everyone paying an energy bill. Poor households have a slightly higher potential bill and then benefit from being able to heat using less energy once the insulation is installed. When you add the fact that insulation jobs tend to employ local people and are manual jobs, then home insulation is a win win policy all around.

What you are effectively saying is that taxes on cigarettes in order to spend on health isn’t the answer because the unintended consequence is higher taxes on the cigarettes that poor people smoke.

20. Robin Levett

@Falco #18:

“infrastructure and homes are required to service our burgeoning population.”

The only solution that will have any significant impact on this problem is relaxing the planning laws, both necessary and pretty much sufficient in fact.

Why necessary? There are 288,000 consented housebuilding plots in the top 18 builders’ landbanks at the moment. It’s true that that is only 2½ years worth of building at current (low) rates – but they are there and not being built on. Planning is not the current pinchpoint.

The planning system could be made more efficient – but that’s not the same thing as saying that planning laws require relaxation.

@5: “May I infer that the point you are making is that Grammars are cool? Perhaps they are. May I ask how the ‘other’ schools in Sutton do?”

On the evidence, the effect of the five maintained selected schools in Sutton is to raise the AVERAGE attainment in the GCSE exams for all candidates from ALL Sutton schools, selective and comprehensive. The best three of the selective maintained schools regularly get better average A-level results than Eton. The entry exams for the selective schools are voluntary – no one has to take the tests.

At the general election, the Conservative and Lib-Dem candidates vowed to press for legislation to reverse the Greenwich judgement of 1989 which prevents the selective local schools from discriminating in favour of local residents:

“The Greenwich Judgement (1989) established that maintained schools may not give priority to children for the sole reason that they live within the LEA’s administrative boundaries. The Rotherham Judgement (1997) established that the principle of admission authorities operating catchment areas as part of their oversubscription criteria in allocating school places was lawful providing that in so doing authorities are not in breach of the Greenwich judgement.”
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmeduski/58/5804.htm

One consequence of the Greenwich judgement is this:

“A census in May 2008 showed only 2,018 students from Sutton make up the 5,238 total population of the borough’s grammar school children. The remaining 62 per cent of children come from outside of the area.”

There is evidence of widespread local popular opposition to the Greenwich judgement but nothing much can be done about it without legislation to sanction discrimination in favour of local residents. I’m surpised that the local opposition hasn’t taken the form of pressing for local primary schools to improve standards so that more local pupils succeed in the entrance exams for the selective secondary schools.

Another consequence of the judgement is that pupils at the selective schools are ethnically diverse. The selective school down the road, which my son attended, stated on its website that at a census a few years back, about half the students came from ethnic minorities – which is well above the percentage of ethnic minorities in the local population.

What especially disadvantages many comprehensives IMO is that the majority only cater for the age range of 11-16. In less affluent to deprived areas, this has often meant that the majority of students in the final years have been early school leavers and that tends to shape the ethos of the schools by fostering anti-academic values.

The grammar schools gain from having integral six forms as this creates a conspicuous commitment to striving for academic attainment. At least some of the local selective schools take entrants into their sixth forms from other local schools at 16+, presumably on the basis of results in the GCSE exams.

I am wondering what thie “unimaginable poverty” is. Something worse than having no decent food, no clean water, no healthcare, no education, living in a war zone, being knocked up as a young teen up by some scum rapist who declares himself your owner, nearly dying in childbirth … no ? Not as bad as that – hardly unimaginable then is it ?

23. Leon Wolfson

@2 – Yes, because blocking people from jobs, REPLACING jobs with unpaid labour is such a good idea. I know, we can call it it’s real name. Slavery!

Your later denial of your love of it rings as hollow as it is.

@6 – Because they lack any sense of empathy for people not like them.

@12 – The UK has a very LOW rate of red tape, and very little worker protection.

@19 – Except many of the poor are NOT getting the insulation. Why? Because their landlord isn’t interested. The requirement for landlords permission for this kind of work by energy company needs to be abolished. (I’m not talking in general, I’m talking in specific).

So middle house households are using it to get money off bills, while large households of poorer people shiver through the winter. NOT the intent!

@23 – “The UK has a very LOW rate of red tape, and very little worker protection.”

Have you ever tried to hire someone? I think you mentioned something before about running a business, did you never find red tape a problem?

25. Leon Wolfson

@24 – Nope, the red tape wasn’t an issue. We had *far* more issues with finding suitable people for the specialist roles we were looking for thanks to a partner writing the job descriptions in a sloppy way ><

There are standard forms, and a little advice from a specialist can give you all the information links you need.

We did get defeated by red tape…but that was *immigration* red tape which held the critical 25-year-veteran worker for so long that he went to a Canadian firm instead. (Losing a 20-year vet to an immigration *refusal* didn't help either…these are HIGHLY skilled workers and precisely who this country needs to generate jobs!)

26. So Much For Subtlety

6. cingulare

This is very sad – not sure why you’re getting the vile comments, above.

It is probably because some people suspect a cynical exploitation of his siblings’ suffering for a cheap political point. Which, let me stress, I certainly am not suggesting is true.

On the other hand, he fails to provide the slightest link whatsoever between said siblings’ suffering and workfare.

Look on the bright side. One man’s unimaginable poverty is another’s low impact sustainable lifestyle, comrades.

28. Leon Wolfson

@27 – Low impact, sure. The green way of reducing population, freeze and starve.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  2. CAROLE JONES

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  3. Beaker

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  4. BendyGirl

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  5. Lauren G

    RT @libcon: Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/jJdnQE3C

  6. Kirst

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  7. Brummie Protestor

    RT @libcon Why #workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/bWZbLU2s #notoworkhouses cc @welfareuncut

  8. Sir Digby C.C.

    RT @libcon Why #workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/bWZbLU2s #notoworkhouses cc @welfareuncut

  9. Ferret Dave

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  10. Len Arthur

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  11. Jamie Rowland

    RT @libcon Why #workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/bWZbLU2s #notoworkhouses cc @welfareuncut

  12. BoycottWorkfare

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  13. Wildey

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  14. Sir Digby C.C.

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  15. Rattlecans

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  16. Richard Exell

    Why workfare doesn’t work: http://t.co/Sgvtc6Pv Éoin Clarke's family story shows what is behind that unemotional word, "displacement"

  17. lablu?z

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  18. dolly daydream

    Why workfare doesn’t work: a personal story | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Iwdp9Xgp via @libcon

  19. Delroy Booth

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  20. Patrick Butler

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  21. Joluni

    RT @libcon: Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/ct7nTFMZ

  22. Pavla Kopecna

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  23. Amy Caine

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  24. Rj

    RT @BendyGirl RT @libcon: Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Ypyw6Gm6

  25. Sian Blake

    Why workfare doesn't work. http://t.co/r3u5wJPM

  26. j sheeran

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  27. Graham

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  28. Oliver Kearns

    Why workfare doesn’t work: a personal story http://t.co/JtQfmYvt via @libcon

  29. raincoat optimism

    Why workfare doesn’t work: a personal story | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/9kusSDFr via @libcon

  30. Nick H.

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/Jw3hC5eE / It will never work and is not even supposed to.

  31. Web links for 18th November 2011 | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC

    […] Why workfare doesn’t work: a personal story | Liberal Conspiracy Éoin Clarke's family story shows why workfare is a threat to workers and to unemployed people – people with no option but to claim benefits forced to do unpaid work that would otherwise have been done by workers paid the rate for the job. Related posts (automatically generated):Getting red in the face about the Green Paper […]

  32. DarkestAngel

    Why workfare doesn’t work: a personal story | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/g6iEIEE1 via @libcon

  33. TenPercent

    Why workfare doesn’t work: a personal story | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/znNk2WDo via @libcon

  34. Kev G

    RT @libcon Why #workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/bWZbLU2s #notoworkhouses cc @welfareuncut

  35. Charlie Christie

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  36. Chris Coltrane

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  37. Sophie Bolderstone

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  38. paulstpancras

    RT @libcon: Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/0JBbWeXV

  39. fearlessknits

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  40. Occupy Sheffield

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  41. Where's the Benefit?

    Disability implications due to our poor education opportunities RT @libcon: Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/fcJ0kOmK

  42. David Gillon

    Disability implications due to our poor education opportunities RT @libcon: Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/fcJ0kOmK

  43. Naomi Jacobs

    Disability implications due to our poor education opportunities RT @libcon: Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/fcJ0kOmK

  44. Naomi

    Disability implications due to our poor education opportunities RT @libcon: Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/fcJ0kOmK

  45. David Williams

    I read this – http://t.co/cRv9WEqW – it was very sad and showed 'workfare' up as the business-fellating, jobseeker-ruining sham that it is.

  46. Jess McCabe

    I read this – http://t.co/cRv9WEqW – it was very sad and showed 'workfare' up as the business-fellating, jobseeker-ruining sham that it is.

  47. Jeanette Greaves

    Why workfare doesn't work: a personal story http://t.co/nKd2mCsu

  48. Chris Boyle

    I read this – http://t.co/cRv9WEqW – it was very sad and showed 'workfare' up as the business-fellating, jobseeker-ruining sham that it is.

  49. Jennie Kermode

    Let's not forget that ethnic minorities are over-represented in the #workfare stats. #bbcqt http://t.co/3aAh7sBC

  50. Riddle Like

    Let's not forget that ethnic minorities are over-represented in the #workfare stats. #bbcqt http://t.co/3aAh7sBC





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