That sounds spookily like the sorts of things people on community service do. Except those on community service have been through the judicial system and been found guilty of a crime. Their work is part of making good the wrongs they have committed. The charges against them have been either admitted or proven in a court of law after examination of the evidence.
The BBC quotes Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith as saying:
"One thing we can do is pull people in to do one or two weeks' manual work - turn up at 9am and leave at 5pm, to give people a sense of work, but also when we think they're doing other work.There is no way on earth that people should be dragged onto a programme which effectively criminalises them
without proper evidence against them. That is neither fair nor just. The fact that IDS is actually quoted makes me think that the report may not be far off the mark.
My husband spent 10 months of his life without a job in 1994. It was a very worrying time for both of us. He had an exemplary work record over 20 years, but even then, with hundreds chasing every vacancy, finding another job was a tortuous process. It wasn't his fault he was out of a job - it was the Tory Government's, for shutting down the coal mines, and he certainly could not have tried harder to find another one. What helped him was meaningful, structured support. Someone who knew what they were doing to look through his job applications before he sent them, to help him prepare for interviews, and encourage him, giving constructive advice, after yet more rejection.
People who have never worked and are well into their twenties or thirties are going to be regarded with suspicion by employers. I'm not saying that's right, but it's how it will be. The public sector workers filling up the dole queue in the months and years to come will be much more attractive to employers. That's not to say that we just leave the long term unemployed on the scrap heap, as every other government has done. When we look at the cost of welfare, we look at the financial cost. The human cost is much greater. Our system often keeps people who desperately want to work languishing in isolation on benefits. Those people need urgent help.
I've seen cases where people have had firm offers of long term employment as long as they have a certain qualification being forced to stay on benefits because the qualification needed was not included in the training they paid for. The cost to in terms of the welfare budget was tiny, but it was completely unaffordable to them. What happened in all of these cases is that these people ended up being paid much more in benefits when they could have been fulfilling themselves and paying taxes back to the Government. Those were clear cases of the Government cutting off its nose to spite its face. Much more flexibility needs to be given to front line job centre staff to authorise training which will lead to employment.
I have absolutely no objection to unemployed people being put on work placement schemes, as long as that's mutually agreed as part of a structured programme of support to get them back to work. We need to see a system which treats people as individuals, helps them to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, gives them the training they need and professional help. As part of that process, a good reference from an employer for whom they'd been on placement would be really valuable.
The vast majority of unemployed people who are able to hold down a job would dearly love to do so. For me it makes more sense to target resources on helping them. Wasting public money on a Work Activity programme to pander to the ill-informed prejudices of Daily Fail readers is completely out of order. I do not want to see a single Liberal Democrat MP voting for such a scheme and I hope that enough pressure will be brought to bear behind the scenes to ensure that this never sees the light of day.