Britain’s Latest Jobs Scheme—Lucky Break or Slave Labor?
Assistant News Editor, CNBC.com
Londoners aged 18-24 will have to do three months of unpaid work in order to continue claiming social security benefits in a new scheme announced by London’s mayor Boris Johnson, however there are claims that rather than helping young people back into work, the scheme exploits their free labor.
Aimed at combating youth unemployment and offering “intensive help” to young people with no experience of paid work, the scheme states that anyone who refuses to do an unpaid internship for 13 weeks will lose their unemployment benefits worth 56 pounds a week.
According to the “joint pilot” scheme created by Mayor Johnson and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), up to 6,000 young Londoners across the capital will be expected to do unpaid work if they have not worked for six months.
The scheme is being funded by the European Social Fund and is the third project to be launched in order to tackle growing youth unemployment and a “welfare culture” of dependency on state hand-outs. According to the DWP’s latest figures 5.9 million Britons of working age are now on benefits.
Groups of unemployed youths rioted across Britain’s cities in August 2011, causing soul searching among politicians, the media and the public over the future of young people. Boris Johnson has set a goal of creating 200,000 jobs during his tenure as London’s mayor. He said the new scheme would prepare young people for the labor market.
“Right now it's a tough labor market out there and we have to ensure that all young people get the skills they need to succeed and for which employers are crying out,” Johnson said on the launch of the scheme on Tuesday.
The latest scheme has been criticized however by labor unions.
Brendan Barber, Gerneral Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which campaigns for workers’ rights, told CNBC that although any scheme to help improve young generation’s job prospects “should be encouraged”, the current scheme could be exploitative.
“As useful as genuine work experience can be in building a young person’s CV, if the young unemployed are going out to work they should be paid at the least the minimum wage,” he said.
“The government previously promised that work experience would be voluntary – young Londoners forced to work for free on this scheme will wonder why that commitment does not apply to them.”
A legal case was brought against the British government recently after it initiated a similar scheme in which young unemployed people were asked to do voluntary work experience schemes.
In that case the judge dismissed claims of “slave labor” but Chris Grayling, the Minister for Employment jointly responsible for the scheme said he expected the same attack to be leveled at the new program.
“Of course the usual suspects will cry ‘slave labor’,” he told CNBC. “They always do. But they are the people who believe that young claimants have the right to sit at home playing computer games. We simply disagree. “
“We think the scheme has every chance of giving those young people a much better start than simply leaving them at home on benefits to try to find their own way. And when we have seen the results, it may offer a better way for their counterparts across the whole country. “
Brendan Barber disagreed with the potential efficacy of the scheme, however, warning that previous schemes had failed to actually get young people into paid jobs.
“If we’re to avoid the creation of a permanent lost generation in the capital, a more sensible approach would be to guarantee decent training or a work trial to all young people from the first day of their [benefit] claim,” he said.