Unpaid Work Schemes: UK Government Under Attack

An unpaid work scheme that is a key part of the British government’s plans to get unemployed back into work has been threatened after a number of the UK’s biggest employers pulled out.

Out of Work
Out of Work

was one of the key ideas mooted to tackle youth unemployment globally at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

The scheme, on which people drawing unemployment benefits would work for free, is a flagship part of the coalition government’s efforts to tackle youth unemployment in particular, and was supposed to help 2.4 million people back to work over five years. The government is spending up to £5 billion on the program.

There are growing concerns about the record numbers of under-25s not in education, employment or training – also known as NEETs.

While work is voluntary, claimants could lose their benefits – 67.50 pounds ($106) a week for over-25s, or 53.45 pounds for under-25s – if the placements do not work out.

Tesco, the country’s biggest supermarket chain, said that it would change the terms of its placements and offer satisfactory workers paid work after an outcry on social networking sites about an advertisement for an unpaid work placement – on night shifts. The supermarket has since said that the advertisement was mistaken. Protestors from the Right to Work movement picketed some of its stores last weekend.

McDonalds and Pizza Hut will be the next companies targeted, according to the protest group.

Retailers including Sainsbury’s, Walmart-owned Asda, Argos and Waterstone’s have withdrawn from the scheme after protests.

Argos said in a statement it wants "to ensure the scheme is voluntary … [and] no one is disadvantaged by working on this program.”

The government has tried to defend its scheme, with employment minister Chris Grayling telling reporters on Monday: "The idea that people are being press-ganged for long periods of time to work for nothing to provide cheap labor for big companies is totally untrue."