New Community Work Scheme – Would It Work?

CommunityI’m very torn on this issue.  I feel that some degree of benefit reform is probably required.  I also feel we do have to encourage work whilst remaining fair.

However, ‘forced’ work schemes have traditionally not been very successful – in any sense of the word.

I do genuinely think that work schemes for benefits claimants and the unemployed should exist, but I also believe they should be voluntary.  However, if they are entirely voluntary, does that then create resentment between those that volunteer and those that do not, yet receive the same benefits?

I would argue that the work experience gained on such a scheme shouldn’t be seen as a punishment and should be seen as an investment in yourself on a personal and professional level.  Social skills, routines, just ‘getting back into the swing’ of working as well as meeting new people and potential new employers all seem like enticing reasons to volunteer if you’re in this position.

Is a new ‘Community Work’ scheme the answer?  I’m genuinely torn on this.  Whilst undoubtedly light years ahead of dreadful back-to-work schemes the government currently runs, overall, would the proposal be effective?

A new ‘Community Work’ scheme could be introduced on a 6 month pilot, followed by a review, at which point, if shown to be beneficial, could be fully implemented on a long term basis.  One possible proposal for such a scheme could be:

  • A new scheme of Community Work would be launched for claimants of certain benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance, if employment was not gained after 6 months of being on a relevant benefit.The new Community Work scheme would involve working in the local community, in roles that benefit the community, such as assisting the local authority in traditional volunteer roles on community projects.
  • Only public bodies, charities and not-for-profit enterprises would be eligible to request staff through the new Community Work Scheme.
  • A cap will be placed on the maximum number of hours of Community work undertaken per week – this cap will rise or fall in line with the National Minimum Wage and benefit payments.  Work done on the Community Work scheme must be ‘paid’ (in terms of benefits received) at a rate no lower than National Minimum Wage.  The only costs to the organisation receiving the worker will be expenses – the ‘wage’ will be covered in the benefit payments already due to the claimant from the Department for Work & Pensions.
    For example, Job Seekers Allowance for over 25’s is currently £73.10 per week.  The Adult National Minimum Wage is currently £6.70 per hour.   Therefore this would equate to a maximum of approximately 11 hours Community Work per week in this example.  Reduction in total hours worked when compared with Workfare will aid job-seekers in finding employment which should in turn see reductions in welfare spend and increases in government tax revenue as well as giving some (or additional) work experience to increase the chance of successfully obtaining work.
  • Exemptions from the Community Work scheme could be given under certain circumstances, for example, on the grounds of disability or caring responsibilities.
  • Community Work should be offered in an area appropriate for the claimants skills and/or in an area that the the claimant is interested in seeking employment in so far as possible – for the benefit of both the claimant and the organisation involved.
  • Exemptions from the Community Work scheme would be given for people engaged in, or willing to start, work-related training or education.
  • Benefits sanctions would not be eligible to be imposed for reasons relating to the Community Work scheme.

I still remain dubious whether this would work – but I’d like to throw out there to people.  What do you think?

An argument can be made, in the case of people who have never worked, that doing a few hours a week work for minimum wage is the least someone can do – however, if someone has contributed through taxes to social security, shouldn’t they be given a break especially if they are struggling to get a job due to circumstances outside of their control such as poor jobs market in their industry or high unemployment?

One thing that I believe that we are in desperate need of is an independent review into welfare reform, no government intervention, to do knowledge and fact basis analysis into welfare reform, if it’s needed, and what viable options there are for reform.

In any case, I do believe that as a country we have a duty to offer every assistance we can to job seekers and help them in their quest to find a job.