Companies accused of behaving 'spinelessly' over workfare row

Feb 27, 2012

Businesses frightened by slave labour accusations told to hold their nerve and stick with the scheme

COMPANIES involved in the Government’s workfare scheme are facing a further backlash - this time not from protesters accusing them of “slave labour” but from critics telling them to show some backbone and stand up to the “loony left”.

Hold your nerve
Former Marks and Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose says it is “nonsense” that big business is exploiting young people. He stacked shelves and swept floors when he first started and others can do the same. He notes on Sky News’s Murnaghan programme that one or two of the firms involved have shown “a little less than backbone”.

It is a shame businesses are “behaving so spinelessly in the row over workfare” says Matthew d’Ancona in The Sunday Telegraph. With employment minister Chris Grayling calling a meeting on Wednesday to reassure businesses about the scheme, he says it’s not too late for the “so-called ‘high-street giants’ to show that they are more than pygmies scared of tweets”.

London Mayor Boris Johnson insists that half of those who have taken part in the scheme have come off benefits within 13 weeks but complains that companies are now taking fright. “They don’t want to be thought of as silk top-hatted slave-drivers,” he writes in The Daily Telegraph. “They know that a spirit of anti-capitalism stalks the land, a fire-breathing beast that has shrivelled Stephen Hester’s bonus in its nostril-blast, and scorched Fred Goodwin’s knighthood, and now seeks whomever else it may devour.”

Boris asks that “the bleats of protest from the loony left” are ignored and that companies “hold their nerve”.

Stuffed suits don’t understand
Making workers choose between low-paid labour and abject poverty might make “perfect sense” for the stuffed suits in the world’s financial centres, says Laurie Penny in the New Statesman, but the trouble is that “workfare doesn’t work”.

The reason that many have become dependent on welfare is not that we have suddenly become “a nation that prefers to put our collective feet up in a pair of looted trainers and watch The Xtra Factor than go out and do a day’s work,” she says. The reason is that a day’s work no longer pays the rent.

The rising cost of property, lack of social housing and end of rent controls means that hundreds of thousands of families have to rely on welfare to keep a roof over their heads.

Scheme undermines real voluntary work
One organisation that withdrew from the scheme nearly a year ago is Oxfam. The charity’s head of volunteering Georgia Boon tells the Oxford Times that “forced volunteering” is not only an oxymoron but it “undermines people’s belief in the enormous value of genuine voluntary work”.

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, writing in the Sun on Sunday, said: “By all means, pay companies incentives to employ young people, but do not take advantage of the vulnerable by using them as free labour.”

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