ontroversy over ‘work for dole’ scheme

The Government say Project Work has been so successful, it should be rushed out nationwide. Opponents say there is no proof that it works. Stephen Naysmith examines the controversy over the latest ‘workfare’ scheme.

A new tactic to get the long-term unemployed back to work is to be extended to include Edinburgh. Dunferrnline. Lanarkshire and Dundee.

However. while the Government claim a dramatic impact in early trials. opponents have described the evidence for its expansion as ‘fiimsy‘.

Project Work targets claimants who have been unemployed for at least two years. They rntrst take part in a 26-week programme which includes thirteen weeks of compulsory work experience. Failure to comply results in loss of benefit.

Piloted initially in Hull and Medway and Maidstone. it has been a striking success. according to the Department of Education and Employment (DEE). They claim unemployed claimants have been leaving the register at a rate 25 per cent higher than in other areas.

Critics ask if this is a valid way to measure the success of a scheme aimed at getting people back into work. A study for London‘s Unemployment Unit suggests the Government have put the best possible spin on the figures.

lt ciairns the numbers actually leaving the register to go into work are pitiful -— 8 per cent. giving the scheme ‘the worst job entry figures for any government initiative.‘

The Unemployment Unit say many claimants have simply moved onto other types ofbenefit which do not require them to sign on. The DEE confirm that this does apply to a small proportion of the figures.

Criticism of the scheme has also come from sortie voluntary organisations and charities. who are being offered job-seekers on placements as part of the work-experience element.

In Hull. a boycott has been organised. with some success according to Peter McGee of the Hull Voluntary Sector Alliance. ‘Several organisations

Job Seekers: work experience will help the long term unemployed, Goverment claims

He argues the objections are a matter of principle. as well as politics. ‘Compulsory volunteering is simply a nonsense. This is not doing anything for the long-term unemployed. it isjust a political device to massage the figures.‘

McGee points out that expanding the scheme on the scale the Government is proposing will effectively eradicate long-term unemployment on paper at least.

lfthe new pilots begin early next year as planned. they will have a dramatic impact on unemployment statistics to be published shortly ahead ofthe expected May polling date.

McGee suspects voluntary organisations are being used to provide the Govemment with a useful pre- election boost: ‘This is something the voluntary sector should not touch with a bargepole.‘ he states.

These concerns wer' echoed by Pauline Graham. policy officer with the National Council for Voluntary Services. ‘lt should be clear that this is not voluntary activity. For many organisations this is totally against what they are all about.

‘There hasn't been enough evaluation of the impact ofthe pilot projects.‘ Feedback varied. she added. ‘Some unemployed people think it is slave labour. others treat it as a kick up the backside.‘

An added fear is that what Graham describes as ‘job substitution' will take place. With ‘volunteers‘ available from the employment service. charities on tight budgets might be tempted to cut costs and use


increasing the involvement of the private sector.

‘There is a danger employers will recruit Project Work participants as unpaid temporary labour and a substitute for waged cmployees.‘ lain Murray ofthe Unemployment Unit claimed.

‘The logic of the Govemment's case for extending Project Work is highly questionable.‘ he added. ‘This must be the first time a pilot programme has been extended nationwide before a single claimant . has actually completed the pilot.‘

However. Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard claims to have been ‘very impressed’ by the pilots. ‘lt is clear that this approach is helping people who have not worked for a very long time to refocus their efforts to find a job.’ she said.

The Govemment aim to make life more difficult for those who claim fraudulently. and point out that Project Work is too much trouble for people with black market jobs.

Shephard has no regrets about those who leave the register without finding work: ‘When faced with compulsory work experience some have left the register. Maybe they are too busy.‘she commented at this year‘s Conservative Party conference.

A spokesperson for the DEE denied the initial evidence was too flimsy to warrant a £l00m expansion programme. ‘We don‘t agree. the early results ofthe pilots have been impressive.‘ she said.

have turned away Project Work placements. There is evidence that the boycott is making life difficult for

the providers.‘ he said.

them in the place of paid employees. The new pilots will be tested in ‘a broader range of markets' according to the DEE. This will include

‘People are getting back into employment or at least getting work experience which gives them something else for their CVs.‘ she added.

And Finally . . . Excuse me sir, is that your penny farthing?

While censorship has reared its ugly head over the movie Crux/r. readers of this month‘s Sig/H & Sound magazine have the opportunity to read an article by David Miller and Greg Philo on the potentially harmful effects of screen vhflence.

The essay was left out of a recently published collection entitled Ill [ft/ecu. Provoking Mr Philo. Research Director of Glasgow University‘s Media Unit. to accuse editors of censoring his views.

Such indignation may have raised an ironic chuckle in some quarters: when the university newspaper criticised him in print recently. the lecturer threatened cub reporters with legal action. This is what is known as ‘academic freedom‘.

You wouldn‘t think working for Glasgow Museums offered many perks. but some enterprising

employees are taking full advantage of

their regular exposure to culture. For at least six years. according to an anonymous letter sent to a city councillor. artwork valued in six figures has been making its way out of storage and onto the black market.

How paintings are being purloined is a mystery. although The Herald reports that a Maryhill storeroom alarm isn't used lest it be accidentally triggered by pigeons birds glimpsed overhead with Old Masters strapped to their feet should be reported immediately.

It should surely be easier to trace missing exhibits from the Museum of Transport. Museum staff need only check the car park at knocking-off time for anyone revving up his Model T with a starting handle.

It all brings to mind the old tale ofa building site worker seen sneaking home from work every evening pushing a tarpaulin-covered

Kubrick: in the cutting room wheelbarrow. Everyone‘s is baffled as an inventory of building materials and tools proves inconclusive. The suspect is finally confronted by his workrnates. ‘What are you stealing'?‘ they ask. to which he replies matter-

of-factly. ‘Wheelbarrows and tarpaulins.‘

Proving that fringe benefits can continue long after you‘ve been sacked in disgrace. ex-government health policy advisor Clive Froggatt has found a new career in Hollywood. Not trimming budgets. nor putting directors' contracts out to competitive tendering.

Dr Froggatt. one of the architects of NHS ‘reforms'. has been called in to assist Nicole Kidman in her role as a heroin addict in Stanley Kubrick's latest film. Eyes Wide Shut (great title. Stanl).

The good doctor. who received a suspended sentence after forging prescriptions to feed his own habit. will advise Ms Kidman on the tribulations of being a secret user. Knowing the former GP's econornising zeal. there is a distinct possibility of misunderstanding when Kubrick shouts ‘Cutl' (David Harris)

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