Discipline and Punish : ‘Work’ for £57.35 a week for your own good

unpaid work

You’ve probably caught up already with the Tory proposal to make young people work for their benefits. Reported in the Independent as follows:

The proposals would see young adults who have been out of work, education or training for six months (“neets”) made to do compulsory community work such as making meals for the elderly or joining local charities.

Under the scheme, Jobseekers’ Allowance would be abolished for 18 to 21-year-olds and replaced with the already announced “Youth Allowance” of the same amount – £57.35 a week.

The Prime Minister claimed that the programme would “effectively abolish long-term youth unemployment”.

Alan Mackie takes this mean-minded excuse for policy to task in his incisive blog, Discipline and Punish – Workfare for Young People and the General Election

He concludes:

There has been a multitude of research conducted into the attitudes of young people towards work. All point in the same direction – young people want to work. They don’t require discipline. They require work. Meaningful work which offers fulfillment, security and a sense that they are contributing to society. Furthermore, research has shown that marginality is the story of the youth labour market, not exclusion. It is not the case that young people are out of work for sustained periods of time, but rather drift in and out of work as opportunities arise (part-time employment, short-term contracts, educational opportunities etc etc). This is not the consequence of the poor work attitudes of young people (which Cameron’s language is seeking to frame it as) but of a fragmented labour market which is hostile to the presence of (primariliy working-class) young people. This further negates the requirement for the language of ‘discipline’. Young people will seize opportunities if they are there. They are no different to the rest of us. So why are we picking on them? Neither the Conservatives or Labour seem to have the answer to this. Easier to punish, or discipline. Sooner or later this will reach older age groups too, if we don’t assist young people to resist this. But who is speaking up for young people?

Whilst Labour’s proposals talk of guaranteeing a six month job for young people out of work for a year, Ed Miliband has also pledged that young unemployed people who refuse to take training courses to gain key skills would lose their benefits.

And for those seduced by talk from both Tory and Labour about creating and guaranteeing apprenticeships , see Desperate Dave and the three million apprentices From Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley.

While it is true that some apprenticeships have provided real opportunities, many have   represented a Great Training Robbery allowing government agencies to meet targets and training companies to line their pockets.  Placements have invariably been dead-end and youngsters ‘parked’ with employers on low wages; rather than making the transition to any proper employment.

….. yet the main issue  continues to be whether employers really want apprentices at all; at least in the numbers that Cameron promises.  With many skilled and ‘middling’ occupations disappearing, the majority of jobs created since the downturn have been either unskilled work at the lower end of the service sector, or enforced ‘self-employment’. Creating three million apprenticeships by 2020 would depend on the transformation of the UK’s  low-skilled, casino driven economy. At the very least this would require a proper industrial strategy and huge levels of public investment. This is not what the two main parties in the general election are offering.

Let’s leave the last word to Rebecca Moore, a member of the UK Youth Parliament in her blog, A living wage enhances the quality of work

The wage required to live a moderately comfortable life is £7.85 an hour yet the minimum wage is still £3.79 for under-18s, £5.13 for 18 to 20-year-olds and £6.50 for those aged 21+. Surely for leaders to expect children to be fed, taxes to be paid and people to work hard, then workers should be rewarded with what they deserve and quite frankly need.

It’s the 21st century. Nobody should be struggling to put food on the table. The UK Youth Parliament elected ‘Raise the Wage’ as this year’s campaign and we are inviting you to support us.


  1. I wish they would make up their ducking minds, Scout HQ is trying to stop young leaders benefits been docked for helping out at summer camps etc,

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