'Work for dole'

Sunday Times political correspondent, Stephen O’Brien, provides some facts…

The government plans to put thousands of dole claimants to work in their communities and cut off welfare payments from those who refuse to take up the jobs. Eamnon Ó Cuív the social protection minister, will employ up to 10,000 dole recipients over the next four months, providing childcare, working with sports clubs and on environmental tasks, such as improving forest and mountain walkways as part of a bid to break the cycle of long term unemployment and to disrupt the black economy.

The follow-up by RTÉ refines it slightly

The participants are expected to work in areas like after school services, childcare, services for older people, environmental projects and in the improvement of sports and tourist facilities.

The proposals would see participants work 19.5 hours a week and receive around €210 in return.

To begin with you have to wonder how the department of social protection will find several thousand dole recipients with the garda clearance, qualities and abilities to work in after school services, childcare and services for older people within four weeks. As people have said today already, there is a six-month wait for Garda clearance at present. Anyway, that’s logistical question, it doesn’t consider the social impact of workfare itself.

Proponents often advance the idea that by forcing people to show up for circa 20 hours per week to get their dole payment they will cut down on social welfare fraud. Often these same people will be conservative thinkers who fail to recognise that in doing so the State is providing services which could be operated by private enterprise.

I was going to write a long wonkery essay here but others have already done a more elegant job than I could in examining the various merits and drawbacks. Fergal Crehan, in a perceptive essay written almost six months ago, covered the social angle on Tuppenceworth.ie…

Firstly, it is of no direct benefit to the economy. It might be nice, socially and aesthetically, to have litter-free streets, or well pruned hedgerows, but sending the unemployed to do such work has no bearing on the economy. Indeed, in the case of any serious work, it denies the private sector a possible contract, thus putting pressure on companies previously reliant on such work, perhaps ultimately putting them out of business.

As with the private sector version, there arises the question of demand. How much of the work to which people will be put is actually necessary? There’s only so much litter to pick up, so many hedges to trim. In any case, all but the most basic of tasks will require equipment and supervision. Even with free labour, this scheme would constitute a massive increase in public sector spending, at a time when the common view is that a reduction in same is required.

Demand, in fact, is the key here. The economy is not in trouble because labour cost too much. If demand is sufficiently high, it will be worthwhile for businesses to pay whatever the market demands that labour should cost. An artificial reduction (or in fact abolition) of wages does not solve the demand problem, indeed it worsens it. But that is not the real motivation of the scheme. The real motivation is the same as that which was behind the Victorian Poor Law. It is the furious certainty that somewhere out there, people are getting something for nothing. Being on Social Welfare must then be made so unpleasant that recipients finally decide they’d rather work. This, of course, assumes that there are jobs to be had.

Suzy Byrne is a little more current

I’m thinking out some of the very glaring problems with this new programme – we’ve been here before with Social Employment Schemes in the 1980’s and Community Employment from 1990’s until the present. I’m sure readers can add to this list.

– The employment of people on some sort of work for benefit programme displaces other jobs despite the ‘approval’ of unions.
– Reduces the numbers on the ‘live register’ thus looking good for the government.
Tells people in local communities in receipt of services from those on such a scheme that they are not important enough to receive support from properly paid, qualified, motivated and trained staff – eg. services for older people, people with disabilities and children.
– supporting unemployed people back into work requires resources, experienced supervisors, care, counselling, garda clearance, follow up etc. This may be possible if this new plan is part of existing services, but I would expect community organisations who are well experienced (worn out) in employment schemes to point out the current inadequacies and require more support.

This is not an employment creation scheme and should not been seen as such, it’s being introduced by the Minister for Social Protection – actually can anyone point me to the government’s employment strategy?

And John McGuirk, who many would describe as a conservative, is against it too

It’s an odious idea, designed to win votes from grumpy taxpayers on the backs of the “lazy” unemployed, and to detract attention from the failings of government. It should be resisted fiercely.

I worry about the thought processes behind this policy proposal when the minister is quoted in the Sunday Times as saying; “at the moment we pay €4.3 billion a year to people to do nothing and many of those are finding it difficult to deal with being unemployed”. You don’t give people on the dole something for nothing, you’re giving them back the PRSI and taxes they paid to help them live while searching for new employment. Such language from the minister is unnerving.

While workfare looks sensible and logical on the surface to many, deeper examination of the subject shows, if not considered, well-implemented and fully thought-through it could be extremely damaging, to the individual and the economy. If they’re going to do it, let’s hope they get this one right.

6 thoughts on “'Work for dole'”

  1. If the Government wanted community work done, and wanted to put long term unemployed back to work in the community [which would be a good thing], why did they scrap 29 CDP’s at the start of the year. http://www.dublinpeople.com/content/view/2752/57/

    They do not want to do either. They wan’t to scapegoat the unemployed for getting the insurance they paid for (as you rightly point out).

    This move will backfire for at least 2 reasons.
    1. as expected it will be poorly thought out and poorly implemented.

    2. the unemployed community is of all backgrounds nowadays with professional joining the dole queues in the greatest number. Any attack on the unemployed is an attack on all the unemployed on a psychological level. All unemployed will listen up to what the government are saying on this. The unemployed brickie and the unemployed architect and the unemployed bank teller are all unemployed workers, more identified with the similarities of their current circumstances than ever before. The are more identified with their relationship to the market economy and the mode of production. Are the government in the business of pricking consciousness? let us see.

    With a lack of a right wing PD mud guard to blame for the harder austerity ideals of FF, I think the backbenchers will be exposed time and again on this. Watch them fall.

  2. Yet another example of Fianna Fáil doing nothing and making it look like something. Now when we throw unemployment at them they’ll throw this scheme back at us claiming to have “handled” it.

    I’m just surprised I haven’t heard anyone blame this on the Greens yet.

  3. Some great questions are asked in this post, and as someone whose initial reaction is positive, it’s great to hear the very real concerns I hadn’t thought of.

    However, I thought I’d just draw a line under “pilot scheme”. If it’s a disaster, it will be abandoned. Anyone inclined to reach for the pitchfork and torch should hang on a bit.

  4. No doubt some of those on workfare, will fall into holes, over shovels and sue the state for injuries received. I can see the legal vultures lining up already, Army deafness 2 anyone. THis is Ireland, home of 1,000 scams

  5. I’m not sure of what the impact this would have on private sector contracts. There are many places and communities that have never really benefited from private sector maintenance type contracts, even during easier times.
    There is a subsection, and I’m not sure what size it is, but I’m inclined to think it’s large, of the unemployed that want to work and aren’t needlessly fussy about the nature of the work and how it pertains to their prior experience, training, sense of self entitlement etc etc… IF they go for workfare, the issue for these people is feeling that what they do will have a lasting and worthwhile impact, and will in some way be of use to them in finding future employment, learning etc etc. Nobody want’s to erect famine follies and shite looking cement, stone walls as per FAS as it exists now. Things like renovation, habitat for humanity type housing initiatives, ghost estate reclamation; I would see as a more salient and actually useful thing. There are a couple of things which will prevent something like this from being a good thing, poor planning, a lack of optimism on the part of people who think it’s only purpose is as shiny government policy, and the perception of exploitation. This has to be given to unemployed people, must be designed and implemented by unemployed people, be able to match people to the right jobs, and be evaluated by everybody. The unemployed should be called upon to decide what projects are worthwhile. Expertise and leadership is not in short demand amongst the unemployed. There are people who just don’t want to work, it’s naiive to say there aren’t and workfare will do very little to help that IMO. There are plenty of people who do want to work. If people want to do this it should be for themselves and not as a government chore.

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