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.