Sunday, February 19, 2012

For What It's Worth

The changes that have long been mooted by the government seem to be assured reality at some point in the near future.  As a single parent I am confident that my low status will ensure enough pain to make me wonder what the point is.

The biggest change has to do with benefits.  I've long been of the opinion that benefits exist as a safety net, you pay your taxes and when your luck is down they are there to help you back up. Unfortunately there are those who abuse the system, who live an entire life on benefits and on working the system to their favour.

A life I can only imagine must be stifling in the lack of ambition, of aspiration over what life can offer you.  There is a way out of poverty, but out of poverty of the mind - that is much harder.

So, here we come to the crunch.  It would seem that in it's efforts to get the work shy into jobs that don't actually exist at the moment this government has decided that, under the suspicious umbrella of work experience those on benefits should work for large companies for free.

Now I have no problem with work experience, I have no issue with attempts to teach people how earning your own money is better than finding new ways to dodge work.  At the moment though, when people are being cut from the workforce without mercy this scheme does not seem fair.

The work experience does not tie in with the person gaining skills that will impress on a c.v. or being able to link in with a future job opportunity (some have, but the numbers are very, very small.)  Instead large, wealthy companies get paid to take on the unemployed - not in jobs but as "free" labour to do with as they wish.

My concern is - as these are low paid jobs to start with, who is being done out of an actual paid job so the companies can have these freebies?  If the job is there, if the vacancies exist - fill them.

I can only bring my own experiences into this to show why I am so uneasy with this whole fiasco.  

When I left school I had so many things I would have liked to do.  Straight off I was told, under no circumstances would I be supported if I applied to art school or university.  I was expected to get a job, any job, didn't matter what, didn't matter if it was something I wanted to do - just work.

Fair enough, I knew what I would have liked to do but good jobs for school leavers were thin on the ground.  I'd have liked to work in the travel industry but, with ambition soundly quashed then I just went for the first thing I could take.

As this was in the tail end of the 80s I ended up on a YTS (Youth Training Scheme).  The (Tory) governments way of getting school leavers into work on supposed apprenticeships.  I worked in a shop in the nearest town, selling clothes, cushions, net curtains and wool (odd combination but there you go.)  It was part of a chain of shops - still around now although re-branded.

The pay was dire, 75p per hour.  Not enough to do anything with, I still sold the Avon I'd done since high school and that was my spending money really as the money I earned was nothing once everything was paid for.

Here in lay the problem.  While I earned less than the part-time worker who did three afternoons a week I was first there in the morning and last to leave at night.  I was expected to give up Sundays whenever they asked as the stock-take day was "training."  Unlike the others I didn't get a day in lieu for it, I didn't get overtime, I most certainly didn't get the chance to decline.

I worked hard, thought maybe this would lead to me going on to training as an assistant manager in a few years time.  Retail wasn't what I wanted to do but I didn't lack work ethic.

Then we found out that at the end of our two year slog, we would be let go to make way for another bunch of cheap kids.  It didn't matter how good we were, we were cheap and that was all that mattered.

When I walked out of that job I had lost a lot of the drive I'd had.  I lost that feeling of worth, I felt such resentment at having been treated as though I was nothing more than a serf.  There to run around for everyone, to work longer hours than everyone (I wasn't to leave until the manageress was locking up - I was there at the door, waiting every morning.)  For what?  I wasn't valued, I felt no value.  It changed how I looked at the workplace and how I looked at employers.  I have never and will never set foot in one of their shops again.

Unlike my dad's generation there would be no company loyalty where workers felt proud, that they were accomplishing something and the company rewarded and acknowledged this. It destroyed a part of me that has never fully recovered.

Sounds dramatic, really wasn't.  But, like a lot of what powers me on now, I would not want either of my sons to feel that way.  Rather than teach people to be self-sufficient and have a good work ethic this will breed the same resentment I had, if someone wants to work for a company in a field they are interested in or in the hope to get a job then that is so different to being threatened with removal of benefits.

Yet, with this scheme, will there be any Saturday jobs for my sons' generation to do when they are older?  Not if companies can increase their profit by scoring these Workfare people.  By all means give them work experience but *pay* them appropriately for it!

I have serious doubts for the future, I've no doubt that my sons will have to move abroad if they want any chance of a decent standard of living.

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