Will Forced Community Work For The Jobless Be Effective?
The UK Government is apparently about to launch a radical policy to further reduce its welfare bill. The newspapers this weekend stated that the Government is about to announce plans to force people who have been on benefits for some time to do community work of up to 30 hours a week or face losing their benefits for three months.
The details have yet to be revealed and apparently opposition party representatives are holding fire until then, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has criticized them, saying that they could push people into despair.
It has been argued that voluntary work in the community is a good way of regaining confidence and skills if you have been out of work for some time. It is, indeed, proposed by many experts who work with woman returners, those who have taken a few years out of the workplace to bring up children.
However, those who do so do it out of choice. Forcing people to do community work against their will may have the same effect as forcing people to get treatment for mental illness. Interestingly, reports suggest the UK Government is about to announce plans to allow prisoners with mental health problems who are not a risk to the public the option of treatment. They clearly recognize that enforced treatment will not work.
Moreover, the approach seems to be fairly punitive rather than encouraging, which does not suggest that it is aimed exactly at building confidence. What, for instance, is the difference between forced community work to get benefits and community sentences, which are a punishment for having broken the law?
The other problem is that if you force people to do unpaid work for 30 hours a week, what are they supposed to do with their children if they have them? Either they are supposed to pay for childcare [out of what money?] or will they have to resort to calling in favors from friends and family who are not working and who may be in similar situation to them or, in the case of family, not living in the immediate vicinity?Continued on the next page