Thursday, January 12, 2012

High Street Robbery

SOME stories illustrate what the government is doing to young people. First there's Cait Reilly. This 22-year old studied geology at university, but found she could not get a job in her field. So while she had to sign on and claim unemployment benefit, Cait volunteered to help in a museum.

It seemed like a sound move. It might not bring any more money. but besides giving her some interesting activity it would be relevent experience to put in her CV when applying for a suitable job.

But the authorities had other ideas. At the suggestion of her Jobcentre Plus adviser Cait attended a retail jobs ‘open day’, which she was told would lead to a period of training and a job interview.

Miss Reilly and other candidates were sent to an employment skills training workshop for a week, aimed at improving attributes such as communication skills, followed by the five-hour-a-day stint at Poundland near Miss Reilly’s home in King’s Heath, Birmingham, in November.

She and five other claimants spent their time on the placement sweeping up and stacking and cleaning shelves, before they had to attend a final week of training under the ‘sector-based work academy’ scheme (SBWA). The promised job interview never materialised.

As she said: ‘I was actually doing something that was helping me work towards a job and was taken away from that to do something of no value to me. It was very frustrating.’

Under the scheme that is supposed to "encourage" the unemployed off benefits, claimants are being required to take part in an Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme in order to receive their Jobseekers Allowance (or dole as we old timers used to call it). The Department of Work and Pensions says that candidates who ‘express an interest’ in doing unpaid placements will lose their JSA if they pull out after the first ‘cooling off’ week on the scheme. But Cait Reilly says she was not informed about any cooling off period.

She said she felt she had to do it because ‘without my Jobseeker’s Allowance, I would literally have nothing’. She believes the placement allowed Poundland to use her as ‘free labour’ in the run-up to Christmas. She has now returned to her voluntary role at the city’s Pen Room Museum of writing and pen trade memorabilia, still looking for paid employment.

Cait is now pursuing legal action against the government. Her solicitor, Jim Duffy, said the practice contravenes article 4 (2) of the Human Rights Act, which states: ‘No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour. ...This Government has created – without Parliamentary authority – a complex array of schemes that allow Jobcentres to force people into futile, unpaid labour for weeks or months at a time".

Read more:

Talking about this case soon brings people relating similar experiences. One friend's son is doing a plumbing course at college but has been sent to fill shelves in Tesco. A well-known chain laid off all paid staff in the run-up to Christmas and relied on those working for their dole. God bless us all, said Tiny Tim.

Poundland says it had a ‘positive experience’ of the work placement programme which was ‘designed to provide on-the-job training for those looking to retail as a career opportunity’. Poundland's press website says the chain, which was recently acquired by Warburg Pincus, a leading global private equity firm, aims to continue its impressive growth with plans to open a further 50 new stores in 2010/11, creating an additional 2000 jobs.

"Highlights for the year ending 28 March 2010: Operating profit of £21.5 million - up 81.5 per cent (2008/9 £11.8million)• Turnover £509.8 million (net of VAT) - up 28.7% (2008/9 £396.2 million)• c2,000 new jobs created". It does not say how many were paid. It also boasts that £180,000 was raised for Macmillan Cancer Relief. So perhaps young people like Cait Railly should put down their shelf-filling stints on their CV as "working for charity".

Meanwhile to see how the problem is people on the dole not wanting to go after jobs, we go over to Llandudno, north Wales, where DFS the furniture store is due to open a new branch on February 18. So far the company has received 1,385 applications for the 16 jobs that it advertised.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 9.1 per cent of Wales’ workforce were unemployed in the period of August to October 2011 - up from 8.4 per cent between May and July last year.

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In these troubled times it is not just "ordinary" folk who are getting in trouble. Take TV chef Anthony Worral Thompson. As a friend on Facebook comments, "Millionnaire AWT, a Tory party fundraiser, was caught five times stealing food and wine from Tesco’s worth around £100. He got off with a warning. Nicolas Robinson, a 23-year-old student, was arrested for stealing water worth £3.50 from Lidl during the London Riots. He was given a 6 month prison sentence."

Others have chipped in to cite the person who was jailed for receiving a tee shirt that had been nicked,and the juvenile sent down for stealing a plastic dustbin. Some even recalled AWT denouncing the rioters last Summer.

Now come on, fellows, let's be fair. Anthony Worral Thompson could presumably have afforded to pay for the wine and cheese he stole from the store in Henley on Thames, but had his mind on other things. Whereas the people who were sent to jail could not prove their families did not need what they stole, and anyway, the government had told the magistrates what kind of sentences it expected them to pass after the riots. And there were no riots in Henley on Thames, were there?

Seems AWT is still down to speak in schools and colleges for the Tory Young Britain Foundation (unlike those trade unionists I know who have prepared talks to give in schools explaining about trade unions, but find they can't get invited). So he will be able to explain why shoplifting like his is different.

If this seems like a recipe for discontent, even disorder, let us note that the government is being asked to consider other means, besides punitive sentences, for teaching the 'oiks' their place.

Plans to open military-run academies in deprived areas were condemned as "national service for the poor" today.

Right-wing think tank Respublica urged the government to open a pilot programme of military academies in underprivileged areas to "tackle poor discipline and educational failure" in the wake of last summer's riots.

It claimed the academies "would open up new opportunities for those lacking hope and aspiration. They would change the cultural and moral outlook of those currently engulfed by hopelessness and cynicism."

Yeah right. Stand up straight there and speak when you're spoken to! Get in line there!
Not that I suppose they will be giving out any proper military training and hardware to practice with in those deprived areas? That would be dangerous.

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