Kevan Pooler

Creative Writer on The Meaning of Life and the Sex that started it.

Unpaid Work Experience Programme a “Modern form of Slavery?”

Is the Unpaid Work Experience Programme a “Modern form of Slavery?”

This Question was put to the Panel of “Question Time” last night.

The BBC itself says “Minister stumped over back-to-work.”
None of the panel seemed to notice that not only is it Voluntary – it is – but it is also Paid. £50 per week is paid, not by Tesco and others using the volunteers, but by the tax payers.

Is it is antonym to say that something which is voluntary, is also paid?

Maybe that’s what stumped Ed Vaizey the Minister. Much as it was refreshing to have a minister say he didn’t know something because he hadn’t swatted that bit up, no one on the Panel answered the Question correctly.

They generally felt that any experience related to working life is valuable and I wholly agree. UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall stressed that it’s not Slavery, because it’s Voluntary. True, but not the correct answer. They all failed to point out the other distinction: that Slaves get nothing for working, where most Job Seekers and many of the Million NEETs get paid for nothing.

I applauded when the New Deal “Gateways” were explained to our Youth Service in 1998. I never saw it happen, though. The idea was that Young people had to be going through one of four “Gateways” in order to receive Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). These were basically: Employment– for JSA plus a contribution from an employer; Education or Training – for JSA plus expenses; Work in the Voluntary Sector – paid JSA plus £15, and another “V” – the real one – actual volunteering – but still for £50 JSA.

Participation in one of the four options was mandatory to receive benefits. Fair enough, I thought. But like all good riddles, there was also the fifth Gateway – to nowhere/no pay. The hinges rusted with no use. How rarely was that mandate enforced?

So I answer: No the Unpaid Work Experience Programme is not a Modern form of Slavery. People I pay £50 per week to, are offered the opportunity to do a real job. The employer doesn’t actually need them, but realises it will help the young person with experience which might get them a job later. That is good.

Tonight I will voluntarily work for no pay from 9.30pm until 3.30 aim. I will pay for the privilege of learning the job. With three others I will be walking round the town centre busy with people rendered vulnerable by drink. We’ll be picking up bottles, sweeping the broken ones and counting vomit sites. We will be available for first aid and keeping the peace. I will get cold, aches, and very tired.

I will be made to feel greatly valued by Police, Licensees, Bouncers and by many young people. I will gets hugs and pats on the back, and maybe even a kiss. Handsome pay.

I will love being a Street Pastor.

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