Clash looms with Westminster over welfare to work

 This could be a very thorny issue for the Assembly and Executive.  Nearly all the local parties will hate the coalition’s welfare to work policies. Politically they wouldn’t dare do otherwise. But this pushes them right up against their limitations.

Alex Attwood the SDLP’s Social Development minister has branded as  “Thatcherite” the coalition’s plans to cut welfare payments for at least three months if voluntary work is not accepted.

The Scots are also up in arms. But the Scots appear to have no choice other than to go along with what Iain Duncan Smith proposes on Thursday, as welfare – the Work and Pensions department – is not devolved in GB.

 Nominally NI has discretion but operates a step by step policy.

Mr Attwood said he hoped the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly “goes nowhere near this idea”.

In practice can the Assembly refuse to follow Westminster’s lead as they will be funded to comply?



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  • The Raven

    I have no problem with this. For the 4-5 month period I was unemployed after university, before I got an ACE post (who remembers those?), I signed up with the Conservation Volunteers. Glad I did, too – it kept me going.

    I just hope some spotty 18 year old working frontline doesn’t send someone with a heart condition out to plant trees, or a 61 year old out to do manual labour.

    Other than that, I think it’s a great idea, and I don’t see Alex’s problem.

  • GoldenFleece

    I think this will have more public support than the parties here realise. The only ones largely dead against it I feel would be the serial scroungers – which I have no problem with whatsoever. Plenty of places need volunteers, I’m applying for conservation work myself tomorrow.

  • DC

    Compelling jobless into workplaces doesn’t work (excuse the pun). So, it’s a load of crap. Besides working for benefits is cheap and shabby labour.

    What there should be is JSA claiming for those who want to skill up through work and are encouraged to do voluntary work to supplement particular skills they have learned at tech or uni so that they can put theory into action.

    Perhaps newly qualified people in the legal field or HR or marketing things like that – but bouncing people into jobs to clean u-bends in toilets or supply cheap labour is a nonsense.

    What will happen is certain jobless will find some recently bankrupt self-employed person or self-employed labourer or friend of the family small business owner to rubber stamp this one way or the other – and they will manage to fake their work one way or another.

    It’s peanuts anyway JSA. It’s bread and milk money, perhaps some coffee and cheap cereal thrown in for good measure.

  • DC

    You joining the Tories?

  • slug

    NI needs this more than other parts of the UK.

    Its well known that when someone is out of work for a while there is a psychological effect in which they lose the esteem to seek work. Initiatives which help get people back into the habit of working.

    This will be popular with much of the electorate in Northern Ireland.

  • GoldenFleece

    Nope, I’m a member of a different political party :-).

  • GoldenFleece

    “Perhaps newly qualified people in the legal field or HR or marketing things like that – but bouncing people into jobs to clean u-bends in toilets or supply cheap labour is a nonsense.”

    Hey I have volunteered for many unpaid jobs, and they are certainly not nonsense! Volunteering is wide range – from helping out with your local youth soccer team to driving OAP’s to the bingo hall once a week.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    If carefully managed this will be popular, except with those who do not want to work or are ‘doing the double’.

    Anyone who actually is capable of work should benefit from volunteering and getting back into the habit of the discipline of working.

    Tax payers do not object to helping those who need help, they do object to giving handouts to people who are abusing the system.

    We all are aware of the abuses and the politicians/political advisors who help abusers get the maximum in benefits. It has become an art form.

  • GoldenFleece

    Its even more absurd than that FD.

    13 years of Labour have made it that some families actually LOSE money if they get a job. They actually get more in benefits than working. Such a system is unsustainable.

    People who want to work should be helped every step of the way to find a job.

    People who don’t want to work – that’s fine – but you have to give back something to society if your going to take from it. This take and no give has got to stop.

  • Cynic

    The limits of devolution. Wee Alex is allowed to administer the British Rules – nothing more.

  • abucs

    I agree with the sentiment but it will need some creative thought to come up with things for so many people to do each week and a lot of management to organise the resources and make sure it all gets done properly, safely and equally by all who are in the scheme.

    There also problems if the work completed competes against other businesses, is used unfairly for financial gain by ‘organisers’ or if it puts people in ‘real jobs’ out of work.

    But i would like to see it succeed – if possible.

  • DC

    What esteem can be gained through compulsion and working for cheap labour?

    It’s a non-runner I think – plus these jobless will be stigmatised whenever word gets out who’s in the office – it will get round like wild fire and the jobless stared at, I reckon anyway. Because benefits are not payments of kind similar to employment under contract and working for benefits isn’t exactly the same concept as volunteering to gain work skills.

    But still, typical Tories, the likes of Tim Montgomerie (Conservative Home) says in one breath:

    I believe the left has lost the war on poverty by putting too much faith in the power of the state to deliver social justice.

    But then goes on to say in the sentence:

    The left neglected the importance of incentives to work, traditional schooling and, most significantly, the two-parent family.

    So Tim after dissing the state in terms of ‘social justice’ the Tories are now going to use it to compel people into work? From a Tory perspective and along that line of thinking theoretically how can this work. Tim -is he a hypocrite?

    Or do the Tories know it wont work really long term and are using it as punishment of sorts rather than providing a leg up into work for long-term unemployed?

    Also it’s all fun and games dissing the state on social justice but silence happens whenever it is used to reduce taxes on the rich and more speechlessness whenever it is deployed to lift billions in taxes in order to bail out the banks.

    Tories are selective on the state, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t matter at all.

  • cut the bull

    Is this pratice not a bit ancient and has not been tried in various guises and failed before?
    nothing unites people more than poverty and ignorant methods of tackling that poverty

  • Baz

    What concerns me about this “non solution” to unemployment is firstly, it treads a fine line with “Article 4 The Human Rights Act 1998”, which provides specific protection from ‘slavery and forced or compulsory labour’.

    It appears to be a form of “financial blackmail” & an unscrupulous stereotyping & slanderous attack of the unemployed (Who the majority live in poverty) by the political classes, It Also breaches the “National Minimum Wage Act”.

    If our taxes can be used to bail out the banks & the financial institutions who created this whole situation & are already making billions in record profits (and millionaires) then creating proper jobs for the unemployed should be made a priory over quangos & “forced labour”.

    Unfortunately The Political & financial classes have a “Big society” Ideology whereby, they will force in “green” low or non paying jobs for the class of people they call “plebs” Then there will be a crushing financial blow with the introduction of carbon taxes.

  • DC

    It’s a bollix for NI, at worst there will be a stigmatising effect and certain jobless may lose benefits and then manage to find work if very lucky, they will prob get about under 16 hours worth of work in shop/food retail work, meaning they can also claim their JSA again due to low wages.

    So if it works the tiny few might get *lucky* and end up doing some menial food retail / till operative work.

    But after having been stigmatised into work, it won’t be long till the rumbling resentment encourages theft inside the shop or hands wonder into the till to make up for said stigmatising and to boost the minimum wage they are on.

    Employee theft in these cheap labour retail stores is already a problem and government stigmatising wont help any.

  • slappymcgroundout

    Query, is it make work or real work, and if real work, why isn’t it being paid for as real work? And, sure, I did some volunteer work as well, as in soup kitchen and tutoring through what was then the United Cerebral Palsy Spastic Children’s Foundation. Of course, both of those were not for profit enterprises and they otherwise lacked the funds to pay for the work and so some volunteering was in order. Is that what we are talking about? Or instead, some business pays peanuts when it should pay the going rate, or someone cleans the grounds of the public park that were just cleaned yesterday by the regular employee paid to do just that? Perhaps the wiser choice would be to have a much improved education/job training program instead. I mean, while some are 1 of 10 looking to fill the 1 job, some other jobs go unfilled because there’s no human qualified to do them that’s currently in need of employment. So why doesn’t the state simply look for where the need is and try to find and train those who seem to have the aptitude for the training and the job? Or would that make too much sense? Lastly, as the one soul related, the danger here is that it either puts the real worker out of a job or, again, stops a real worker from being hired, since Mr and Mrs. Working For Peanuts are currently filling the positions under the state’s glorious work for welfare program. Sorry, did I otherwise mention than any time spent working for welfare is time that can’t be allocated to finding a job? The story of the current circumstance is far less one of sponging and rather infinitely more of humans spending 8-12 hour days looking for openings, sending out hundreds of resumes, but alas, no one will deign to have them.

  • Kevin Barry

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned this from the Observer/Guardian

    There is definitely a problem with the welfare and benefits system as a lot of the time it does not seem to be helping those who need it most while rewarding those who are undeserving.

    I think getting people into the habit of work and trying to fill their days with something more meaningful than watching Trisha is a good idea, but as has been alluded to above, what’s the nature of the work that would be involved with this scheme? Are we talking about laying of a load of horticulturalists to then replace well paying jobs that require some skills and qualifications with people on the dole?

    Will these people wear specially designated outfits? I know there are a fair few people scrounging and gaming the system in their favour; I know this from my own personal experience growing up in a housing executive estate. But to think that the vast majority of people want to game the system is nonsense. Most people would rather work in a job that pays the same as being on the dole; why? Because they have self-respect.

    The argument for welfare reform usually goes along the lines of ‘we know most people who are unemployed want to get back into employment’, but then it goes to focus on what is only a handful of exceptional cases of people striking gold with the benefits system and tars all of the unemployed with the same brush, thus poisoning the argument for reform. I think focusing on retraining people so that they can skill up is a far more productive and dignified plan. Then again, we will have to see the details of IDS’ plans before we can make any concrete judgements.

  • Kaido

    Just on news this am, 1700 persons applied for 230 Xmas posts offered by Tesco. Feel hoping to make people do jobs that do not exist will be going down a cul de sac and cannot see it working. Also what will be cost of administering scheme.

    Do not know answer but feel it has got to be a gradual change of attitude rather than a magic wand. Benefits must be simplified and payments made on the basis that people with a will to work get encouragement to retrain to do so and anyone not willing paid accordingly. ” Despatches” on Mon night showed sweat shops in Leicester paying about £2.50 per hour for goods where the main buyers are household names getting about a 900% mark up. Is this what we aspire to with our new entreprenurial society. I certainly hope not.

  • Truth & Justice

    Thats funny because the SDLP voted for it during the Welfare Reform Bill at Stormont several months ago.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Attwood’s response was entirely predicable. When such a large chunk of your electorate are dependent on state benefits, they must all be considered to be “the most vulnerable in our society” and nothing must be done that might upset them like asking them to get out of the house and do something useful for an hour or two.

  • “Clash looms with Westminster over welfare to work”

    Any clash will be short-lived and with only one result.

    Attwood is frankly howling at the moon on this one especially as his predecessor put through legislation which made provision for similar measures. The Tory proposals are similar to what Labour was moving towards.

    Perhaps Attwood is building it up as some precursor/justification of an SDLP Executive walk-out with this as a cause celebre. This would enable them to come at the Shinners from the left in working class areas. However even if it is it remains pointless grandstanding.

  • DC

    108 MLAs all need constituency admin support – so why not send the umemployed there for their month’s prove-your-worth benefits!

    ps I’m only half joking.

  • DC

    Or send them to the civil service in Stormont where they can get a nice subsidised meal which will mean they have more benefit money at the end of the day to spend on other things. Maybe they can make mileage claims for travelling in or try and work on Sundays to double their benefits?

  • Seymour Major

    The SDLP normally follow the Labour Party on social matters. On this occasion, however, they have not adopted the same circumspection as Douglas Alexander.

    Of course, unlike the Labour Party, they wont have to come up with an alternative idea about where the money would come from to keep the welfare bill as high as it is.

    My belief is that this reform, even though it may be modified from time to time, will probably survive the next Labour Government.

  • DC

    Of course, unlike the Labour Party, they wont have to come up with an alternative idea about where the money would come from to keep the welfare bill as high as it is.

    Isn’t it coming from the private sector which apparently according to the Tories anyway is going to fill the void?

  • bugs

    This has been done before New Start, New Deal, YTP they don’t work. Employers see cheap labour and threaten loss of dole money if the claimant doesn’t do what there told, no need to create jobs if you have a pool of slave labour so no decrease in the number of unemployed, no pay rises for those working along side but a big rise in the profit margin. Same old torys help the rich punish the poor.

  • becky

    it wont work.its an easy way onto the sick if your put out to work you must be insured.any self respecting bru hopper knows this is easier than doing a whiplash claim the trip over the shovel ect.bad backs all round this is already being planned in pubs all over the road

  • Where are Mr Robinson’s/the Executive’s plans to grow the private sector, whilst they pontificate and prevaricate about plans to decimate the public sector, and I did notice recently that the local UUP MLA’s contribution to help ease the financial burden, was to have his constituency office open only from 9:30am to 1:30pm, Monday to Friday, although that is probably not so much a cost cutting exercise as a maximising personal income move, if one imagines that office claims are not adjusted.

    Or is Stormont just waiting for the private sector, which incidentally would be more accurately realised as being just certain individuals in the community, to show them how to lead a nation and their infrastructure and economy out of the doldrums and the ponzi scams and banking frauds which have stolen their wealth and dimmed their prospects and dumbed down their aspirations and destroyed their means and rights to a smarter and more prosperous society ……. which is surely what they are being paid to provide as sitting members of a government.

    Failure to provide that guidance/service must surely render them/prove them to be frauds, and unfit for government leadership purpose?