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'Make 'em work' - could workfare work for Britain?

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Eamonn Walsh | 11:28 UK time, Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The question of whether those claiming benefits should have to work for their money has long polarised political opinion, to such an extent that it has often been pushed to the political margins.

However, this week the former head of the CBI, Lord Digby Jones, told Panorama that he thought the time was right for the introduction of workfare - as the plan is often called.

Lord Jones actually took a step further than most in claiming that if he were a viewer at home, Panorama's report on the young unemployed would make him so angry that he would want to starve some of the long-term unemployed back into work.

He added that he thought he was in step with the British public's thinking on the subject.

Workfare is of course an alternative to the social welfare system that operates in the UK and is rooted in the US of the early 1970s.

In the UK, as long as people are demonstrating that they are actively seeking employment then - if eligible - they receive their benefits.

In many US states - and indeed parts of Australia and Canada - unemployed have to take jobs - often in the public or voluntary sector - to continue to earn their benefits. If they don't accept an offer of work, then they don't receive their payments.

Panorama went to McDowell County, West Virginia in the United States for a programme broadcast on 7 April 1986 to investigate the workfare system operating there.

There, they found workfare employees in almost every area of the public sector, from patient day care in health centres and residential homes, to street cleaning to, perhaps most surprisingly, walking the beat as police officers, able to do everything a regular police officer could do - except carry a gun.

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What Panorama also discovered was a system that appeared to be working successfully.

Those employed claimed that workfare gave them dignity and a sense of self-worth from working for their benefits and the local mayor spoke of the contribution made to the local economy and the public good.

Workfare was not without its critics. Opponents claimed that it was simply a source of cheap labour and that it actually stymied opportunity for the unemployed.

But its popular appeal and apparent economic sense made it a vote-winner and a form of workfare was introduced nationally in the US in 1996 under Bill Clinton.

It remains to be seen whether workfare will be introduced in the UK after the election, but with unemployment continuing to rise and the need for public spending cuts now generally accepted, it might prove to be a tempting option for future governments.


  • Comment number 1.

    its ok for lord snooty to say he would starve people back to work,if it wasnt for the likes of him this country would be a much better and prosperous place to be.hes probably one of these people with his fingers in every pie who dont get anything done to them when there caught.rich b#stard.live my life for a week you snooty git and then see what you think.

  • Comment number 2.

    and people like lord snooty only want more people in work for 1 reason.TAX getting people working means more tax money coming in so the likes of him can get his grubby little fingers into the pot,i bet he has a few bank accounts abroad,avoiding paying tax and whatever else they do to rob the poor.The poor are poor for 1 reason,the greedy upper class government.if we committed fraud(expenses)we would go to jail,what happens to them.....Nowt,go to bed with no cookies.this country is a joke. if i could i would leave this country faster than a government member filling out his expense forms.

  • Comment number 3.

    Another Brit idiot. Barely a brain cell in his head. Has he not thought about WHY people don't want to work in Britain. I was once very patriotic. Now i hate my country, and would not lift a finger for it. I worked in the NHS, because of people like him I was treated badly despite working hard and good academic qualifications, had an awful time. I haven't worked for twenty years, and currently draw a small pension and get incap. I have improved my education and was on the no4 drama degree in the country, got good A-levels, 0.66 of Open University degree so far, fro a time got excellent refs. for working hard, but then got depresed again through this constant nastiness in this country. I got a strangulted hernia and almost died yet still they tried to force me back to the work that caused that hernia. An uncivilised thug of a country. I will never go near anthing to do with the NHS or state again. Britain is an incivilised thug of a country that does not reward or deserve good citizens because it simply tries to abuse them like slaves. I will alway now do everyhting I can to fight against it, no matter what nasy tricks underhand the tricks the Libcons try to perpetrate.


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