Cameron and Osborne want the unemployed to work for £1.78 an hour

Alex Hern reports on David Cameron and George Osborne’s savage undermining of the minimum wage.

Under a government scheme set to begin in 2013, the long-term unemployed will be required to do at least six months of community work or lose their benefits.

The Guardian reports:

Cameron said anyone unable to find sustainable employment will be required to undertake at least 26 weeks community work lasting 30 hours a week in order to secure continued receipt of Job Seekers Allowance.

The scheme will be piloted in four areas before it is planned to go nationwide at broadly the same time as the introduction of the universal credit in 2013. The former Labour work and pensions secretary James Purnell had proposed something similar in 2008, but it did not become law.

Ministers have alighted on 30 hours since they say this will be enough to familiarise the unemployed with the world of work.

Under the current rate of Job Seekers Allowance, this means unemployed people will be paid as little as £1.78 for an hours work, less than 30 per cent of the minimum wage.

The coalition’s new work programme already compels the unemployed to do unpaid work to keep their benefits:

From June job centre advisers can instruct claimants to undertake work placement activity. Participants are expected to spend up to 30 hours a week, for four weeks, on their work activity placement and will be required to continue to look for work.

A list of businesses receiving free labour under the work boost scheme was made available under the FoI act, and includes such upstanding community organisations as Sainsbury’s and Asda.

This is the first time such work has been explicit government policy, however, and the first time claimants have been required to work for such a length of time for no pay. It’s introduction follows the same line of reasoning that so many Conservative MPs have voiced in recent months: that over-strong worker protections are the reason for unemployment.

Louise Mensch claimed:

“The left think they’re helping working people by providing more rights, but all that actually happens is you create poverty and despair, because jobs go to your competitors who have fewer rights for workers.”

Osborne stated that:

“We also respect the right of the unemployed to get a job and not be priced out of the labour market”

Philip Davies argued that for disabled people:

“…the national minimum wage may be more of a hindrance than a help.”

Now Cameron is arguing that the best way to get people employed is to force them to work for a third of the minimum wage. Does he not remember the lessons of the NMW’s introduction in 1998?

As the BBC reported two years later:

The Tories have even been forced to abandon their opposition to the wage because it has not had the expected negative effects and they do not want to enter an election arguing against it.

Having won an election supporting it, the Conservatives now seem to want to undermine fair pay at every opportunity.

UPDATE: Sainsbury’s has been in touch to say that although its Golders Green store is on the list of participating employers given by the DWP, it has no knowledge of the branch being part of the scheme. We retain the link to the list for the benefit of readers, but urge caution.  

See also:

Why won’t the government walk the walk when it comes to unpaid internships?Gus Baker, November 8th 2011

Tories leave rural workers stuck in the mudHuw Irranca-Davies MP, November 3rd 2011

Back the Apple: We must fight for farm workers’ wagesMary Creagh MP, October 25th 2011

Tory MP: Disabled should work for less than minimum wageShamik Das, June 17th 2011

Right’s dodgy youth unemployment attack on minimum wageDominic Browne, April 13th 2011

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