Long term unemployed people will have their benefits cut unless they visit a Job Centre everyday, undertake voluntary work or undertake training. If those out of work fail to partake in one of these tasks they will initially lose four weeks Job Seekers Allowance in the first instance then 13 weeks for a second failure. The BBC estimates that these changes will affect roughly 200,000 people.
According to the Office for National Statistics in April 2013 there were 2.52 million people who were out of work whilst there were a total of 503,000 job vacancies. Whilst in the past year unemployment has gone down there is still the underlying structural issue that there is neither the political desire nor jobs available to achieve 100% employment. Given this, there is a real danger of trapping many unemployed people in a cycle of constantly reporting to a Job Centre to search for work which simply isn't there. Even where there are jobs available it is suggested that there are currently 1.4 million active UK contracts which don't guarantee a minimum number of hours.
Additionally, given that basic Job Seekers Allowance stands at £57.35 the financial burden of travelling to the Job Centre everyday or travelling to volunteer or training is costly. With the ongoing closure of many Job Centres nationwide it is becoming increasingly costly to travel to claim Job Seekers Allowance. This is additional financial outlay that serves little purpose other than to punish those who are already in financial difficulty. Furthermore, tying unemployed people to having to be at a certain location at a certain time everyday will limit their ability to undertake activity that will enhance their CV on their own terms. The assumption that Job Centres hold all the answers for helping the unemployed find work is also a fanciful one. The assumption that there is a strong correlation between frequency of Job Centre visits and chances of employment is equally unrealistic.
Offering job seekers volunteering work or risk losing their Job Seekers Allowance is simply the big society at gun point. This is not about some outdated notion of showing unemployed people what it is to do a hard days work. This is nothing more sophisticated than exploiting those who have no choice but to volunteer. Even with volunteering experience there are simply not the jobs to go to. There is no evidence that mandatory volunteer work has any affect on the employability levels of those who undertake it.
This is a scheme designed purely to set unemployed people up to fail. Given the increased expense in claiming Job Seekers Allowance, the lack of evidence that mandatory voluntary work improves individuals employability and the sheer time constraints this will cause, this scheme will not help the long-term unemployed.
Then again we cannot be convinced that reducing unemployment was ever the overall goal of Help to Work. The real achievements of this scheme will be to equate Job Seekers Allowance with a wage and encourage the idea of working for nothing. It will feed into a right-wing rhetoric that the unemployed should be forced to feel ashamed or go to extraordinary lengths to claim the money they need to survive. Finally, this scheme will show that the Conservative Party are willing to forego effective measures to tackle the root causes of unemployment and instead give the appearance that punishing the unemployed is the same as tackling unemployment.