Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Volunteering; Good news. Bad news

The good news; the proportion of people volunteering regularly has increased for the first time since 2005, new figures from the Cabinet Office indicate.

Given the tough economic climate, these are remarkably positive figures that demonstrate both the generosity of the British public and the resilience of our sector.

The third sector benefits hugely from the support and participation of so many people, and the challenge now is how to grow and protect this great national asset at a time when many charities are feeling the effects of public spending cuts.

Now the bad news; DWP have been caught out by the Appeal courts for abuse of laws on forced labour.

Miss Reilly had to leave her voluntary work at a local museum and work unpaid at the Poundland store in Birmingham, under a scheme known as the "sector-based work academy".

She was told that if she did not carry out the work placement she would lose her Jobseeker's Allowance.

Commenting on the victory she achieved in the Appeal Courts she said that making her give up her voluntary work and sending her to Poundland was wrong.

"Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time, as the experience did not help me get a job," she said.

"I was not given any training and I was left with no time to do my voluntary work or search for other jobs.

"The only beneficiary was Poundland, a multimillion-pound company. Later I found out that I should never have been told the placement was compulsory."

"I don't think I am above working in shops like Poundland. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working."

She said she hoped the Government would "rethink" how it tackled long-term unemployment.

"I agree we need to get people back to work, but the best way of doing that is by helping them, not punishing them."

There are some serious issues here. Clearly Miss Reilly should not have been told she had to work at Poundland for nothing or lose her benefit. And it cannot be right that she had to give up her voluntary work (with all the potential benefits for getting her a job) for unpaid Poundland work (which she says was not useful for getting a job).

And what prey was the response of the DWP. Contrition? An acceptance that they might need to make changes to the scheme? Useful guidance for the organisations who are out there delivering these schemes because they really do want to help the long-term unemployed into work? No, like their response to the scandals of the disability work test, they hit out. Said the Judges were wrong. And even if they weren't they would change the law.

Of course it is important that we have work placement schemes, and there is evidence they do help people into work, but DWP should have the good grace to admit there are ways this could be done better.

And that brings to mind a joke passed on to me by Stuart yesterday;

" overheard in Westminster:
Could the PM confirm that Atos have established that Richard III is fit for work ".

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