Today's Sunday Post column in full
Three cheers for Cait Reilly. The 24 year-old Birmingham lass finished a geology degree last summer but couldn't find a paid job. Instead of lounging around at home, she got up, got out and found herself voluntary work at a local museum where she hoped to build a career using her science skills. So far, so good.But then the government stepped in to "help." Cait could either "volunteer" for work experience -- 30 hours a week unpaid labour at Poundland -- or lose her weekly £53.45 Job Seekers Allowance. Nice. Cait stuck Poundland for two weeks before calling time, getting legal advice and taking her case to court. Never mind David and Goliath. Cait took on the full might of David Cameron's government – and won. Speaking outside the court she said; "I don't think I'm above working in shops. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working. If government (workfare) schemes helped young people into jobs they wouldn't have to force us to attend." Quite.
Workfare schemes look increasingly like a racket designed to give free labour to big firms who make enough money to pay the minimum wage. Over the busy Christmas period in 2012, big stores used workfare placements instead of hiring new recruits or offering overtime. An English food company recently sacked 350 workers and moved production to a plant with 100 workfare placements, 'to give them an idea of what it's like to work in the food sector.' While working there, unpaid Jobseekers are counted as "employed" -- so they help ease George Osborne's jobless figures while undercutting low paid workers – and they don't get useful experience. A 2008 DWP survey showed workfare made little difference to employment prospects and reduced chances by making workers "unavailable" for other opportunities – like Cait and her lost museum work. I've a lot of admiration for her "get up and go" – I volunteered at a radio station for four months without pay when I left yooney back in the 90's. It wasn't easy to put your foot in the door and ask unknown bosses to give you a chance. But for me it was the only way into journalism.So I hope Cait will be philosophical and keep hopes of a museum career alive. After all - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Even a tussle with IDS.