By Bob Duncan
The Scottish Government has agreed to investigate serious allegations that an unpaid work placement scheme is being abused by Jobcentre Plus managers under pressure to meet Westminster performance targets.
MSP, John Mason, has welcomed confirmation from the Scottish Government that it will urgently raise the issue of enforced unpaid work placements with the Westminster Government.
The Sunday Mail reported this week that under-pressure job centre managers were actively encouraging employers to convert paid vacancies into unpaid work experience placements, in order to satisfy a Westminster Government target.
This included six-week unpaid ‘work experience’ over the busy Christmas period – often with little real prospect of paid employment afterwards.
High street names such as Tesco, Argos and Superdrug have taken on young people who work for free for six weeks while claiming their benefits. The scheme is voluntary but participants lose their benefits if they drop out.
Under Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s back-to-work programme, young people do up to 30 hours’ unpaid work a week. Placements can last up to eight weeks and they only receive travel expenses in addition to their £53-a-week jobseekers’ allowance.
Between January last year and May this year, almost 65,000 jobseekers carried out unpaid work experience, including 5250 in Scotland. A year on, the number of unpaid work experience placements is expected to treble.
A civil service source told the Sunday Mail: “There is no target to get people in work but there is a target of 100,000 to put people into work experience.
“Employers have been told, ‘Don’t advertise jobs as vacancies. Let Jobcentre Plus supply you people on work experience.’ The morale among those who take part is very low.
“They don’t earn any extra money and weeks later, they are back signing on with no real improvement in their job prospects.
“They’re being taken advantage of by both the employers and the Government. You don’t need six weeks’ unpaid work experience to work on a checkout.”
In response to an urgent topical question in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, Youth Employment Minister, Angela Constance, said she had written to Westminster’s Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith MP, requesting that he thoroughly investigate the reports.
Commenting from Holyrood, Glasgow Shettleston’s MSP, John Mason, said:
“The revelation that unemployed people are being actively turned away from paid employment and into unpaid ‘work experience’ places is scandalous.
“I would have thought that the primary purposes of Job Centres – which are the UK Government’s main resource in tackling unemployment – would be to get people into paid employment. But it appears instead that they have only targets for filling unpaid ‘work experience’ vacancies.
“There are a number of serious questions that the UK Government must answer regarding this, and I am glad that the Scottish Government is to pursue this.
“The Scottish Government is doing a huge amount with the limited powers it has to help young people back into work, with a record 25,000 Modern Apprenticeships being offered this year.
“The contrast between the Scottish Government’s paid placements and the modern-day serfdom seemingly being implemented by the Westminster Government shows why it would be far better for all of these decisions to be taken in Scotland with the normal powers of independence.”