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The Government’s controversial Work Experience Scheme has come under heavy scrutiny lately due to its apparent support for unpaid work placements. Below is a summary of the entire scheme, including comments from the government and the criticisms they are facing from both opposition campaigners and companies.
The scheme is aimed at 16 to 24 year-olds who have been unemployed for more than three months but less than nine months. They are provided with an unpaid placement for two to eight weeks, working 25 to 30 hours a week.
During this time they will continue to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance and may also receive help with travel and childcare costs.
The participant will be able to decide in the first week whether they want to commit to the scheme, after this time, if they cut their placement short their benefits will be stopped for two weeks.
‘For some young people a lack of understanding of the world of work or simply not being given a chance to prove themselves can prevent them from finding a job. We work with employers to offer 16–24 year old jobseekers the opportunity to overcome these barriers through offering them a work experience placement lasting two to eight weeks.’
Initial reports were positive as between January 2011 and the end of November 2011, 34,200 people had taken part in the scheme and only 220 had had their benefits docked. Chris Grayling, employment minister says that the scheme is "offering young jobseekers the opportunity to get invaluable work experience which plays a vital part in helping people get into the jobs market."
The scheme has received a huge level of criticism over the last few months as campaigners claim that large companies are using the programme to get cheap labour.
Public concern has prompted firms such as Burger King, Sainsbury’s, Maplin and Waterstones to quit the scheme over fears of endorsing slave labour.
However, ministers strongly disagree with this view as they insist that the scheme is helping the jobless to prepare for employment; Grayling has blamed a “small number of activists” who are targeting “jumpy firms”.
MacDonald’s, for example, was put under immense pressure from campaigners to withdraw from the scheme as threats were made to protest at stores across the country.
Conservative MPs and newspapers have accused these activists of trying to destabilise firms and ruin the employment chances of thousands, especially as "these companies are actually doing a good turn for these people. They’re helping them get back on the job market" (Grayling).
MPs are urging firms to show more backbone and stand up to campaigners.
*The main criticism behind the scheme is that jobseekers can choose to take part in the scheme but if they fail to turn up without good reason their benefits could be removed, therefore critics have questioned whether placements really are voluntary. However conservative MP George Eustice disagrees as people are given a trial week where they can experiment with the work.
**"If they decide to commit, they can commit for about four weeks, and they are expected to commit. Work is about commitment. It's about turning up on time and being reliable. That’s not unreasonable to ask."***
The government stands by its original claims that this scheme is an excellent opportunity for the unemployed, however, due to the recent criticisms, they have announced plans to change the scheme so youngsters will not lose out on their benefits if they leave their placement early.
With more than one million currently out of work, Chris Grayling is urging the public and campaigners to encourage firms rather than criticise them, otherwise we could find ourselves with a “lost generation” in employment terms.
Nick Clegg has shown his support for the cause and has ‘no qualms’ about the scheme as it prevents “a young person sitting at home, feeling cut off, lonely and getting depressed because they don't know what to do with their lives.”