Are schemes like this a positive way to help people find work or would the young unemployed jobseekers be better off using the time to pursue their creative, sporting or entrepreneurial passions?
People taking up work experience places – providing up to 30 hours a week of unpaid labour – face losing benefits if they quit.
Britain’s jobless young people are being sent to work for supermarkets and budget stores for up to two months for no pay and no guarantee of a job, the Guardian can reveal.
Under the government’s work experience programme young jobseekers are exempted from national minimum wage laws for up to eight weeks and are being offered placements in Tesco, Poundland, Argos, Sainsbury’s and a multitude of other big-name businesses.
Cait Reilly, 22, is completing three weeks at Poundland, working five hours a day. Reilly, who graduated last year with a BSc in geology from Birmingham University, found herself with five other JSA claimants last week stacking and cleaning shelves at Poundland in south Birmingham.
She says there are about 15 other staff at the store but, unlike them, she will receive no remuneration for her work. “It seems we’re being used as some free labour, especially in the runup to Christmas.”
Reilly says she told her local jobcentre in King’s Heath, Birmingham, that she did not need the experience in the store as she had already done plenty of retail work.
Despite DWP rules, Reilly says she was told by the jobcentre that she would lose her benefits if she did not take the Poundland placement. The DWP says jobseekers should be told about the cooling-off period but was unable to comment on individual cases without being given personal details.”I was told [the work experience placement] was mandatory after I’d attended the [retail] open day,” she said.
She said she felt she had to do it because “without my JSA, I would literally have nothing”.
Under the scheme, there is no guarantee of a job, only an interview. Multiple jobseekers can work in one store at the same time, cleaning or stacking shelves and competing against each other for a potential offer of paid work.
The DWP has no overall figure for the numbers involved, so it is not known how many hundreds or thousands of young people are working without pay for months.
But including similar schemes such as mandatory work activity, sector-based work academies and the work programme, which is mainly run by private companies, the government expects hundreds of thousands of young people to do weeks of unpaid and forced work experience for big companies.
Figures released on Wednesday reveal that youth unemployment stands at 1.016 million.
As part of her placement Reilly has been given training at another company, which will gives her a City and Guilds qualification in retail.
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