Workfare, Forced Labour and the new ‘Business and Community Wardens’.

Posted by Pete the Temp on April 19th 3015 on his blog at http://www.petethetemp.co.uk

 

Arriving at Finsbury Park station I came across a group of men people in high vis vests. Their vests read ‘Business and Community Warden’. I’ve learned to be suspicious of people who claim to be ‘public officers’ or ‘wardens’ so I went up to one to ask what they do. My mistrust quickly melted to sympathy. The man I was speaking to walked with a heavy head, sagging eyes and a narked expression.  His colleagues also looked seriously bored and disaffected.

He told me he is on a six month, 30 hour per week Workfare placement. The work is a compulsory condition for receiving his Job Seekers Allowance –  a meagre £240 a month to live off. Of this he has to pay his own travel (£88 a month) to get to and from his  unpaid work. That leaves him a grand total of £152 a month (or £38 a week) for food, bills, and any other services or contingencies needed to maintain his home and his health. I don’t imagine his weekends are particularly lively.

The frown on his face crept over my own as he told me that he they do not provide food so many days he can’t afford to eat at work. One day he was ill with a virus and needed to miss a day. He was told that “that wasn’t good enough” so he worked through his illness. If he misses a day of work he loses 1 month pay. If he misses 3 days he loses months of pay.

I was left wondering how much time he and his fellow unemployed colleagues  were able to look for work while they stood motionlessly and reluctantly outside the station waiting for members of the public to ask them directions. They told me that they “have a list of things to do” including patrolling local supermarkets (they have been dealing with shoplifters for both Sainsburys and Tesco) but mostly they have to just stand there. Why do these supermarkets (who have already dodged so much tax) get free forced labour from some of the borough’s most vulnerable involuntarily unemployed? Was it not these same corporations who lobbied so hard against the minimum wage and are now cutting costs on their own security? If they are benefiting from this labour then why don’t they, and not the tax payer, pay the Job Seekers Allowance ?

“How do I complain?” I asked the Warden.

“Phone the number on my vest and speak to Courtney Bailey, he’s the boss”

When I phoned I got through to The Finsbury Park Business Forum. This is an odd place to be directing a complaint about a body of public wardens, regularly briefed by the MET to carry out low level police patrol and ‘counter terrorism’ duties as a kind of forced volunteer unit of para- police. The Business forum’s website says that one of their duties is to ‘lower the perception of crime’ at the station. In helping the police clear the area of ASBOs this can be seen as the civilianisation of social cleansing. Poor people forced to police poor people on behalf of business.

Courtney Bailey met my complaint by quickly becoming loud, aggressive and insulting. When I pressed him on the scheme he accused me of being “wrong in the head”, “full of it” and “one of those anarchists” (he was at least right about that last point).

“Name me one person who is has no choice to work for us?!” he shouted.

“I’m not going to name them because you might report them to the Job Centre and they could lose their benefits” I replied.

He hung up.

Read the rest of this article here: http://www.petethetemp.co.uk/workfare-forced-labour-and-the-new-business-and-community-wardens/