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Cait Reilly’s heart’s in the right place, but maybe her head isn’t?

January 13, 2012 1 comment
Cait Reilly rails against workfare by taking coalition to court

Anti-worfare protests have appeared all over the UK, but is this part of a something-for-nothing culture?

My dad always had a saying: “If you’re young and a socialist your heart’s in the right place, but if you’re old and still a socialist, you’re head’s in the wrong place.”

When I was young I used to thin this was a simple platitude. I would bring it out at the pub every now and again as an adage, or prove a point, usually getting an appreciative chortle from the crowd.

In it’s most basic context it says that the young, free of any great burdens, are free to pursue ideological concepts. They can moan about the status quo, and rile against the establishment because they have no vested interest in it yet.

Once you hit a certain age you notice that we all need money to live and do the things that we enjoy. The older you get the more money becomes the necessity needed to allow those dependent on you to live and do the things they enjoy. Hence, poor Karl Marx spent most of his life in poverty.

I was a naive teenager once. I don’t say this condescendingly, or patronisingly, I say it with a certain degree of melancholia. While studying philosophy I envisaged a country where communism might work. I agreed with Marx’s idea that capitalism, embodied by private property, separates labour, capital and land, degrading the worker to a commodity to be bought and sold.

But poor Cait Reilly takes the biscuit. Her heart is in the right place as she rails ‘forced labour’, these poor graduates and unemployed people who have to do a few hours a week at Poundland. Marx would be pleased at her stand. But to anyone who has worked at places like Poundland, her stance is naïve, insulting and arrogant.

I may sound very Daily Mail here, but I didn’t languish on benefits waiting for an employer to hire me. I got myself a job that was flexible enough that allowed me to earn enough to take a week off here and there to do what I needed to do.

Benefits are for people who cannot find work. They are not a grant for students who think that after their degree they can sit around being paid by the state to volunteer. If you want a specific job, then yeah, you may have to do voluntary work, but a mature adult works to fund their placements.

At present I study two days a week on my NCTJ. I then work four days a week from either 11 or 12:30 until 9pm in a call centre, so that I can afford my rent, pay my bills and buy food.

But I go through this six days a week rigamarole so that every month I can do a week at a local newspaper. This is the pièce de résistance of my time, where I do the work that I want to do, where I use my philosophy degree, and get a stab at proving myself to editors and staff there that I may be a good employee one day.

So I have very little sympathy with someone who sits at home on the dole (sorry jobseeker’s), paying no rent or bills, and enjoying an perpetual work placement in a museum.

I have stacked shelves, waited tables, folded clothes, swept floors, emptied bins and cold-called hundreds, if not thousands of people. I have also chased shoplifters, been verbally abused (both in person and over the phone) and treated like a slave by employers. And you know what, the only ‘value’ this was to me was that I got paid and I’d eat!

It is insulting that there is such expectation out there, that I don’t need to take any job, because the state will provide for me. It is insulting to everyone who has ever had to take any job because they have mouths to feed. It is insulting to those who have had to do voluntary work in their spare time, giving up much of their social life because of the time they’ve missed work. And it isn’t just insulting to all the people who didn’t either go to university, or get the opportunity to do so, it is arrogant to be so presumptive about your qualities. Get the job, then be smug.

And although I have very strong opinions against Workfare, I do not think it breaches a human right to say you have been on benefits for six months, how about doing a bit of work to earn that?

Yes, there should be a less draconian way of getting able-bodied graduates and the long-term unemployed work experience. Yes, it is almost slave labour, and Marx would turn in his grave at the thought of it. But, guess what, in the real world you have to do things you don’t want to. I work with a considerable number of people who have lost good, well-paid jobs due to the recession. Do they sit about on benefits? Like hell, they have responsibilities. I have colleagues on my course who are having to do their work experience during their holidays because they have jobs and responsibilities.

And to cap it all off she seems to want to claim more money off the government by taking them to court? After living on benefits for over six months, she now wants to take more tax-payers funding as compensation? Is she using her jobseeker’s to pay for her lawyer? Or is it a ‘no win, no fee’ claim?

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