Unemployed museum volunteer forced to work for free at Poundland

! This post hasn't been updated in over a year. A lot can change in a year including my opinion and the amount of naughty words I use. There's a good chance that there's something in what's written below that someone will find objectionable. That's fine, if I tried to please everybody all of the time then I'd be a Lib Dem (remember them?) and I'm certainly not one of those. The point is, I'm not the kind of person to try and alter history in case I said something in the past that someone can use against me in the future but just remember that the person I was then isn't the person I am now nor the person I'll be in a year's time.

An out-of-work university graduate was forced last year by her local Jobcentre to stop volunteering at a museum and do a voluntary work placement at Poundland to keep her unemployment benefits.

When challenged about this, the DWP which administers unemployment benefits said:

Working in retail is perfectly good experience for a career in a museum. There are very similar transferable skills involved.

Yep, I get that.  But surely better work experience for someone looking for a career in a museum is working in a museum?  Like the museum she was already working in you cretins!

And here was me thinking the slave trade had been abolished.


  1. Ðave (21 comments) says:

    Hi Wonko

    I work in a jobcentre and the general reason why people are referred onto Mandatory Work Activity is because we think they aren’t been serious in seeking work. Jobseekers Allowance is an allowance paid to jobseekers. To be in receipt you have to be actively seeking employment.

    Reading between the lines and using personal experience I would say that the adviser who made the referral believed that she was not seriously seeking employment and was relying on a vague hope that the museum would give her a paid position. As a general rule people with specialist qualifications are allowed a limited amount of time – up to 3 months – to find a job in their chosen profession after which they must broaden their jobsearch. This person looks like she has been unemployed over a year and must have caused serious doubts in the minds of the staff at her local jobcentre that she was actively seeking employment.

    Experience shows that the longer the jobsearch goes on the less relevant a qualification becomes. Potential employers ask whay hasn’t this person been snapped up already? Is there something about this individual that I’m missing, that other employers they have applied to have seen?

    In the jobcentre we encourage volunteering because we see it as a useful way for people to gain experience and contacts which will help their transition to paid employment. However volunteers are expected to be still actively seeking employment and to accept any job offer even if it means giving up volunteering.

    Is it fair that you and I, the taxpayers, should support someone who seems to be effectively using public funds to support what seems to be a hobby? This is the judgement that my colleagues, who has access to all the facts and whose judgement I would trust, has reached.

    You usually talk sense Wonko but here I’m afraid here you are wrong. When I first read about this case yesterday I sussed it as an attempt by the “liberal” mafia to neuter a useful tool we use to give a boot up the arse to those content to drift thru life living off the bounty of the State using the Human Rights legislation in the courts.

    To quote from the official statement in the original article:-

    “Our priority is to help people off benefits and into work. We are looking to help people get practical experience that will give them a better chance of getting into work.

    “It is simply absurd to suggest that we should not be providing this support and effectively leaving people at home doing nothing.”

  2. wonkotsane (1133 comments) says:

    The DWP don’t go far enough in making people work – I would force unemployed people to work for the local authority in return for their benefits and put them in prison if they refused. Fair enough give her a different placement if there is a suspicion she’s not doing enough to find a paid job but why in Poundland? Why are large companies being provided with free labour at the expense of the taxpayer? Why wasn’t she sent to another museum or something in the same sector? Funding for arts and culture has been cut and more cuts are expected (not necessarily a bad thing if the right changes to the way the tax system works were made) so it’s not surprising that she hasn’t found paid employment in a museum. There are many, many voluntary organisations that could give her equally good work experience – probably better – and who would not only benefit more from the free labour but actually deserve it.

  3. Ðave (21 comments) says:

    It would all depend on what was available at the time. If there were no suitable Mandatory Work Activities (MWA) available in museums then a retail placement was probably the next best option. These activites are monitored by specialist teams who determine if the employers are merely using the scheme as a source of cheap labour. One of our local team who monitor this kind of thing told me that there is a certain firm of accountants who have been blacklisted for work trials since we’ve ascertained they have no intention of offering employment to any applicant.

    Back in the days of the New Deal there was a local NHS Trust that used to take a small number of people on New Deal placements. We knew that they were using us to subsidise their recruitment because 70-90% of those taken on were finished early from their placements because the hospital would offer them a job.

    When we told the start date for MWA one of the advisers on my section was openly gleeful and began ticking off on his fingers the customers he was going to refer.

    In this instant the adviser might have determined that she had no chance of working in her chosen field. After all she has been applying for jobs in that field for months but wasn’t getting any replies. Perhaps she wasn’t prepared to move out of her home area as you really need to consider when you hold a specialist degree like geology.

    Personally speaking there are certain individuals I would like to see being forced to work on the landfill sites sorting thru the rubbish looking for items missed out of the recycle bins! One would be the guy who failed to attend an adviser appointment then when he turned up to sign later on in the day stinking of alcohol threatened to throw one of our security staff thru a window when cautioned for bad language.

    The vast majority of signers are genuine people down on their luck. I have signing many older manual labourers from building sites and heavy industry (the little that is left) who used to when younger move from contract to contract and never bother signing on as the gaps in employment were so short. Now there is little work of that type available and most of it goes to younger guys as these older ones are perhaps not as fit as they once were.

    They come in, we check the jobpoints, they sign often with great dignity. Most of them will have this mate or that who knows of a new contract coming up. I used to record it on our system until I realised that these guys were either whistling in the wind to keep their spirits up or else desperate to convince you that they weren’t a skivver.

    On the other hand we also have people in their 20’s like the ex-geology student who have IT etc qualifications which should under normal circumstances make them highly desireable in the job market but have been signing on for months. Most of them dress “alternative”, goatee beard, fashionable 6 day growth, facial piecings etc. As a former personnel officer I look at them and think “I hope if you ever get an interview that you have a shave/remove those studs/dress better than when you come here bud”.

    And then of course there are the silly girls who are only signing on until they get themselves pregnant and can claim income support (IS) as a lone parent until their youngest child is 7. If a girl I used to work with at another jobcentre has her way they would only be allowed to claim IS for eight months like standard maternity pay, then go back to jobsearch like she had to do when her husband walked out on her when she was pregnant.

    Having said that however there are other girls who sign whilst pushing a pushchair, last week I lost a pen to a hyperactive 3 year old whilst his mother was calming her 6 month old youngest. Another signer looks like she’s 14 but signs as Mrs!

    I think it’s fair to say that there is no typical jobseeker and when you are dealing with them it is pretty much a case of horses for courses. Some people need gentle encouragement and support whilst others need a swift kick up the arse! Gradually after 6 months I’m learning to determine which is which!

  4. axel (1214 comments) says:

    dave: good point, well made, sir!

  5. Ðave (21 comments) says:

    I’m sorry to have to say that it looks like the liberal mafia are winning. Burgerking have withdrawn from the scheme.

    These buggers aren’t fighting against slave labour. They are fighting for the right to sit on your arse all day indulging in recreational chemicals of choice whilst somebody else pays for it. The fact that it keeps them dependant and a potential source of income to certain people is not of course co-incidental.

    The feedback that I get as a frontline signer at a jobcentre is that most participants enjoy the routine it brings into their life and many of those placed with charities often become volunteers there.

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