The Government were yesterday forced to announce that young people enrolled on their ‘Get Britain Working’ work experience scheme would no longer face benefit sanctions if they chose to leave the programme early.
The embarrassing announcement comes after weeks of demonstrations against the controversial scheme, which has been faced with constant opposition from pressure groups that it forced those involved to work for nothing.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) agreed to the change after a meeting with some of the biggest employers involved in the scheme, who were threatening to pull out if the policy remained unchanged. Ministers had no choice but to agree to the turnaround as they sought to avoid further scandal following the decision of some of the nation’s biggest firms including Greggs, TK Maxx and Argos, to drop out of the scheme after continued protests outside their high-street stores.
The scheme, which is open to young people aged 16 to 24, allows participants to continue collecting job seekers’ allowance whilst taking part in an eight week placement. However until yesterday, they faced losing their benefits if they chose to leave their placement early.
Those opposed to the programme have hailed the government’s turnaround “a victory” but said that although this was “one battle won, the wider fight continues.”
However this ‘one step forward’ might yet prove to be followed by two steps back, as multi-nationals firms including HP Enterprise Services and Airbus have this week contacted the government about joining the scheme amid the increased publicity created by the demonstrations.
Defending the opposition, Mark Dunk from the Right to Work campaign says, "There should not be any young person anywhere forced to work for no pay. Everyone on any training scheme should receive minimum wage or above."
Speaking to the House of Commons, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg remained critical of the protesters saying, "They are criticising a programme that is deliberately trying to help young people into work. I cannot for the life of me understand the kind of messed-up sense of priorities of people who want to prevent young people from finding opportunities to get into permanent work."
It is clear that the controversy surrounding the flagship scheme is far from over, with demonstrations planned for Saturday set to go ahead despite the concessions. It appears that the government still has a lot to do before they can ‘Get Britain Working’ again.