Wednesday, 28 March 2012



I recently read the following extract from the blog by Tony Okotie (CEO) of Tameside Third Sector Coalition (T3SC):

"I was interested to read last week that the Trafford Council Leader said, 'We are looking in the future to launch a volunteer army. Many residents want to come forward and work with us.' In the same article saying there will be over 100 job losses. It got me thinking again about volunteering and participation levels, and the premise that volunteering could/can replace paid employment. So, firstly, how realistic is it that there are lots of people waiting to jump up and volunteer?"

I added a lengthy comment, not at all unusual for me, which I posted on the 3rd January 2012. I then awaited moderation but it did not appear. On the 5th January 2012 I received an email from Tony:

"Thank you for your comment on my blog. However, it is too long to publish (the technology wont allow it!) – you’ve written 2,780 words. If you would like to resubmit a comment of up to 30 words we will consider uploading it."

30 words! I've never come across a blog with such a feeble limit before! And even then he says that he will only 'consider' uploading it! I've written longer and shorter comments on blogs before but I've never been turned down on the basis of length! There now follows an expanded version of my original comment.


The NATURE OF WORK in effect!
A subject very close to my heart!
VOLUNTARY WORK (altruism).

I wonder who exactly will comprise this volunteer army?

If the unemployed offer their services for free, including those recently sacked from same paid job now applying to do same job unpaid, they will fall foul of the DWP availability and actively seeking work regulations. They must declare any and all work undertaken, including voluntary work, and if it is judged by the DWP that said work could/should be done for payment, they may well be penalised accordingly with cuts to their benefits! So again, I wonder who these volunteers are to be.

Perhaps they will all be pensioners who are not required to look for work. Could this be a pensioner’s volunteer army? Perhaps some of these volunteers will be those currently in paid work and prepared to give up some of their free time. Those signing-on unemployed in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) will not be able to work for free where there is a going rate for the job, ie where it is remunerated elsewhere. The going rate for the job and the minimum wage will have to be dealt with.

And this doesn’t even deal with the so-called ‘16 hour rule’ that applies to any unemployed volunteer in receipt of JSA.

“In fact the rules state that someone on Job Seekers Allowance can volunteer as much as they want to as long as they are still 'actively seeking work'. The 16 hour rule in relation to volunteering, is nothing but a commonly held myth.”

So this rule is considered to be a myth is it! Rubbish! I can assure you, based on my own personal experience, that this is not the reality on the ground when signing-on at the Jobcentre. Though the unemployed can volunteer their time, to qualify for JSA entitlement they must declare any work done whether paid or unpaid. If they are considered to be ‘enjoying’ this work ‘too much’ their benefit may be suspended. This is made absolutely clear, that one’s claim is definitely under review/threat!

It is far better not to declare any work done for free. However, it will be difficult to include this ‘work’ on one’s CV! It is best if done anonymously, and by not declaring all work done a claimant will be in breach of the requirements for benefit entitlement. It is far better then to work voluntarily as an individual in the community and not as a ‘registered’ volunteer working directly for a voluntary organisation, or even indirectly via an organisation like Tameside Volunteer Centre.

"We strongly believe that volunteers should not be exploited, so we will only ever advertise volunteering opportunities at non-profit organisations (such as charities, community groups or social enterprises), or statutory organisations (such as hospitals and the court service). We also wish to make it clear that volunteering is a choice; no-one should ever be forced to volunteer or threatened with punishment or sanctions for not volunteering."

T3SC have made no such similar statement to date of which I am aware. Yet T3SC and VCT are currently undergoing a 'merger' to form a  single umbrella organsation called Community And Voluntary Action Tameside (CAVAT). Such a moment necessitates a bold statement of position on these matters by this newly forming Third Sector organisation.  Will VCT's stronger position take precedence over that of T3SC who appear rather reluctant to make a statement?

A Tameside Volunteering Summit was held at Ashton Town Hall on 9th March 2011 where the new Tameside Volunteering Strategy 2010 - 2015 was unveiled. See also Tameside Compact Code of Practice on Volunteering. Similar documents to these should be available for every area across the UK!

Further, it is best that any voluntary work is done during the evening or at weekends, especially a Sunday, to avoid working voluntarily during any period that clashes with the times one is prepared to work as stated on one’s signed Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg). Legally one is not then in breach because doing voluntary work outside the agreed times where one is prepared to do paid work, and which has been accepted by the Jobcentre. It is therefore imperative that one limit the time periods for when one is available to work.

My most recent experience of this was only a couple of years ago when signing-on at Stalybridge Jobcentre. I expressed my interest in voluntary work in the community. They brought my whole claim into question suggesting that my ‘desire’ to find paid work may be undermined by this interest, that I was perhaps more interested in doing voluntary work than I was in applying for paid work! If this was found to be the case they would suspend my JSA. Such an attitude will definitely make those in receipt of JSA think twice before engaging in any type of voluntary work! In other words, one’s availability for work is in question if one is ‘enjoying’ voluntary work, and especially if ‘too much’. After all one must be prepared to end any such unpaid work immediately that a paid job comes available. As such voluntary sector organisations are reluctant to take JSA volunteers because of the inherent unreliability built into the benefits system. This is typical of my experience when dealing with Jobcentre’s over the last 30 years.

Voluntary work is work done without thought of reward or expectation of reward.
A Society based upon such a premise is purely ANARCHIC in all positive senses.

“From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”, but without compulsion or expectation! It is pure SERVICE - MUTUALISM.

I have no objection whatsoever to anyone working for free provided they are neither compelled nor expected to do so. In fact I very much welcome voluntarism as an antidote to selfishness. Selflessness vs Selfishness.

Such work must not just be voluntary but must also be done voluntarily! After all, one cannot be compelled to work voluntarily, can one! A contradiction in terms! Too often today people enter into ‘voluntary work’ for the wrong reasons, wrong in the sense that it is done for personal gain and not out of selfless service. It has become something extra, a necessary addition for one’s ‘all-important’ CV, perhaps seen as an indicator of one’s social worth/value/responsibility? Volunteering is a measure of altruistic social connectedness and service beyond mere self-service. The act of volunteering, and I emphasise ‘act’, has come to replace, because in competition with, volunteering from the heart. For many it is no longer heart-felt. Voluntarism has been selfishly appropriated by those who wish to add such a social ‘accomplishment’ to their social credentials!

This then, allegedly, improves one’s chance of, for example, getting a job ie real work, ie paid work, or simply getting into University. The idea of SERVICE is completely ignored. One may be serving the community far more through one’s voluntary work than through some mere soul-destroying job.

All of this in effect makes voluntary work compulsory, though not of the worst kind. Such people are not volunteering because they care but because of the kudos gained or because without it they may not obtain the paid position they seek! It has become for them a means to an end and is no longer an end in itself! As said wrong motive! It is true that many people enter voluntary work for non-financial reasons besides this modern CV-kudos reward. People enter paid work for many reasons too and not just for the money. For some it is only the money. Why else would one work in a destructive job except for the money!

However, the Con-Dem Government’s WORK PROGRAMME will through the WORKFARE ‘option’ force/compel the unemployed to work for their benefits. They will still be expected to look for and apply for paid work, and if they don’t their benefit will be suspended even though now effectively employed by and paid by the State.

It’s a punitive regime, intent upon instilling the ‘work ethic’ which they are deemed to lack! In other words, being unemployed is solely their own fault, and they are therefore in need of behavioural reprogramming and conditioning. They are the UNDESERVING POOR! I wonder then what kind of voluntary work will be made available to them given the inherent unreliability resulting from the Benefits System itself, simply because they have to be prepared to give-up any unpaid work immediately to enter paid work.

The Con-Dem Government’s WORK PROGRAMME is evidently an example of wrong volunteering. It seeks to make the unemployed in receipt of Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) work for their ‘dole’ and this work may very well include being forced to do voluntary work within the Community, Voluntary & Faith Sector (CVFS). This is slavery and is simply unacceptable. It is, as said, a contradiction in terms. It is no longer ‘necessarily’ voluntary. I say ‘necessarily’ because some of those ‘compelled’, ‘coerced’, or ‘forced’, to carry-out voluntary work under WORKFARE schemes may very well have done so without recourse to a big-stick!

It is my understanding that Volunteer Centre Tameside (VCT) will not accept volunteers referred directly from the Jobcentre. There is then no need to sift the voluntary wheat from the involuntary chafe! Anyone truly wishing to volunteer has only to approach the VCT directly and must not pass though any intermediary. This will hopefully include any future organisation tasked with the same kind of functions as the Jobcentre ie any Work Programme providers! However, I can see how many will be forced to apply directly for voluntary work under threat of benefit sanctions. It may very well become conditional, though I am not aware of any such conditionality legislation at the moment! As such these reluctant volunteers will have been, in effect, referred yet not referred! How then, I wonder, will the VCT be able to tell true from false? Voluntarism and volunteering are under threat!

All of this is on the horizon, and will come into full force in 2013 when Iain Duncan Smith’s (IDS) dream of the Universal Credit (UC) becomes reality. God protect the lame, the halt, and the blind!
UK Government Definition:
"For the purposes of volunteering policies the Cabinet Office defines volunteering and volunteering opportunities as any non-compulsory activity which involves spending time, unpaid, doing something which is of benefit to others (excluding relatives), society or the environment."
Phil Hope, Minister of the Third Sector (15th October 2007) Source: Hansard

Many other interesting definitions are also given. Still, we’ve had a change of Government since 2007 so this particular definition may very well no longer be in vogue! I really cannot see how it could be in light of the Con-Dem Government’s Work Programme/Workfare! They are contradictory!
Formal volunteering:
“Giving unpaid help through groups, clubs or organisations to benefit other people or the environment. (2001 Home Office Citizenship survey).”
Informal volunteering:
“Giving unpaid help as an individual to others who are not members of the family. (2001 Home Office Citizenship survey).”

Still, I find these definitions rather unsatisfactory!

I have been very active voluntarily in the community for many years often/mostly acting as an individual and not as an authorised group representative. I may very well be active in various groups but I often act on my own recognisance independently of any group with which I am connected. It would be fair to say that many would consider much of what I do to be politically motivated or political, but I hasten to add, non-Party political!

And then I am also concerned about the muddying of the waters as per the Charities Act 2006 and the Charities Act 2011 both of which are currently undergoing changes. The full Charities Act 2006 is available as a PDF.

After this point the former more or less clearly defined division between the Charity Sector and the Private Sector became rather blurred. It is now possible for all kinds of business arrangements to be entered into between these two purist extremes birthing a grey world betwixt the light and the dark!

T3SC have themselves recently formed a Social Enterprise called T3SC+ and VCT have done the same.

Could such a company, a subsidiary of the parent company, ‘employ’ the unemployed as compelled voluntary workers?

It may well again be a matter of individual company ethics, but here the voluntarism element would not be at issue. Indeed would such an organisation accept unpaid slave labour drawn from the ranks of the unemployed simply because not directly a voluntary organisation, being but a hybrid organisation lying between the private and the charity sector?

The whole area of not-for-profit or non-profit companies is another grey area. In Tameside this would for example include the likes of New Charter Housing Trust Limited, a hybrid company born well before the 2006 Charities Act. See my New Charter Watch blog. All ‘Housing Associations’ (aka ‘Resident Social Landlord’s’ (RSL’s), most recently re-badged ‘Private Registered Providers of Social Housing’ (PRP’s) or ‘Registered Providers’ for short) are subject to a special relationship with National Government because of their involvement with Social Housing provision. But I won’t go into that hornets nest here!

It is still perfectly possible, yet unacceptable, to compel those in receipt of JSA to work for their dole in either the Public Sector or the Private Sector. I expect the Public Sector in Tameside, ie Tameside Council, to give this short shrift and reject it out of hand! That leaves the Private Sector. And generally speaking one cannot expect any better of the private sector whose modus operandi is to operate on a commercial basis to make a profit. Individual private sector organisations may view what they do differently and have a different set of priorities. Still the first priority is to make a profit. Placing those in receipt of JSA here is relatively speaking far more acceptable simply because this does not result in a compulsory volunteer contradiction. However, work for dole is tantamount to slavery and supportive of paid worker displacement, ie sack’em and force’em back to work for their dole! This is little more than getting ‘scab’ labour. I wonder what the Trades Unions will have to say about this given that it undermines the Minimum Wage and the 'going rate' for the job.

The danger is that the unemployed in receipt of JSA will become a ‘free workers bank’ to fill the gaps created by the economic cuts, a conscript Chain-Gang! As I’ve said so often before, how are we to tell the difference between those in receipt of JSA and forced to do Community Work, and those convicted of a Criminal Offence and similarly forced to do Community Work ie Community Payback (aka Community Punishment & formerly Community Service! Will they be expected to wear different coloured uniforms! Is this not the criminalisation of the unemployed in receipt of JSA? I see little reason for not absconding from such forced labour in the Community and entering upon a ‘life of crime’! The sentence is the same when, and if, caught!

And what about the idle rich! They are not in paid work. If they are, then they are not idle! Still, if they are truly rich, then like many of those in the Con-Dem Government, they work but not really for the money. After all they don’t need the money! They have entirely different motivations. They may also be greedy.

The only real difference between the rich and the poor, especially the poor and unemployed, is that the poor need a taxation ‘hand-out’ merely to live/exist whereas the rich do not! For many the idleness of the rich is more palatable. Firstly many people aspire to join this ‘class’, and secondly the rich don’t receive a JSA handout and as such are not considered a taxation parasite. That they don’t work, or have no need to work, is beside the point, because their money works for them! The rich have always had their servants, and today money has become even more the intermediary between rich and poor, between master and servant. It has simply become more obscured.

What do you do to make the rich work harder?
You pay them more! and use a lot of carrots!
What do you do to make the poor work harder?
You pay them less! and use a big stick!  

The art of incentivisation! “the practise of building incentives into an arragement or system in order to motivate the actors within it.”

Why not instead force the idle rich, those merely earning money with money, to work in the community! After all they are but parasites living off the backs of the poor and the downtrodden in society.

Many people aspire to climb the greasy pole of ambition. We’re all Middle Class now! Are we indeed, and who wants to be Middle Class anyway! Hyacinth Bouquet maybe! The simple idea of Class as once understood has been eroded, has become more complicated, especially through the emergence of a new Middle Class or Classes who like the Upper Class also earn money with money which serves to supplement their earned income to a greater or lesser degree. The only difference is they have less to ‘gamble’ with!

Thus many of the traditional Middle Class have in effect entered the realm of the Upper Class in that they have less of a need to work in the sense of earning income in a job of work and are better able to earn money with money whether this be playing the stock market or earning bank interest etc. The money performs the work and not the person! Nevertheless somebody somewhere has to do the productive real work to pay for this, and this means the burden is born more and more by the Working Classes and the so-called Underclass who are either permanently unemployed or frequently moving in and out of paid work.

After all we are all in’it together, aren’t we!

Working Class, Underclass, 'Untouchables', 'Dalits', trailer trash, travellers, gypsies, etc.

Love, Light & Laughter

No comments:

Post a Comment