Faced with a sharp rise in unemployment since 2008, the Con-Lib government in Britain has diagnosed an epidemic of laziness, and announced measures to push the “work-shy” back into jobs. In particular, they’ve announced that those deemed not to be looking hard enough for work will be forced to undertake unpaid part-time work for community organizations.
Stripped of the punitive rhetoric, this is a cut down job-creation scheme, partly paid for by the unpaid labor of the participants. It’s hard enough to make job creation work well as a counter to unemployment, without adding in this kind of thing.
Australia has been there and done that. Following the discovery in the late 1990s that it played well with focus groups, John Howard (conservative PM) introduced a program explicitly called Work for the Dole and targeted initially at the young unemployed. It was a political success, but didn’t have any evident effects on unemployment. This evaluation of Work for the Dole and other programs suggests that it performed much less well than the explicit job creation and wage subsidy programs it replaced. Strikingly, given that the UK government is supposed to be on an austerity drive, the cost in the late 1990s was $2000-3000 per participant (around 1000 stg), on top of the benefit payment for which they were working.
But at least Howard’s moves came quite a few years into an expansion when it could credibly be claimed that there were jobs available for people willing to look hard enough. For a government that is busy creating unemployment to start attacking the “work-shy” requires a truly impressive level of hypocrisy.