While workfare is widely criticised as providing free labour for corporations such as Asda and Superdrug, workfare is only part of a wider trend of free labour being used.
Firstly, there’s social media marketing. When you follow Burger King on Twitter or ‘like’ the new Cadbury product, you’re providing free marketing. Many apps and sites post your activity to social media sites without you even noticing (such as Amazon, Spotify, etc).
Then there is the normalisation of volunteering. The disabled or poor aren’t being helped by the state but by free labour. While the DWP and the bedroom tax push people into poverty, Comic Relief normalises charity (which is usually accomplished by Joe Public and not by the very rich.) And because of the 9k tuition fees and the recession, many students work or volunteer to enhance their CVs. The job market has never been more competitive and it’s generally believed that you won’t get a real job after graduation without working or volunteering while still in education. And then of course there are internships which is another form of free labour and sometimes only accessible to young people who live nearby, have the funds to commute or don’t need a paying job.
All of these pressures lead to a ‘working culture’ among pupils and students which normalises holding down jobs while studying. The result is that students who don’t need money still work to build up their CVs – which in turn means that employers expect graduates to have a work history. And so the cycle keeps repeating.
The upshot of all of this is more unemployment. With free labour available through workfare, there are less jobs. With almost every student having worked at some point by the time they enter the world of work, it’s obvious that students seeking only to enhance CVs are taking away jobs from the less skilled people who actually need the jobs.
I’ve been there myself. I didn’t need to work as a student but nevertheless I did, because all my friends and many other students were working and I wanted to be able to compete for career jobs. One of my best friends has been working since he was 14 and I know people who started at 13.
What the government needs to do is ensure students have enough money and put a stop to this culture of employers expecting fresh graduates to have a work history. We also need to get rid of (or dramatically reduce) workfare so that jobs and volunteering oppirtunities go to people who actually need them.