Chris Grayling, Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, is rather proud of the thousands of young people obliged to be shelf-stackers in Poundland and Tesco for no pay, in order to retain their JSA benefit:
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says that if jobseekers “express an interest” in an offer of work experience they must continue to work without pay, after a one-week cooling-off period or face having their benefits docked.
Young people have told the Guardian that they are doing up to 30 hours a week of unpaid labour and have to be available from 9am to 10pm.
In three such cases jobseekers also claim they were not told about the week’s cooling-off period, and that once they showed a willingness to take part in the scheme they were told by their case manager they would be stripped of their £53- a-week jobseekers allowance (JSA) if they backed out. Guardian, 15th November 2011
All you have to do is say “yes, I’m interested in work experience” – as who wouldn’t be? – and then you’re stacking shelves in a superstore, at no cost to the superstore, with the threat that if you don’t comply, your benefit gets docked.
Some figures to be considered.
£53 per week is what a young person on JSA has to live on. Even paid at the apprentice rate, a person working for 35 hours a week ought to be paid £91 – and 8 weeks shelfstacking is not rightly an apprenticeship for anything. A jobseeker over 20, should legally be paid £212.80 for their week’s work.
But Tesco and Poundland and the other companies taking advantage of Chris Grayling’s workfare don’t have to pay that; they get these workers for free, and they aren’t allowed to withdraw their labour or they lose even the £53 they have to live on.
Chris Grayling is MP and Minister for Employment. Contact details here. His basic salary is £134,565 per year: over twelve times what those jobseekers working in superstores ought to get paid on minimum wage, and close to 50 times what they actually do get.
But that’s not all. Chris Grayling also has access to the most extensive and unsupervised expenses scheme.
Within weeks of first being elected in 2001, he bought a flat in a six-storey block for £127,000. In 2002, he set up an unusual arrangement with the Parliamentary Fees Office, claiming £625 a month for mortgages on two separate properties, both the main home [in Ashtead – 17 miles or an hour by train from the House of Commons] and the new flat in Pimlico. This is usually against the rules, but Mr Grayling negotiated an agreement because he was unable to obtain a 100% mortgage on the London flat that he had bought.
That “arrangement” went on for 4 years, until 2006, during which time Chris Grayling claimed per month for his mortgage more than five times the jobseeker’s allowance in 2011.
Nor was this all. In the summer of 2005, after the May general election, evidently sure of his MP expenses now for another four or five years, Chris Grayling decided to have his flat refurbished. He was already claiming £15,000 a year for his flat in Pimlico and his house in Ashstead, 17 miles apart – it would have cost the taxpayer less to pay for a day return from Ashtead into London at peak rate, every day of the month, than to pay for a second mortgage in a London flat – but he wasn’t satisfied with that. In the financial year ending March 2006, Grayling claimed £9000 for refurbishment costs for that flat. That’s over three times more than the total paid to someone on jobseeker’s allowance in an entire year. It would take someone on minimum wage 42 weeks to earn, gross pay, what Grayling claimed between June 2005 and March 2006 – for the flat which mortgage he wasn’t paying for.
£24,000 is the maximum an MP is allowed to claim for their second home per year – over eight times as much as a person on JSA gets to live on: £8,000 more a year than the national median household income in the UK. It’s a nice little bonus in itself, as the living places bought using the second home allowance are the personal property of the MP – for Chris Grayling, who owns several flats on a “buy to let” basis, it’s an excellent addition to his properties in London.
But Chris Grayling wasn’t satisfied with that: He spread the costs for the refurbishment of the Pimlico property over two financial years.
This effectively allowed him to spread the costs over two years – whereas he would have been unable to claim all the costs in the 2005-06 financial year. For example, in June 2006, Mr Grayling submitted an invoice for £3,534 for service and maintenance on his block of flats, which included a service charge of £1,148 and a “balance brought forward” of £1,956. … In July 2006, Mr Grayling submitted a claim for £2,250. The invoice from the decorator was dated July 2006, and referred to “remedial and refurbishment works July 2005”. … If the various late receipts had been submitted in the 2005-06 financial year, they would have exceeded Mr Grayling’s second home allowance for the 12-month period by over £4,700. Telegraph, 11th May 2009
£4,700 is 20 times what someone on JSA gets paid in one month. A person on minimum wage would have to work 35 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for over two and a half years, to earn what Chris Grayling paid himself to refurbish the flat and pay the mortgage in those two financial years from 2005 to 2007.
Second homes allowance is the nicest bonus MPs get, but it’s not the only claim Chris Grayling makes. In one month in 2007, while being paid £63,291 per year – 4 times the national median wage – Grayling claimed £4700 “expenses”. That is, Grayling claimed for one month 1.7 times as much in expenses as someone on JSA gets to live on for a year. Someone on the minimum wage that Grayling denies to people who are working in Tescos for their JSA, would have to work for over five and a half years to earn Grayling’s basic annual wage.
Rayburn, who was also told by his jobcentre he would lose his benefits if he did not work without pay, said he spent almost two months stacking and cleaning shelves and sometimes doing night shifts.
“They said [my JSA] would be cut off if I didn’t do it.”
Asked if he thought he should have been paid, he said: “I reckon they should have paid me … I was basically doing what a normal member of staff does for Tesco. I had the uniform and I was in the staff canteen. I obviously got access to the food and drinks in the staff canteen … that’s what they let you do … but I got nothing else apart from that.”
In April 2011, Tesco reported full-year profits before tax of £3.54bn, up 11.3% from April 2010. In August 2010, Poundland announced expansion plans based on pre-tax profits that had gone up 130% to £19.1m. Other superstores using free labour in this way include Asda and Sainsbury’s.
Update: in February Chris Grayling claimed the only opposition to this was from Socialist Worker Party members – apparently he thinks SWP has a huge membership! – but by April he was blaming the “Polly Toynbee left”, possibly because she’s the only left-wing writer he’s ever read.
Update: Following the Panorama (Disabled or Faking It on BBC iPlayer) / Dispatches programmes tonight (30th July), I found a discussion on ConHome in 2007 about Grayling’s “tough love” ideas about welfare. Interestingly: not all the Tories who respond five years ago approve Grayling’s idea of “forcing” people into work.
Update, 31st August:
After winning his case with the snooty people who want to get paid, Chris Grayling rolls out a new scheme:
Job-seeking graduates living in London are to be forced to work for three months unpaid in order to keep their benefits, the government has announced. That means they will be toiling for less than £1.87 per hour – even less than the pitiful wages that apprentices earn. And it gets worse. If the scheme is successful, it will be rolled out nationally.
Fresh from his department’s success crushing objections from Poundland intern Cait Reilly in court earlier this month, employment Minister Chris Grayling announced that 18- to 24-year-olds (including graduates) who have spent less than six months in employment since leaving education will now have to work for 30 hours a week for their £56-a-week jobseeker’s allowance. (That’s £1.87 an hour – we did the maths). He denied that it was “slave labour” and insisted it would help young Londoners improve their career prospects.
They will do ‘work experience placements’ in charities or social organisations – such as care homes – for 30 hours a week over 13 weeks. It is unclear how much real work these ‘placements’ will involve, but given that the idea is to banish the “something for nothing culture” that he feels is so prevalent among workless under-24s, we assume these will look very similar to proper jobs (only they will be unpaid, of course). The scheme will be tested this year in 16 London boroughs including the riot-hit areas of Croydon and Haringey. The Government then hopes to roll out the scheme across London and the rest of the UK.
Update, 4th September
Just to add injury to insult: Chris Grayling is now Justice Secretary. This is the man who thinks homophobes running a B&B should have a right to discriminate against LGBT people:
I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences,” he said. “I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, I took the view that if it’s a question of somebody who’s doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn’t come into their own home.”