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David Cameron young people unpaid work for benefits
You're smiling now, but just wait till I take your sister's benefit awayDepartment for Business, Innovation and Skills via Flickr / Creative Commons

David Cameron: young people must work unpaid for benefits

Between 18 and 21? Out of work for six months or more? Get ready to scrub some war memorials without getting paid

If the Tories win the election, young people will need to work unpaid to claim benefits if they've been out of work, education or training for six months. Under new welfare reforms announced today, David Cameron wants jobless teenagers to do 30 hours of community work a week for free, which could include cleaning up war memorials, picking up litter in parks or whatever menial task comes into his head. They must take up any old apprenticeship or face starvation. Oh, and this is alongside ten hours of job hunting a week. 

You know who also has to do unpaid community work? Criminals

Here's a reminder: weekly Job Seekers' Allowance is £57.35. If we generously exclude the ten hours of job searching, then that means he wants any unemployed sucker in his line of sight to go round scrubbing monuments for £1.92 an hour. That's £4.58 less than the UK minimum wage. 

"What these young people need is work experience and the order and discipline of turning up for work each day," the Prime Minister said. "So a Conservative government would require them to do daily community work from the very start of their claim, as well as searching for work. From day one they must realise that welfare is not a one-way street. Yes, we will help them, but there is no more something for nothing. They must give back to their community too."

According to the PM, some 50,000 young people would be affected by the proposal, which would rename Job Seekers' Allowance to Youth Allowance. He wants to see "intensive action" on this demographic so they "don't get sucked into a life on welfare".

I guess it's easy for David Cameron, a descendant of William IV, to say this as someone who left Eton to embark on a 9-month gap year before working as a researcher for his godfather. Wonder if anyone coming out of an inner-city comprehensive can call on aristocratic connections to ensure that they don't end up taking "something for nothing"? Probably not. 

Cameron and George Osborne relentlessly trot out the line "no more something for nothing", a think-tank tittering that underpins the soul of the Tory party: you slack, we work, you bad, we good. It's a catchphrase designed in the name of divide and rule, to separate and shame.

The problem is, "something for nothing" is exactly what he wants young people to do. He wants them to perform manual labour for under two pounds an hour. If a business was caught doing that, its owner could be fined or taken to court.

A spokesperson for East London youth charity Futureversity told us: "It's a ludicrous idea. It's just sending someone to a labour camp and forcing them to work. What is the benefit of this, what problem are you solving, what are you training them in and who are you serving? Does he just want to look like he's being hard on a supposedly feckless youth?"

"It’s not that they don’t want to work. The problems started generations before this, with kids already born into poverty, already born into council estates. These young people are living by the day, in the moment, they're thinking 'Am I gonna eat today?' We need to help them and build their character, give young people a chance to grow."

In David Cameron's speech, one small section sticks out: "So we’re rewarding work... ending something-for-nothing... making sure no-one is left behind..."

By forcing young people into underpaid manual labour and into apprenticeships they don't necessarily want, we're absolutely making sure they're left behind. Untrained, uncared for, treated like criminals, forced into a system they didn't mean to end up in. Every time this government blames young people for "falling short", it just serves as an open admission that it's in the middle of failing a whole generation.