Every Little Helps, but Tesco’s use of the Workfare scheme is exploitation for profit.

We need work experience schemes for some welfare claimants, but the workfare scheme is being used by Tesco and others as exploitation for profit pure and simple.

Workfare forces some job seekers to take unpaid work for months at a time in order to receive Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA) of under £70 per week.  Rumblings of discontent mean that Sainsbury’s and Holland and Barratt have already pulled out of the scheme, but things came to a head this morning when Tesco advertised a permanent night staff position in Suffolk on ‘JSA plus expenses’.

The advert was almost certainly a mistake, but lifts the lid on the company’s policy of replacing waged staff with unpaid ‘dole queue’ labour.   So what went wrong?

Work placements

It’s reasonable to expect Job Seekers to fulfil certain criteria before receiving money from the tax payer to show that they are putting themselves in the best place possible to find work where it’s available. The vast majority want to do so anyway.

Providing work experience for people who have been out of work is also a vital part of getting them back on the ladder. Some workfare placements may help. Many organisations, including my own, who work with the vulnerable, previously homeless or long term unemployed have developed or are developing partnerships to make such placements happen.

However, such schemes must be focused on the development of the job seeker rather than providing a business with grist to a mill of legal slavery.

If Tescos are serious about being socially responsible when it comes to Work Placements here are a few top tips for them (and if they could pass them onto their Workfare friends that would be great as well.)

  • Placements must be tailored to the individual  – it may be that working five days a week is not appropriate for someone returning to work and work in the retail sector may not be suitable for some. Voluntary organisations and small businesses should be used more – this takes more work to organise and source but broadens the range of opportunities available.  
  •  Placements must be short – two to four weeks and provide a variety of tasks to give the Job Seeker the best range of experiences possible. Sticking someone in a corner to unload tins of tomatoes for three months may be helpful to the your company, but people should be helped to get a fuller picture of how a business runs and what roles they could play.
  • The Job Seeker should work alongside a work place mentor, not be replacing them.  Job Seekers should get clear feedback and support on their relationship with colleagues and work standard and obtain a reference at the end.

Tescos will undoubtedly say that they already provide some of this, but it’s the motive behind things that determines how things get put into practice. Today’s blunder reveals that in this case when Tesco say ‘Every Little Helps’ they’re thinking more of the bank balance than supporting the people that need it.

1 thought on “Every Little Helps, but Tesco’s use of the Workfare scheme is exploitation for profit.”

  1. Thank you for highlighting this and for some generous and constructive comments. Tesco generate major employment opportunites and tax income, that’s a given. But we also need to expect more from them than this.
    Like yourself, I manage a project that tailors projects to help homeless people into work, many of whom are entirely prepared to work if for ‘free’ if there’s a potential for a job at the end of it. The problem with Workfare, is that this possibility is often entirely open-ended. As a result, not only does the individual put themselves at risk of putting ‘a whole lot of effort for a whole lot of nothing, ‘ it also amounts to a public subsidy for a multinational corporation that generated £2.65bn last year, and others like them. Tesco, prove you can do better.


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