The fog of battle has, for the moment, cleared, and we can now gaze upon the PR car crash that has been the Government’s charm offensive on Workfare. It is not a happy sight for Coalition MPs and their supporters: there has been far too much backtracking, revelation of dishonesty, and general lack of transparency, and all over one word. That word is Sanction.
This is where defenders of the scheme invariably came unstuck: few were saying that unpaid work placements should be outlawed – though it looks incongruous for firms like Tesco to not pay its shelf stackers at least the minimum wage – but that the threat of having benefit payments withdrawn was not acceptable. That has now been taken on board and the S-word is no more.
But, while it proved difficult for the unfortunate Chris Grayling to sell, actually admitting that there was an element of compulsion was, for far too many of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, next to impossible. One hack after another echoed Janet Daley in the Maily Telegraph: “the chance of anybody actually losing their benefits is remote”. Not for over 200 folks, it wasn’t.
At least the otherwise loaded piece in the Mail, after telling once more that the scheme was voluntary, conceded “if they withdraw without good reason (?) ... benefits can be withdrawn”. But readers had to first negotiate their way past several paragraphs of verbiage about “anti-capitalist extremists”, “Left-wing activists”, and the obligatory photo of Priti Patel.
Those following the Telegraph column of occasional London Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson were not so fortunate. Bozza told that “They are not forced to do it, and they can pull out of it within a week if they don’t like it – with no loss of benefits”, while bodyswerving the S-word, before going off on a stream of consciousness rant about rotten lefties.
And the S-word was equally absent from the screaming denunciation of anyone not agreeing with Herself Personally Now issued by Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, who made sure readers understood “It is an excellent policy. It exploits no one”. So there. In those few words, Mel has redefined reality to fit her view of the world.
Having accomplished that, pulling a whopper is child’s play: “It does not penalise the unemployed. Nobody is compelled to go on these placements ... they lose no welfare benefits”. This was proved not to be true, but Mel, along with all the other frothing pundits, will be back for more, despite the reality, which is that this has been a publicity disaster for the Government.
The difficult part, for some with a problem, is admitting that there is a problem.