Workfare: a good way to govern the poor?

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Introduction
This essay will examine the technique of workfare as a way of governing the poor. Workfare is a widely contested area which evokes many conflicting opinions at both the political and the public level. The following quote comes from Dan Hodges, a British commentator writing for The Daily Telegraph, and gives an interesting insight in one of the discussions workfare poses. Hodges writes about the way several proponents of workfare (including David Cameron, British PM), who are quite successful themselves with their careers, condemn unemployed citizens to do anything but pleasant jobs without getting a reasonable compensation:

‘What rule says workfare must be the same old hardy staples: stack a shelf, clean a floor? If we want to really open people's eyes to the opportunities of work, why rely on Tesco and Sainsbury? We should be co-opting the Apples and the Microsofts, the BAs and the Virgins, the Jaguars and the BMWs. And instead of boycotting firms that provide the placements, we should be making business participation mandatory. David Cameron says the opponents of workfare are "snobs". Fine. Then it's time we saw someone on a workfare placement getting into the back of his Land Rover and carrying a couple of those red boxes for him. Similarly, if Sir Stuart Rose is really concerned about the "lack of backbone" from firms pulling out of the scheme, he can set an example by appointing another personal assistant for a couple of months’ (Hodges, 2012).

This essay will cover an analysis of arguments from both proponents and opponents of workfare. In addition, there will be looked at the emphasis supporters of workfare place on the notion of ‘work ethic’. First, the concept of ‘workfare’ will be unpacked. Second, the arguments of both proponents and opponents of workfare will be examined in a critical way. This includes a provision of my own opinion about the issue. Last, the foregoing will be briefly summarised in the conclusion.

Concept
What does the word ‘workfare’ exactly mean? And how does workfare differs from welfare? Jamie Peck, in his book Workfare States, argues that the essence of workfare is ‘the imposition of a range of compulsory programs and mandatory requirements for welfare recipients with a view to enforcing work while residualising welfare’ (Peck, 2001; 10). In other words, workfare focusses on maximising work participation while minimising one’s dependency on welfare. Peck shows that the meaning of workfare is quite controversial, and that many people perceive it in a different way. However, he shows that all of these meanings share the element that instead of providing an income security program based on financial need, the state provides a program which is conditional on the performance of employment activity in exchange for benefits (ibid.; 10). Peck also elaborates on the differences between workfare and welfare. According to him, welfare stands for needs-based entitlement, universality and passive income...

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