THE leader of Portsmouth City Council has defended the authority’s use of unpaid people on work experience.
A campaign group that says people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance should not be forced into work placements has criticised the council for being involved.
According to a Freedom of Information request by Boycott Workfare, nine unpaid benefits claimants have worked in the council’s library services, one in dog kennels and an unspecified number in parking services.
The authority also said Portsmouth Craft and Manufacturing Industry ‘regularly’ offers work placements as part of the government’s work programme.
A number of the Department for Work & Pensions’ schemes require people claiming the benefit to take on unpaid work.
Placements with the council have lasted between two and eight weeks.
Two of the people who had work placements at the library now have paid employment there, and another works as a casual library assistant.
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘If it is giving people a chance then it is a good idea.
‘If somebody is unemployed, giving them the chance to get work experience, to understand what the world of work gives them, and something they can show other employers that will help them.
‘Their benefits are being paid for by us, the taxpayer.
‘It’s not unreasonable to say to people to get some work experience so that they are more employable.
‘Each case is different but I think that we need to give people the experience to get a job.’
A council spokesman said that there was no deliberate policy of recruiting people on DWP schemes to replace those made redundant.
However, some are less impressed with the schemes, which can see claimants’ benefits cut if they do not properly participate.
Liam Sheehan, a member of Boycott Workfare, said he thinks it is unfair people could have their benefits cut off for not working for free.
He added: ‘If there’s a job to be done, Portsmouth City Council should be paying people to do it, not trying to plug the gaps left by the cuts with unpaid work.’
According to the group, borough councils in Gosport, Fareham and Havant are not involved in the schemes.