Another pioneer for the Tory workfare scheme

There is a long article in today’s Guardian about the racism facing the Roma population in Hungary, which has faced acute discrimination since (at least) the end of Communism, particularly in the education system in which their children are often segregated from other children, given inferior accommodation and their work marked less than non-Roma children. One of the schemes introduced by the new government, a coalition of the right-wing Fidesz and the far-right Jobbik (which used to have a militia until it was forced to disband) is one ostensibly designed to get people off state benefits and back to work:

His government, he said, was rejuvenating the job market by getting people off benefits and into work: “Everyone should work who can.” It was the “saddest figure in Europe”, he said, that Hungary had the lowest employment rate in the EU.

For the long-term unemployed – a disproportionate number of whom are Roma – this means taking part in the government’s new public work programme. According to Jeno Setét, a Roma activist, between 70% and 80% of Hungary’s Roma population do not work (the rate for the whole population is around 10%). This scheme aims to get 300,000 people into work by 2014 via a sort of community service scheme for which participants are paid less than the national monthly minimum wage (around 80,000 HUF – £214 – for unskilled workers) but slightly more than they would receive in benefits.

Anyone unemployed for 90 days is offered a place on the programme, which administers projects cleaning streets or sewers, cutting down trees or building football stadiums or dams. Refusal to accept a placement will result in all social security benefits being stopped to the refusenik and family. Gyöngyöspata was chosen last year to run a pilot scheme. Unemployed locals – almost exclusively Roma – were deployed to cut down trees in a nearby wood.

For Setét, the public work scheme is a “smokescreen” that will do little to help Roma get “real” jobs and will reinforce their position at the bottom of Hungarian society. “If people on the scheme were paid properly and trained properly, I’d be all for it,” he added. “But they are not. Right now it’s a way of humiliating people and paying them a slave wage.”

While the system of “work for benefits” does not involve the obvious racism present in the Hungarian version, it does not even pay more than benefits and is not even in public services but consists of fake “work experience” schemes for large commercial organisations and also carries the threat of lost benefits. The US version is known to have pushed people into food banks and soup kitchens by withholding benefits in the absence of work; our other fellow-traveller in this is a notoriously racist country in eastern Europe which is becoming an undemocratic pariah state.

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