Local councils are getting creative: work participation through humiliation

White keyboard with close up on work buttonCouncils are becoming creative when it comes to work participation and using methods such as humilation to make people find jobs, says economist Marcel Canoy.

There is quite a creative buzz going on among local councillors in the Netherlands. Now that budgets for sheltered workplaces have been cut, lots of local councils are coming up with bright new schemes to revive them.

Local councillors in Apeldoorn thought it would be a waste to let all the knowledge and skills of sheltered workplace staff go to waste.

The thinking in Apeldoorn is that people on unemployment benefits are basically a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic so why not make them tighten nuts and bolts for a couple of weeks? With a bit of luck they will feel humiliated enough to go out and find a job. Hey presto: the sheltered workplaces are humming and the number of benefit pay-outs go down.

Stickers

I wonder what the next step will be. Putting stickers on the foreheads of people on benefits and showing them off at street markets? While we’re at it we might as well put the PVV’s idea into practice and bring some colour to our streets by introducing pink clad criminals in chain gangs.

Hoofddorp councillors are getting creative too. Hoofddorp happens to be home to AM group, one of the most successful sheltered workplace providers in the country. In 2011 it was given an ‘Investors in People’ reward for its approach. AM group managed to place 60% of people with a work-limiting disability in regular jobs, a result not many sheltered workplaces can equal.

Mistake

The director of AM group made an important mistake. Instead of spending the money on frippery or useless real estate he created a sturdy buffer of a couple of million euros. Oh dear. The board, comprised of the fiercely competitive local councillors of the five local councils involved, had a brainwave: why not fire the entire staff and divvy up the millions?

What was left was a number of very distressed people looking at the smoking remains of what was once a great sheltered workplace. What a coup! A more blatant case of daylight robbery has yet to materialise, but perhaps it will.

Farce

The work participation law for the disabled will turn into a farce if councils approach vulnerable people with demonstrably ineffective methods. The decentralisation of social security will only work if councils don’t behave like Apeldoorn or Hoofddorp.

From Rotterdam to Enschede too many local councils like the sound of medieval measures like humiliation and stigmatisation, destroying successful initiatives and spending as little as they can get away with. If we have to go down the sticker road I propose we slap one on the councils saying: Humiliation is the new participation.

Marcel Canoy is an economist and lecturer at the Erasmus School of Accounting & Assurance.

This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad.