March 2, 2012 10:04 pm

My welfare plan (no shelf-stacking required)

Newly formed Chores for Yours-Truly Inc is eligible for handouts and ready to prepare youngsters for work

The time has come for a change of direction. I’ve seen the way the wind is blowing and so I’m turning myself into a private sector scheme designed to deliver the government’s welfare goals. It’s the place to be these days.

The rows over different government schemes, particularly the forcing of unemployed youngsters to take work placements at retailers in return for their benefits, brought home to me that I’ve been missing out. There are various groups who feel the schemes are wrong, even likening them to slave labour – although I’ve a hunch that those who have experienced real slave labour may consider the horrors of being paid benefits to stack shelves at Poundland less than the full gulag experience. This, however, is not my worry. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that people able to work be required to do something for their benefits. No, what’s worrying me is how I can get a piece of the action.

All these schemes are created in a way that helps business turn a buck, which is fine. But why should the individual taxpayer miss out? If the government is handing out tax breaks in the form of subsidised labour, it seems harsh that you have to be a registered business to benefit. I’m just as capable of introducing youngsters to the world of work. I have loads of important menial tasks for which I don’t want to pay. Like shelf-stacking at Tesco, these require no special talent other than an ability to turn up and take orders. Call yourself a business and the government will comp you any number of unpaid interns. But where are these government schemes when I need someone at home to wait for the plumber; or take the kids to school? You’d have thought that with the popularity of Downton Abbey, a bit of domestic skivvying might seem an attractive option.

But apparently you need to be a business. So I’m forming Chores for Yours-Truly Inc, a new firm, eligible for handouts and ready to help youngsters prepare for the world of work. We’ve plenty of experience, having frequently ordered the boy to take out the rubbish or clean his room. As part of the new programme we’ll be putting to ministers we have several training modules (you have to call them modules if you are in the training game). In the first module we will offer a full domestic services training, of particular value to those seeking employment in the hotel sector. This will include detailed instruction on loading and unloading the dishwasher; waiting in for the Ocado man; low-level tidying and taking my suits to the cleaners. Once basic proficiency is established they will also be asked to vacuum the house, thereby freeing up our paid cleaner for the more specialised tasks such as ironing.

Week two will include the veterinary services module under which they will be empowered to clean out the guinea pigs’ cage and check the hamster’s water. Week three might be a horticultural module if I ever get round to fixing the lawnmower. We don’t, it is true, offer shelf-stacking but as part of our commitment to this scheme I am prepared to let the youngsters take a crack at reorganising the condiments rack.

Obviously I’m insisting on the right types. The training we offer is best-suited to nicely spoken youngsters facing a temporary employment problem; the kind who feel entitled to benefits but too good for a lowly retail job. We also feel these types are more likely to get a real job and therefore bolster our success rate.

As part of the process I stand ready to run the work placement scheme for others in our street and won’t be charging the ministry for my time – although we have redesignated our garden shed, now known as the Duncan Smith wing, as a processing and training suite and will be asking the government to reimburse the £1.9m annual cost of renting it to ourselves.

If we get this right, we can do a lot of good for society just by opening up our own home to some less advantaged youngsters. And if we do make a bob or two out of it, well, the richer we get, the more houses we’ll have for these kids to work in. It’s win-win as far as I can see.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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