David Clapson was living on benefits. After he was sanctioned he was found dead in his flat. Ameila Gentleman’s article in the Guardian is a good source for details, and draws attention to the wider context of unfair sanctions for minor offenses.
I found the most depressing part of the article the line: ‘[Clapton] completed two periods of unpaid work experience, for B&Q and for a discount store’. It remains a mystery why a government which is apparently keen to support economic growth is so willing to offer private companies a constant source of free labour, using them to fill roles that in any other era would have been paid.
The entire idea that benefit claimants need to be ‘reformed’ into work is obviously derived from some Thatcherite fetish, but its application reveals that it betrays even this horrible fantasy. Companies that don’t pay their workers encourage a disposable attitude to work that benefits the employers’ accounts but not the employees. ‘Experience’ is sold as a vital commodity nowadays, but in other eras the experience Clapson was getting would have been a job with a wage, not a short burst with little benefit.
It is the same ideology that underpins unpaid internships in trendy media companies, but state-sanctioned and aimed at non-graduates without even the somewhat shaky safety net of a degree to fall back on. Companies are exploiting desperation, with tragic consequences.
We are at a point when we’re being told to thank corporations for their benevolent work, even when it has no direct benefit to ordinary people. In the pursuit of economic statistics the actual state of the country is forgotten, data is prized above reality, and we need to do more to challenge this. The solution to unemployment is permanent, well-paid jobs, not temporary unpaid placements.
If it’s your thing, there’s a change.org petition asking for an inquiry into Clapson’s death