I want to share a document with you, a page from Chapter 20 of the Department of Work and Pensions recently revised guidance for Work Programme providers, one which deals specifically with the provision of wage incentives to employers under the Youth Contract – i.e. this is where the DWP pay employers a bounty of up £2,275 for taking on a young person aged between 18 and 24 who has been unemployed and claiming benefits for at least six months.
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Now I’m guessing that even the title of that page “Jobs within the Adult Entertainment Industry” will have given a few people a WTF??? moment, but it should be stressed that the DWP does not provide wage incentives to employers in the adult entertainment to recruit performers and other sex workers, that much is obvious, but if you carry on down the page you’ll see a list of jobs that the DWP does consider acceptable, ranging from what might be a relatively benign position selling lingerie and dildos in your nearest branch of Ann Summers to working as a camera operator on a porno shoot.
Now personally, I don’t have any particular moral or ethical objections to people working in ‘adult entertainment’ as long as its their choice and there’s no element of coercion involved, although it does seem rather hypocritical for the DWP to be completely unwilling to help young people start a career as a performer while, at the same time, being entirely happy to help them get a start as a pornographer.
Nevertheless, many people do harbour pretty strong moral and ethical objections to working in the sex industry, in any capacity, so there is very obvious concern here inasmuch as if the DWP considers certain type of employment in the adult entertainment sector to be acceptable for the purposes of paying wage incentives to employers then they will also deem it acceptable to mandate young people to apply for and accept those jobs under the threat of imposing benefit sanctions should they refuse.
Think about it this way. One of the areas in which the DWP thinks it’s acceptable for young people to work is as:
“auxiliary workers in saunas/massage parlours e.g. bar staff, door staff, receptionists or clearers;”
And when the DWP talks about saunas/massage parlours as part of the ‘adult entertainment’ sector then it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that what they’re not referring to here is Champneys or any other upmarket commercial spas or health resorts; what we are talking about here are the kinds of saunas/massage parlours that are generally understood to be also operating as brothels, the existence of which the authorities tend to turn a bit of blind eye to as long as they’re reasonably discreet in their activities and they often help to keep street prostitution down to manageable levels.
That being the case, do you really think its reasonable for work programme providers (and the DWP by extension) to be instructing young people to go and get a job in a brothel, even if the job does not involved directly ‘servicing’ the customers, under threat that they’ll have their benefits withdrawn if they refuse to attend an interview or turn down the job – and it worth remembering that work programme providers are required not only to check with employers that people attend interviews but also check up on how they behaved during the interview – they can be sanctioned if an employer reports that they refused a job during the interview or even if they made it obvious during the interview that they weren’t really interested.
And suppose a young person does take up one of these ‘acceptable’ adult entertainment industry jobs rather than lose their benefits, what impact could that potentially have on their long-term job prospects?
If your current, or only previous, job happens to have been in the kind of ‘sauna/massage parlour’ that pretty much everyone in your local area knows to be operating as the local brothel then what the hell to do you put on your CV?
Should you put the Madam down as a referee?
What do you say during the interview when a prospective employer asks about your current/previous job?
Okay, maybe you get lucky and your prospective employer is an open-minded sort who doesn’t choose to infer anything about your personal character based on the fact that you used to work as a receptionist in a brothel or as webcam operator on a porn cam site, but what if they do make those kinds of inferences?
Where does having worked in the adult entertainment sector, even in an auxiliary role, leave someone if and when they try to get more conventional employment and, more to point, how well equipped is an 18-19 year old who’s never worked and who is facing the threat of losing their benefits to think through those issues and their potential long term implications?
Whether you think it fair or not, in many people’s eyes there is still a profound social stigma attached to working in the adult entertainment sector, one that stretches beyond the obvious roles as a performer or sex worker to almost any kind of involvement in that kind of work.
Yes, as Refuted – who do a fantastic job of tracking the ins and outs of the whole workfare system – have noted, there may be a get out as it seems possible for individuals to register a conscientious objection notification to working in the adult entertainment sector but for me that isn’t enough.
While I don’t have any problem at all with people choosing to work in that sector I do not consider that the DWP or work programme providers should be permitted to even attempt to coerce or compel anyone to work in the adult entertainment sector, in any capacity, by way of mandation and the threat of benefit sanctions, not when there is a risk that this might have an adverse impact on a young person’s long term employment/career prospects.
If people choose to work in that sector, and the DWP wishes to offer incentives to employers to help those people into work then that’s fine by me – although I can think of plenty of people who will object to even that – but irrespective on anyone’s personal views on this kind of works, coercion is not and never will be acceptable and it should be made absolutely clear that no one should ever be subjected to sanctions for refusing work in this particular sector in any capacity.
Buzzfeed have picked up this story and have wrung a statement out of the DWP:
All jobs have to be legal and legitimate to be advertised on government jobs websites and be eligible for schemes such as the Wage Incentive.
This Government took action to ensure jobs in the adult industry which might exploit jobseekers were not advertised through Jobcentre Plus.
We also ensured that to be eligible for our schemes jobs must not exploit vulnerable jobseekers.
Okay, so the DWP line here is that it’s not okay for them to force young people into jobs in the adult sector that might exploit them, like appearing in porn films, but it is okay to force them in to jobs where they’re the ones doing the exploiting.