On Wednesday, the Dundee Courier published a desperate plea for volunteers from Mid-Lin Day Care Centre, which provides activities for vulnerable elderly people, including those with dementia. The article admitted that the centre is almost entirely run by volunteers. What it omitted to mention is that many of these ‘volunteers’ are actually unemployed folk, conscripted under various workfare schemes. Some are forced to work there for no pay for six months – 2 ½ times the length of the maximum community service punishment. If they refuse they can face thirteen weeks with no benefits.
Some old people can be quite uninhibited in letting off their frustrations and making personal comments; for the ‘volunteers’, being sworn at and receiving criticism is part of the ‘job’. And some of the centre’s users are incontinent, so ‘volunteers’ have to clear up the occasional accident. ‘Volunteers’ also take people to the toilet. And despite the intimacy of such tasks, we have been informed that the centre has told people not to worry about the lack of PVG disclosures. In the Courier article the centre manager describes volunteering as ‘great work experience’, but people we have spoken to complain that nothing was offered by way of training. They were even expected to pay for the lunch that ‘volunteers’ had helped prepare.
We know that Mid-Lin provides a vital service for its users, but at what cost – beyond the £18 a day charge? Their website states that they aim to promote ‘dignity’ and ‘choice’ for their users, but what about the unemployed who have no choice but to suffer the indignity of working for nothing. This is the reality of Cameron’s Big Society: a shoestring community service that only survives through a combination of charity and gross exploitation.
We have written three times to Mid-Lin asking them to reconsider their use of forced labour. They have not dignified us with an answer; but we can assure them that so long as they continue with this exploitation we will take every opportunity to let people know what is really going on behind that fence.