Working For Free – A Symptom of A Societal Cancer

March 1, 2013 1:39 pm

working for freeI recently wrote a blog on my website about the fact that so many actors, at various stages of their career, have to work for free. Since the courts decided that the Government’s Workfare programme was, to all extents and purposes, illegal, as there are more than a few slavery connotations being bandied about because of it, the issue of working for free has been grabbing my attention more and more.

As I explain in my blog (, Working For Free is part and parcel of what we do. In the blind hope that our dedication and talent for our craft will go appreciated (and called upon again by the company we’re doing the favour for, when they have a little more in the coffers), we turn up as early as six or seven a.m., work through the day, get fed and leave as late as ten or so, having earned nothing but, hopefully, the crew and director’s respect. We too draw the line somewhere. We have to decide if it’s worth it, of course, and most of the time, because we specifically want a career in this weird, hand-over-fist business, we go ahead with it.

However. Being asked to work in Poundland for no pay for weeks on end, just to be ‘in work’ if I’ve been unemployed for ages? Look, Bub. I have one friend who is sending out applications for work on an average of ten a day and he’s been out of work for nigh on three years. You tell him he’s got work to do – where ever! – and he’ll turn up, do a good days’ work and go home again. But you tell him he’s got work to do and you can’t pay him because he’s on some trial or what have you, and he’s GOT to work otherwise he’ll get his benefits rescinded? That’s just not damn fair. He barely gets by on what he gets, and that’s just living in a bedsit. He’ll then have to pay out for what he gets to get to work and such every day, pay out for a uniform and such. How is he better off doing that than getting REAL work that pays him a decent wage?

A friend of mine also responded to my blog and was even more thought-provoking. His point was that the miserliness of such a scheme was symptomatic of a nationwide cancer, in that those of my generation and older can remember a time when money was plentiful, we all got pretty much the same money, but we were able to live much better lives than we now seem to. I myself am very identifiably a middle-class, moderately successful self-employed person who works hard and often, both in my chosen profession and my supplementary one. In contrast to these facts, my other half – who also works – and I struggle to get by in a bedsit in a (debatably) rather dodgy part of London. Furthermore, I remember being able to rent my own one-bedroom flat with an ex of mine, while he was repeating his A-Levels and I was working in an Argos, just before I went to university. The stories before and since the depression – which I call it because, seriously, it is, I don’t sugar coat it with the word ‘RECession’ – don’t make sense.

And for the fact we’re having to tighten our belts all of a sudden – think how many people you know who have had to downsize or have almost run themselves ragged for a promotion or a better job just to cope over the past few years – the people themselves are watching every penny. We want our nurses and doctors to do a good job; we want our military to be able to protect us; we want there to be more and better teachers. But we don’t want to have to pay any more tax. Our years of prosperity are behind us and we can’t seem to get over that.

That said, it’s not the people’s fault there are fewer jobs. Fewer new companies are surfacing because they can’t get the loans or simply don’t want to take the risk in the current economic climate. And who can blame them? According to the Daily Mail, 170,000 businesses went under between 2008 and 2010 alone! HMV can’t blame its going into administration solely on iTunes. People can’t spend money on music like they used to, and those who really want certain things are more likely to download it illegally anyway, because that doesn’t cost anything.

So here’s the thing: how do we escape this cycle? The sad fact is that it is not the poor who can actually do anything to stop this problem. It’s the rich and the government who can.

Let me leave you with this as a hopeful story. I used to live in Liverpool. Beautiful city, great people, does not deserve the bad rap it occasionally gets and if you get a chance, visit. In the late 1700s-1800s, Joseph Williamson started up The Williamson Tunnels, which is a set of long and complicated tunnels, now partially open to the public, under the Edge Hill area of Liverpool. If you believe the conspiracy theorists, despite being a devout Christian and holding a pew at St Thomas’ church, he was also the member of a sect who thought the world was ending and wanted an escape passage for himself and his friends. However, Williamson’s own reasoning, as he described them, were so that the out of work had something to do, and earn their wage doing an honest day’s work. The tunnels didn’t appear to be for anything in particular and if you stand back, you see an eccentric man, paying otherwise destitute men a salary because that’s what they needed, and it didn’t really matter what they did, because their ‘self-respect’ was also important, as he himself said. (

We need a few more eccentrics like Joseph Williamson to make this country work again.

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