PUBLISHED: 16:34 EST, 30 June 2012 | UPDATED: 16:34 EST, 30 June 2012
No handouts: Tiffany Austin says her life was turned around by the W-2 scheme
Twelve months ago Tiffany Austin was at rock bottom. The single mother had no job, no prospects and little hope. Yet today she earns £16,000 a year as a bank teller, bursts with confidence and takes pride in the fact that she supports herself and her two sons without government handouts.
She says it’s a ‘miraculous change of fortune’ – and it is precisely the sort of result David Cameron hopes to replicate across Britain with the blitz on benefits dependency that he announced in The Mail on Sunday last week.
Among his proposals, the Prime Minister wants to axe the dole money of the long-term unemployed who do little to find work – or force them into community work. His controversial proposals are similar to the ‘workfare’ scheme in America that 24-year-old Tiffany credits with turning her life around.
‘Workfare gave me my pride and confidence back,’ she says. Under the Wisconsin Works (W-2) initiative for low-income parents, she received £416 a month, food stamps and health care while she undertook otherwise unpaid work experience.
Tiffany also received guidance in putting together a CV and improving her interview technique to help her secure a job.
‘After six months I applied for the job at the bank and got it,’ she says. ‘Now I am on no benefits at all and for the first time in my life I can see a clear career path and have hope for the future. Once you start working, whether it is paid or not, your mindset changes. You have the discipline to get up in the morning.’
W-2 was introduced in 1996 and within five years, the number of families taking handouts had dropped by 95 per cent in some parts of the state.
Bill Clinton, US President at the time it launched, was so impressed he introduced the programme across the country.
Eloise Anderson, who helped to design the programme, says: ‘Like in Britain, we had a broken system where unemployment was subsidised. People choose idleness if they are given money for nothing.
‘The more kids a woman had, the more she got in benefits. You had cases where mothers had child after child and lived on handouts. Then they got to their 50s and were unemployable as they had never worked a day in their lives. In some cases you had three generations who had never worked. When a parent doesn’t work, it affects the children.
‘A welfare mum brings up the next generation who think it is OK to sit around and collect handouts.’
Britain currently has a voluntary Government-backed work experience scheme, which Mr Cameron’s proposals hope to build on.
But the existing eight-week programmes for young people have been attacked as providing companies such as Tesco and Pizza Hut with virtual ‘slave labour’ that bypasses minimum wage laws, while taking jobs from ‘real’ workers.
Mrs Anderson says: ‘We heard all that too here in Wisconsin – that we were trying to create a permanent underclass, that workfare would not create “real” jobs and poor people would end up even worse off.
‘Instead, the critics had to eat their words because by anyone’s standards W-2 has been a resounding success.’
Wisconsin predicts that of the 14,000 now on workfare placements, three-quarters will find a permanent job by the end of the year. Not bad for a scheme that has also slashed more than £100 million from the state’s annual benefits bill.
As Tiffany Austin says: ‘People think that the unemployed are losers and don’t want to work. That’s not true. Most of us just want to be given the chance.
‘At first, workfare was scary for me but it gave me the chance to get my job and get off benefits – it’s a win-win situation.’