I don’t agree with everything Zoe Williams says in her CiF piece; the whole thing is just so hideous and disgusting, there’s really no commentary I can make.
If this were a normal world, when the Department of Work and Pensions released its list of acceptable jobs for the wage incentive scheme we would be asking questions about the scheme itself. Is it right for the employer to get a £2,275 incentive for taking on any employee between 18 and 24 who stays six months? Even when, for an 18-year-old on the minimum wage, that amounts to nearly half the salary? Why should all the incentive go to the employer, when that employee is probably struggling to find bus fares? If this were a normal world, I would compare this to summer 2011, when Lord Freud was extolling the generosity of the Work Programme, whereby an employer could claim up to £14,000 for taking on someone “hard-to-reach”. “Weird,” I thought, “that is an entire minimum wage, in reward for employing someone on the minimum wage. It’s almost as if this is some kind of stitch-up.”
However, when you see that DWP list, you will realise we are not in a normal world.
There’s an “adult entertainment” section, stipulating which jobs are ineligible for the incentive (lap, pole and table dancers, dominatrices, escorts and masseurs), and which jobs are eligible (cameramen and techies in porn films, and auxiliary workers in massage parlours, saunas, lap and pole dancing clubs). “What about fluffers?” is everybody’s first question. “You don’t get much more auxiliary than a fluffer.” Not so fast, would-be purveyors of entry-level jobs in the arena of the entertainment hard-on. Acceptable jobs in porn include “sound engineers, producers and directors” – it doesn’t look as though that extends to anybody who has to physically touch anybody else. After all, employers offering positions to cat-fighters and mud-wrestlers are not eligible. I thought those jobs were mainly freelance, but what do I know? My (professional) mud-wrestling days are long gone.
I don’t want it both ways – I believe sex workers choose the work they do in exactly the same balance of pragmatic need and personal fulfilment as asexual workers. If this were a list of eligibility for maternity leave, or flat-rate VAT bands, I would have no problem with it, except to say that it was too exclusive, there being no reason why a receptionist at a lapdancing club should have better workplace protection than a lapdancer.
The wage incentive scheme is different – this is a pretty good deal for the employer. If you’re interested, there’s a colourful leaflet about it showing some middle-aged dudes in a sweetshop, social-mindedly recruiting a smiling young woman. It’s one of a number of pictures of gainfully employed youths, but none of them are behind a counter selling a strap-on or some strawberry lube. Why not? Because the DWP is embarrassed, though it insists it is not.
“Being a delivery man at Amazon is no different to being a delivery man for Ann Summers,” the press officer at the department told me. “I know, sweetie,” I said, sweetly, “but Ann Summers isn’t a pornographer. She makes rubber nurses’ uniforms for people who want to get drunk dressed as a nurse. The point is, to perform in a porn film could exploit a vulnerable job-seeker. Because that job is to be a performer. Whereas the job of a cameraman is the job of a cameraman.” It wasn’t really a point, so much as a mantra: a performer is a performer, whereas a cameraman … well, a cameraman is a cameraman.
If you think the work of fucking for money, on camera, is exploitative, then the process is exploitative; if you think it debases a young person to give another person a blowjob, then it also debases the person who has to operate the boom and minimise the stertorous nose-breathing. If you don’t think any of it is exploitative, a different point holds – even the staunchest pro-porn advocates, with fair trade work practices and strongly, carefully drawn emphasis on the respect for and boundaries of their performers, would not, I don’t think, dress up the sex industry as great employment for a school-leaver.
You don’t have boundaries when you’re 18. You have a load of people asking you to do things which, 15 years later, you realise breached your boundaries. And if you think everybody, whatever their age and financial situation, operates in a state of perfect freedom, forging self-determined choices in an equal world, you still have to ask why government intervention is necessary to make the sex industry employ young people. Surely if it needed a handout, it would be to prevent ageism?
But besides any of that, this is a moment so sharp and crystallised in the narrative of the employer as “wealth creator” that it feels as though it must be satire. We have become accustomed, since 2010, to the presentation of employers as modern gods, and employees as so much interchangeable meat.
Young people are no longer assets for a firm, they are burdens, who have to stump up the cost of their own training by working for free, and still be grateful for the “opportunity”. Coffee shops offer 20 hour-a-week positions for which the prospective candidate must be on call for 15 hours of every day. The idea of wages that reflect the value an employee brings, rather than the lowest they can be screwed down to – never mind wages that a person can live on – is rejected as fanciful, despite the fact that no economy can function without them, nor any society call itself humane.
And finally, inevitably, we’ve arrived at a place where we can afford to front massage parlour owners and escort services a third of their wage bill (sorry, for auxiliary staff, of course), but we can’t afford the Future Jobs Fund. Because they’re not sleazy, they’re wealth creators. And you, young person, are not the future of the nation. You’re just another sponger, waiting for a go-getting pimp to spin you into wealth.