The news today is full of headlines like "Unemployed told: do four weeks of unpaid work or lose your benefits" from the Guardian. In several papers, of course, the epithet "work-shy" is used. And as always the media ignore the fact that this is not new. Under Flexible New Deal claimants are supposed to do a 4-week placement, and the requirement goes way back to old contracts. There are all sorts of problems; small employers don't want the hassle, and the voluntary sector has been stuffed with non-volunteers doing "placements". If anything is different this time, it's that they're talking specifically about "manual labour" and allowing it to be seen as punitive. I suspect that little will actually change. With so many public sector jobs being axed, the unions are not going to stand for street cleaners and the like being replaced by unpaid work gangs.