Workfare: Tories back down on more schemes but we will carry on


by Guest    
10:50 am - April 23rd 2012

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contribution by Izzy Koksal and Luke Sheldon

On 29th February Chris Grayling stated that the government’s Work Experience scheme was now voluntary.

But a recent Freedom of Information request reveals the government’s suspension of sanctions extends to two other workfare schemes as well: the Work Experience element of sector-based work academies, and work experience in the Work Programme.

In theory this means that claimants can leave work placements in these three schemes without the threat of sanctions.

The FOI’d document includes a set of temporary instructions to staff to ensure that sanctions are not used. This removal of sanctions on three workfare schemes represents a significant victory for campaigners against workfare.

The government is clearly back tracking after the public outcry over workfare. However, we are still concerned about how these schemes are implemented in practice; that the reality for many may still be forced unpaid labour for benefits.

  • This is only a temporary removal of sanctions on three of five workfare schemes – the government are in the process of firming up their revised policy and there is the possibility that they will re-impose these sanctions.
  • Claimants participating in these three work experience schemes can still be sanctioned for ‘gross misconduct’. The Freedom of Information request states that the Department of Work and Pensions is yet to define what gross misconduct involves meaning that there remains the possibility that this could be used against claimants who withdraw from these schemes.
  • The Guardian has revealed that some claimants who have turned down the ‘voluntary’ Work Experience scheme have then been sent on Mandatory Work Activity – another workfare scheme. The Mandatory Work Activity is used as an indirect sanction on the supposedly ‘voluntary’ and ‘sanction free’ schemes.
  • Often a claimant may find themselves bullied onto these schemes and not informed of their rights even if they are defined as ‘voluntary’.
  • Work Programme providers and Job Centre plus can still mandate claimants under threat of sanctions to attend CV writing, motivational courses, monitored job searching sessions, crystal healing sessions, etc, etc…
  • There are still two workfare schemes that claimants can be forced onto – Mandatory Work Activity and the Community Action Programme. Another Freedom of Information request highlights how the government have boosted funding for Mandatory Work Activity workfare through the £1 billion Youth Contract.

If you find yourself being sanctioned for refusing to take part in or withdrawing from a work placement then get in touch with us – info@boycottworkfare.org and consider making an appeal to your advisor using the the Freedom of Information request paragraph quoted above.

Despite this important victory, workfare is still a reality, in the form of MWA and CAP, and a threat – in that this is only a temporary suspension with the possibility that sanctions will be reimposed.

For these reasons we will continue to campaign against workfare.

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A longer version is at Boycott Workfare site, which has been running the campaign, where Izzy Koksal and Luke Sheldon contribute.

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Reader comments


There isn’t a real argument for workfare. It boils down to those lucky enough to have a job being angry at those unlucky enough to be unemployed or disabled: “I have to work so they should too”. Arguments for experience and training are paper thin.

Whereas arguments regarding the size of Work Programme contracts (paid for by taxpayers aren’t) and their ability to find real, full-time, permanent work aren’t as flimsy.

Spite-born workfare costs the public double (benefits and workfare contracts) and for what? To sate misplaced anger about unemployment?

I’ve seen first hand how well a scheme that is voluntary and in the charitable sector can work. My ex employers signed up to the voluntary scheme under labour. We had about 12 young people through the scheme while I worked there, they did general office work, dependant on their skill levels and ability to learn. Three were taken on when job vacancies came up. 4 stayed to volunteer after their time on the scheme finshed. A few more were able to get good references from the boss which gave them proof of skills required to get a job somewhere else.

Many of those on the scheme had few skills at all, had been unemployed since leaving school, and were grateful for the opportunity to work for a charity and build skills they could use to get work. Those that stayed to volunteer, did so willingly, knowing that not only were they continuing ot build up new skills, but they were also helping a charity. We were grateful to have them as we were poorly funded, needed admin support, and we were happy to spend a little time teaching and guiding them, as most of them, when they settled in, worked hard, and some had dramatic positive attitude changes . Everybody gained from this experience.

I cannot see how it would work in a private, profit driven, company, where current workers see their overtime hours slashed, and full time opportunities disappear, resenting these new ‘workers’, and the unemployed on the scheme, resenting the fact that they’re doing the same work for benefit rates and aren’t appreciated, with the suspicion that their involvement in the scheme helps to increase profits.

There are plenty of charities out there who desperately need help, and the unemployed would be helping at the same time as being helped themselves – particularly young people with few work skills. Most young people aren’t work shy, they just need and want a chance, an opportunity. And as for those older people with work skills and experience – how about offering proper job retraining in areas that need workers, or opportunities for further education, rather than idotic A4E style courses that teach rubbish like how not mentioning your undergraduate and postgraduate degrees will help you to get a job in a supermarket.


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