The Government flagship policies related to unemployment involving jobseekers working for free have, quiet rightly, been the subject of fierce controversy and opposition, with major employers coming under pressure to refuse to take unpaid workers. The simple fact is that forcing people to do unpaid work will not solve the unemployment crisis neither will it pay down the deficit.

At a time when there are over 2.5 million people out of work and less than half a million vacancies, the underlying founding principle of the Welfare State to provide people with social insurance to give them dignity and an income when out of work or incapacitated has never been more important. It is imperative that we avoid the demonising and bullying that dominates the welfare debate and the government’s proposals for workfare that will have dire consequences for everyone, not just the unemployed.

If jobs are there to be done, people should get the rate for the job, instead of being part of a growing, publicly funded, unpaid workforce which, apart from being immoral, actually destroys paid jobs.

Unpaid Work Schemes

The Work Programme
This is the government’s scheme to provide “tailored support” to the long-term unemployed, and kicks in after nine months for young people and a year for everyone else, and is an update to the Flexible New Deal programme introduced under Labour.

Private providers are incentivized to get people back into work or training under the programme, and are able to propose work placements as part of this service for those applicants they believe will benefit from such activity.

These providers are not able to directly sanction jobseekers that refuse such support or end placements early, but can refer people back to the Jobcentre Plus, who is able to do so.

Figures are not available for the number of work placements under this programme, but 370,000 people were referred to the Work Programme between June and November 2011.

Work Experience
The Work Experience programme is a voluntary scheme for people between 16 and 24 who have been unemployed for more than three months, but less than nine.

Jobseekers who take part have an unpaid work placement for two to eight weeks, working 25 to 30 hours each week. They continue to receive jobseeker’s allowance throughout, and may get a contribution towards travel or childcare costs.

By November 2011, 34,200 people had started a Work Experience placement.

Mandatory Work Activity
As its name suggests, this is a compulsory scheme aimed at people “who have little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work.”

Jobseekers can be given mandatory work activity at any point, but it is typically for those who have been unemployed for three months or more. The scheme mandates six to eight weeks unpaid work for up to 30 hours a week.

These placements must be for work which “makes a contribution to the community”.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ equality impact assessment for MWA notes:

“Participation on Mandatory Work Activity will be compulsory and customers who fail to participate/fail to complete/or lose a place due to misconduct will be sanctioned for 13 weeks. A second failure in a 12 month period will lead to a 26 week sanction.”

The same document noted that the number of referrals to the programme should be small, at less than 10,000 people a year.

However, between May and November 2011, 24,010 people were referred to Mandatory Work Activity.

In November 2011, 8,100 people were referred to MWA – 1,500 more than started the voluntary Work Experience programme.

Community Activity Programme
This scheme for the very long-term unemployed is currently being piloted with a small number of jobseekers ahead of a potential national rollout.

Under this programme, people who have been unemployed for more than two years could be referred for up to 30 hours unpaid work per week for six months. This is intended “to develop disciplines and skills associated with sustained employment, (for example: attending on time on a regular basis as part of a working routine, carrying out specific tasks and working under supervision”.

Participants also receive help with job searching as part of the programme.

The DWP guidance notes: “CAP work experience placements must deliver a contribution to the local community and must not displace what would otherwise be paid jobs.”

The scheme is intended to be mandatory, and failure to participate results in a sanction on benefits, as with MWA.

Work Related Activity Group
The Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) is for ESA claimants who the DWP consider will be capable of work some time in the future.

This includes those who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer but have more than 6 months to live, accident and stroke victims and people suffering mental health problems.

Recent figures reveal there are over 300,000 in the WRAG group and 8,440 have incurred benefit sanctions from Sep‘10 – Aug’11 for offences such as missing an interview with advisers “without good cause”.

Sector-based Work Academies
This scheme offers a combination of training and a work placement to people unemployed for over three months. Anyone completing a placement is given a guaranteed job interview with the organisation they have been placed with.

Placements can last up to six weeks, typically divided between some classroom training and on-the-job experience. Participation is voluntary, but anyone who doesn’t complete their placement will face sanctions to their benefits.
The scheme was launched in August 2011, and by November 3,400 people had participated.

Source: The Guardian

There is no evidence that vast numbers of people are suffering from a “habit of worklessness”. Many of those not in jobs work hard, caring for frail relatives or children, dealing with episodic disabilities, and generally working. Building social policy on the basis of a tiny minority being “scroungers” or “lazy” is expensive illiberal folly. The Work Programme is expected to cost £5billion.

Whether the unpaid work activities are voluntary is vehemently disputed with widespread reports of coercion and benefit claimants not being provided with accurate information about consent and sanctions. There also reports of jobseekers being made to do compulsory unpaid work for up to four weeks after refusing to take part in the voluntary work experience schemes. (The Guardian).

A welfare-to-work company, A4E, owned by David Cameron’s former families tsar has been accused of being involved in a vast fraud scandal. Written evidence submitted to Parliament by a former chief auditor at A4E shows how an “unethical culture” led to “systemic fraud” at the company, which holds major government contracts. A document put to MPs also described serious problems at another welfare to work provider, Working Links, which runs three major contracts.

The government’s claim that half of those participating in unpaid work placements results in permanent paid work seems questionable. A blogpost, by Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research appears to contradict this assertion:

  • Foremost among these is surely the question of whether work experience actually works; that is, does it actually improve the job prospects and opportunities of the young people it is supposed to help. Iain Duncan Smith is clear on this. He argues
  • “The fact is that 13 weeks after starting their placements, around 50 per cent of those taking part have either taken up permanent posts or have stopped claiming benefits.”
  • This is indeed a fact, backed up by DWP analysis. But it’s not a very meaningful one, because in itself it proves nothing; we don’t know what would have happened if they hadn’t been put on the programme in the first place. In fact, I was surprised that the number was so low, for the following reasons:
  • It is well known that most people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) leave quite quickly. The UK has a very dynamic and flexible labour market; so although the most recent labour market statistics showed a small rise in the claimant count of about 7,000 (to just over 1.6 million) this reflected more than 300,000 people signing on, and somewhat fewer ceasing their claim.
  • As Iain Duncan Smith is careful to make clear, albeit only implicitly, in the quote above – that leaving JSA doesn’t actually mean getting a job. Especially for young people, many people who stop claiming benefits don’t get a job; they may return to education or training (generally a good thing) or drop out entirely (not so good). But it is reasonable to conclude that far fewer than 50% of this cohort actually got a real job.
  • The “50%” figure cited by David Cameron and Iain Duncan-Smith represents not just people finding jobs, but also those going back into training or just dropping out of the system entirely.

It is also interesting to try to compare this figure for people on the Work Experience programme to jobseekers as a whole. Portes notes:

  • The basic point that off-flows from JSA are high is correct, as pointed out by DWP:
    “Off-flows from JSA remain high – almost 60% of claimants leave within three months and almost 80% leave within six months of making their claim.”

Moreover, the same document also points out that young people leave JSA even faster

  • “Jobseekers aged 25 and over are significantly more likely to have claims lasting more than one year than jobseekers aged 18 to 24”
  • So well over 60% of young jobseekers leave JSA within three months, suggesting that the record of the Work Experience programme – 50% off benefit in three months – is pretty unimpressive at best, comparing poorly with what happens to young people on JSA in any event.

Information and Resource Sites:

Boycott Workfare

Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.

The message is clear. Those of us who oppose workfare in all its forms are winning. There has never been a better time for you, your workplace and your union branch to get involved and say no to workfare. After all, we know where we are going. Come with us. We are going to win. Boycott Exploitation. Boycott Workfare.

Consent and Welfare to Work(fare) Programmes

Under a Triangular Trade the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Jobcentre Plus (JCP) [masters] has commissioned Work Programme Prime Providers and they with Subcontractors [overseers], to run compulsory Poor Law Welfare to Work (workfare/workhouse eviction) Schemes like the Work Programme.

The Work Programme’s viability is “hanging by a thread” as its overseers (Public Authorities, registered Charities and Private Companies) only get paid by getting people into jobs. As UK economic growth is stagnant with millions being unemployed during the worse global recession since the 1930s these overseers will get you to do forced unpaid labour and worthless training (, be worse off or do dead end jobs.

These overseers desperately crave and need your personal information and will use blagging and social engineering to obtain it, so they can make money and profit from it and make your life one of indentured servitude for 4 years.

Masters and overseers will suggest something is “entirely voluntary“, then only to be told later it is mandatory and if not undertaken will lead to hardship or destitution and inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to Fundamental Human Rights, through a loss of benefits sanction, which could last 3 years.