The Despicable Work Programme.
As a benefit claimant the workfare programmes in the UK terrify me. I am blessed to have a father who is pretty well informed about the American model of workfare that the Tories love so much so I had fair warning. I was well aware that if they had their way, which they seem to have at the moment, then people who couldn’t find work they would be forced to work for their benefits and failure to do so would mean losing all support they currently receive to survive.
There are many in this country who believe the propaganda that is paraded before them week after week about ‘benefit scroungers’. Those people will not be swayed by this blog post, many of them will say we deserve what we get because they know someone who owns an xbox, or drinks cheap lager, or has had their nails painted once, or someone they knew vaguely goes out once a week. Apparently that justifies demonising a massive section of society. The people who hold that view need all the sympathy you can muster, it must be awful to live with such a tiny mind, ignorant to the fact that they could find themselves out of work, single with children or disabled and told they can never work again.
On to the main point of this post.
The Government developed something called The Work Programme when they decided they were running the country (no one won the election remember). The name appears harmless enough doesn’t it? It is only when you read the details of the workfare scheme that you begin to understand how awful it actually is. Bear in mind that millions are unemployed and the numbers are rising. The Tory mantra of ‘workshy’ and ‘feckless’ is particularly insulting to those who have recently found themselves out of work, not as reflection of their work skills, ability, or how hard they have worked. Pure bad luck, economic circumstances and a ruthless programme of austerity forced upon us all by the government. (You will remember them cheering in the House of Commons at the prospect of half a million redundancies in the public sector). Not forgetting the disabled community who are unable to work and are far from workshy or feckless.
The guidelines for the work programme have always been rather sketchy from the outset. Jobcentre staff didn’t understand what it was and were instructed to hand out an A4 sheet of paper with a very brief explanation in the beginning. I am uncertain what the procedure is at the moment. Not very professional Mr Duncan Smith! I am lucky enough to be exempt from participation at the moment because my youngest child is only 2 years old. When she is 5 I will no longer be exempt.
Ok, down to the nitty gritty.
The prospectus for the work programme, as set out on the DWP website is in brief:
|Customer Group||Time of Referral||Basis for Referral|
|Jobseekers Allowance customers aged 25+||From 12 months||Mandatory|
|Jobseekers Allowance customers aged 18-24||From 9 months||Mandatory|
|Jobseekers Allowance customers who have recently moved from Incapacity Benefit||From 3 months||Mandatory|
|Jobseekers Allowance customers facing significant disadvantage (e.g. young people with significant barrier, NEETs, ex-offenders)||From 3 months||Mandatory or voluntary depending on circumstance|
|All Employment and Support Allowance customers||At any time after their Work Capability Assessment||Voluntary|
|Employment and Support Allowance (income related) customers who are placed in the Work Related Activity Group||When customers are expected to be fit for work in 3 months||Mnandatory|
As you can see, the claims from ministers that it is a voluntary scheme are lies. Mandatory is the opposite of voluntary. Claimants who refuse, or fail to attend are sanctioned. You do not receive a wage for the work you do on the programme, you are working for your Jobseekers Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance. The rates for current benefits can be found here. For single jobseekers under 18-24 it is £53.45. Hardly an extortionate amount, and most claimants on that rate already have to contribute towards their housing costs.
Chris Grayling, the Work and Pensions minister, sent this letter out to voluntary sectors:
Third sector, Welfare reform, Work Programme and procurement
The full text of the statement is as follows:
“I wanted to write to you now that we have put in place the new Framework for the Provision of Employment Related Support Services http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/erss-preferred-suppliers.pdf. We are now moving into the second phase of the contracting.
We have been very clear to all of the organisations on the framework that they must demonstrate their ability to address the specific needs and barriers of each customer in every locality. In order to do so, they will need to engage with a range of smaller local and specialist organisations including those from the voluntary sector. If they do not include in their bid a range of organisations with the expertise to meet all these diverse needs, it is highly unlikely that they will meet the criteria we have set out to win Work Programme contracts.
We believe that this creates a real opportunity to create the kind of partnerships that will bring real strength to the Work Programme. Can I therefore encourage you to engage with the prime contractor candidates in your area, as we do want the Work Programme to provide opportunities for smaller organisations to be active participants in the challenge that lies ahead.
We have also sought to strengthen the hand of smaller organisations in their dealings with Prime Contractors. We are aware of the concerns that have been raised in the past, and believe that the systems we are putting in place will mean a more level playing field. In particular our Merlin Standard will ensure that you are treated fairly in your dealings with primes and that supply chains remain robust and healthy. Primes that do not fulfil their obligations under the standard can lose their contracts. Further information on Merlin can be found at: www.merlinstandard.co.uk.
I hope you will take the opportunity to get involved in the delivery of the Work Programme and help us support more people than ever before into sustained employment.”
The biggest argument against workfare is this:
If there is enough work to recruit people on The Work Programme, why don’t those companies just employ them and pay them a proper wage? Would any of you reading this be satisfied with less than £2 an hour? Would you do a full time job for £53.45 a week, that’s £213.80 a month. I suspect that even those with part time jobs earn more than that in a month! Also, if these firms are using jobseekers as cheap labour how do the paid employees of those firms feel knowing that the person standing beside them, doing exactly the same job, is not being paid a wage? I’d be very worried. I’d be worried that I can be replaced with a jobseeker, afterall they are carrying out the same duties as me at a much lower cost.
The complete list of companies engaging in The Work Programme is unknown at the moment, but it’s being compiled. The known companies and charities are as follows:
British Heart Foundation
Gorgie City Farm
Saffron Acres Project
Whittington Hospital – porters and receptionists
TESCO’s (even for nightshift work)
Station stewards at Finsbury Park station
‘Work Programme’ contractors – Preferred Bidders – April 2011
Scotland Ingeus UK Limited Working Links
Wales Rehab JobFit * Working Links Wales
North East Avanta Enterprise Limited (TNG) Ingeus UK Limited
North East Yorkshire & Humber G4S Newcastle College Group**
West Yorkshire Business Employment Services Training (BEST) Ltd Ingeus UK Ltd
South Yorkshire A4E Ltd Serco Ltd
North West(Merseyside, Halton, Cumbria and Lancashire) A4E Ltd Ingeus UK Ltd
North West(Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Warrington) Avanta Enterprise Limited (TNG) G4S Seetec
East Midlands A4E Ltd Ingeus UK Ltd
West Midlands (Birmingham, Solihull and Black Country) FourstaR Employment & Skills Ltd Newcastle College Group** Pertemps
West Midlands (Coventry, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and the Marches) ESG Serco Ltd
East of England Ingeus UK Ltd Seetec
West London Ingeus UK Ltd Maximus Employment UK LTD Reed in Partnership
East London A4E Ltd Careers Development Group (CDG) * Seetec
South East (Thames Valley, Hampshire and IOW) A4E Ltd Maximus Employment UK LTD
South East (Surrey, Sussex and Kent) Avanta Enterprise Limited (TNG) G4S (Private Sector)
South West (Gloucester, Wiltshire and West of England) JHP Group Limited Rehab JobFit *
South West (Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset) Prospects Services Ltd Working Links
* Voluntary sector organisation
** Public sector organisation
The Subcontractors include such as;
5 E Ltd
Sunderland North Community Business Centre
Cornwall Neighbourhoods for Change (CN4C)
Pathways Community Interest Company
Steps to Work (Walsall) Limited
WISE Ability Limited (Wise Ability)
Westward Pathfinder Trust
Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI)*
Action for The Blind
Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
Skills for Work
East Riding County Council
Stoke-on-Trent City Council
Bournemouth and Poole College
Inspire to Independence (i2i)
Triage Central Limited
Prospects Services Ltd
G4S and Serco
G4S won three contracts worth nearly 250 million pounds, while Serco got two, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) handed out deals worth 3 to 5 billion pounds to private and voluntary sector organisations.
A regional anti-workfare campaign across the West Midlands is being set up and a legal challenge has begun.
“Slavery and forced or compulsory labour is prohibited by UK and European human rights law, in particular by Article 4(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. There are limited exceptions for work such as that carried out in prison. Also excluded is work forming part of a “normal civic obligation”, but such obligations are limited to work as part of jury service and military service and the like. Forced labour has also been prohibited by international law since 1930.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Forced/compulsory labour is illegal. I wonder what Iain Duncan Smith will say in response…..
There is also a campaign to boycott all companies that participate in workfare (see list above). I do hope you will join me in ceasing to give such companies your business.
If you feel as strongly as I do please sign the petition below