Sunday, 19 May 2013

Workfare - the government must come clean

The DWP refused Freedom of Information requests to reveal the organisations which were using free labour under the various schemes dubbed "workfare".  The Information Commissioner said they had to.  The DWP refused again, on the grounds that it would cause "damage to commercial interests", and charities would suffer from the "adverse publicity".  Now a tribunal led by three judges has ruled that the DWP must comply and publish the list.  (See the Guardian)
While the Boycott Workfare group is justifiably triumphant, I don't think they should rejoice too soon.  This government doesn't regard such legal rulings as binding.  As the Guardian says, they could appeal to the high court or use a ministerial veto to ban publication.  My bet would be that the list never will be published.
The DWP seems to assume that if they have to reveal the organisations taking part in these schemes it will effectively bring them to an end.  And that means, they say, that the firms paid to organise them would have to sack staff and lose money.  Ingeus said it would lose £1m in revenue, and Seetec said they would have to sack 53 people.  (A4e don't seem to have been asked.)  So the taxpayer is paying millions to force people into working for their benefits.  Crazy, isn't it?  There's another interesting fact in the Guardian piece.  The current Chief Executive of Ingeus is Dean James, who is a former senior DWP civil servant.  How very cosy.


  1. Or change the law to say they can keep it quiet

  2. The Teflon Don19 May 2013 at 17:04

    The Employment Director of the Salvation Army is Helen Robinson. She is also on the board of ERSA, the trade body for providers.

    Just thought I'd mention that as it goes some way to explain why the Salvation Army has refused to withdraw from workfare despite several high profile protests.

  3. Is it my imagination or was the WP all over the news a while back? "The new face of Welfare reform"now? not a word,hidden in the back page! Why? It has not delivered, even at the low targets set by the DWP.Manipulating the next set of figures will buy it a few more Months,but after that,in my opinion the true figures will come out and the abject failure(and total waste of money}let alone the waste of peoples time (The unemployed)and misery will be untold.

  4. Government scrabbling around desperately (using expensive lawyers) trying to hide facts which are of valid public interest.

    So much for "open government".

  5. Anyone who thinks workfare is a good idea (and there are many) is a fool. Sorry to be so blunt, but there it is.

    Unless you work in a top tier / specialised / niche sector or are personally indispensable, it is YOUR job that could very easily be under threat. You may find overtime is scrapped. Then your basic hours are cut back. And finally full and part timers like yourself are steadily replaced by workfare ''trainees'.

    This rot is taking place in many sectors and industries. It goes beyond affecting merely jobseekers to affecting the livelihoods of many hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers.

    1. How very true - A Christmas or two back, Argos recruited a number of staff on (I think) a 16 hour contract claiming additional money could be earned with overtime. Come December, "volunteers" were taken on to do a 30 hour per week mandatory "work experience". Suffice to say, the contracted staff didn't get their expected overtime and a few found out just how long term their contracts were.

    2. If workfare was so wonderful why are the government trying to keep the names of the host companies offering unpaid placements secret!

      We all know the truth, that is the government are trying to protect the commercial interests of big business by helping to boost their profits at the expense of the taxpayer who are subsidising them.

      I read somewhere that MWA providers are getting paid a £1,000 for each 4-week placement. The true figure of what they actually get paid is commercially confidential, so we will probably never know..

  6. It's problematic. For some people, work experience and demonstrating an ability to hold down a job can be transformative, but too much about the current government's schemes seem punitive, exploitative, or actively designed to displace paid work. With regard to the latter, it's not their intent, but one would be forgiven for thinking it was. The reality is that they're not a particularly good government, and are very poorly advised - you may have noticed both of these.

    What's interesting about this is the implication for post-Work Programme support. DWP trialled two approaches - neither made any difference to actually finding a job, but both showed signs of providing more peripheral benefits - motivation, self-esteem and so on. One involves JCP doing more intensive work, the other is a contracted out model, so I'd hazard a guess which one they'll for for, should they pursue either.

    Returning to the subject of job displacement, even if everything was on target with the Work Programme, roughly 2m people will go through it without getting a job. Can, or should the voluntary sector, social enterprises or local authorities absorb, insure, manage, supervise, equip etc such a large number of workers without displacing potential paid employees? My hunch is that they can't and won't, but even to trial 6 months, full-time compulsory unpaid work is, to me, a step too far, particularly when in many parts of the country there'll be no clear progression into paid employment.

    Ideally, we need to reboot this - real work experience can be beneficial for people who would otherwise have difficulty in getting a foot in the door, but too much about current initiatives (and almost everything about the Community Action Programme) is wrong, and worse than that, harmful. If we end up with a witch hunt against absolutely everyone that offers unpaid work experience, it'll just bring a new set of problems.

    1. The One True Elg21 May 2013 at 01:36

      I believe you're wrong. What government needs to do in my opinion is stop forcing people to work for free. Being forced to work for free is simply a slap in the face and further ingrains the idea that work simply isn't worth it in these peoples minds. It's degrading, not just to the victim (Yes, I believe people on workfare are victims of a system that isn't actually interested in helping them but punishing them) but to the worker who can no longer get paid work because someone is doing it for free.

      If you have to have forced work experience schemes then Labour had the right idea recently. They proposed paid work experience, funded by the taxpayer. Being paid to work is real work experience and it's demonstrating to the claimant that they can work, they can get on and they're actually worth something to society, the latter is important and only an actual wage will do that. Workfare as it stands is folly both morally and economically but the tragedy is the self fulfilling rhetoric of the scroungers and the workshy, that the proposed 'solutions' further entrench. Whilst this goes on, the problem gets worse, the solutions become harsher and the problem gets worse, in a downward spiral until the public is so infuriated with the situation that they'll allow a government to just dismantle the welfare system. Sometimes I wonder if that's the point, but that would mean IDS is a competent man with clear aims.

    2. Can I suggest you re-read my post, which makes a very clear distinction between exploitative and coercive current schemes and voluntary arrangements entered into on an individual basis? I thought that was quite explicit, similarly my comment about the harmful impact on the broader economy, but clearly not.

      With regard to Labour's proposals, I largely support them with a few caveats - the implementation needs to be done in a more nuanced way than current schemes or else it will risk becoming a sanction production line. Similarly, alternative models of employment - ILM and so on - should be explored.

    3. Can I arbitrate here? Voluntary placements can be helpful, but I think we've got past the point where they can be truly voluntary. There used to be a "work trial" scheme (under the last Tory government) where the unemployed could demonstrate their employability to an employer by working for free for a month. That didn't really work. I agree with you about Labour's proposals. They haven't said anything about what happens when the paid work comes to an end (it's only meant to be temporary).

  7. Work Trials still exist, as does a related GBW component, Employment on Trial. My point really was that people can, and do, broker their own work experience placements every day, to their benefit. I'm entirely comfortable with the Poundlands and Argos getting what's coming to them as far as PR goes, but a line needs to be drawn, as above.

    As for Labour, I'll be talking to them in more detail, but my assumption is that it'll broadly be an FJF approach - create posts and hope that enough of them stick. It was an approach that worked well for FJF - long term impact of c.27% (from memory) in a field where 10% is taken as being a decent outcome.


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