Mass Workfare Begins Next Monday … Or Does It?

bhf-workfareWith less than one week to go until the launch date of the DWP’s woefully misnamed ‘Help To Work’ and details of the programme are still shrouded in secrecy.

‘Help To Work’ is the mass workfare scheme announced by George Osborne at last year’s Tory Party conference.  Those leaving the Work Programme without a job – which is almost everyone – will either have to sign on every day or be forced to work for no pay for a ‘community’ organisation for six months.  The whole package is expected to cost almost a third of a billion, with most of that money lining the pockets of private sector profiteers running the scheme.

The problem is no-one knows who those providers are yet, including the DWP themselves.  A response to a Freedom of Information request dated  April 10th said that the tender for ‘Help To Work’ was still ongoing.  The DWP have also said that the guidance for companies running the scheme will not be published until the launch date, 28th April.

What we do know is that Help To Work is already mired in chaos.  Several high profile volunteer’s organisations have condemned the plans whilst three of the largest supporters of other workfare schemes have said they will not accept placements.  Both The Conservation Volunteers and The Salvation Army were expected to bid for Help To Work contracts or sub-contracts, and neither of them have.  YMCA have also said they will not accept placements on the scheme, whilst even workfare quango Groundwork are wobbling.

This is more than just an embarrassment for Help To Work, it is a fucking disaster and one was that was entirely predictable.  For years workfare programmes have come close to collapse due to a lack of available work placements.  Despite what politicians would like to think, the charitable sector has no need for hundreds of thousands of forced workers.  The truth is that there isn’t enough workfare to go round for everyone on benefits, let alone real, paid work.  The Community Action Programme pilot -  a similar workfare scheme to Help To Work -  found that placements could only be found for 63% of participants.  This took place before scores of charities distanced themselves from workfare due to huge pressure from their supporters who turned out to be disgusted that these organisations used unpaid forced labour.

Help To Work is not the only DWP scheme that looks to be in trouble.  Remember Iain Duncan Smith’s plan to warehouse unemployed people for six months at a time on full time job search?  No, well it seems neither does he. There has been no sign at all of this scheme, which was also announced at the Tory Party Conference.

It will the the demise of Help To Work which will be the biggest embarrassment to this Government however.  This is their latest big idea to fix unemployment after the disaster that has been the Work Programme.  It already appears to be yet another shambles.  Whatever is announced next Monday – if anything at all – the Help To Work scheme is unworkable.

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What Labour Said Then, What Labour Say Now And Why They Can’t Be Trusted On The Work Capability Assessment

atos_david_milibandWhat they said then …

Labour will: “increase support for claimants to return to work, replacing the old one-size-fits-all model, which writes people off as completely incapable of work, with a tailored, active system that addresses each individual’s capacity”

A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work (PDF) – The Green Paper which proposed the Work Capability Assessment in 2006

What they say now (2014)

“We want the assessment to be part of the process of ensuring disabled people who can work get the support they need to do so, not to threaten or punish them. The test should be a gateway to identifying and assembling that support.”

How Labour would reform the Work Capability Assessment – Labour Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions Rachel Reeves and Shadow Minister for Disabled People Kate Green

Then (2006)

“We will work with health professionals, personal advisers and disability groups (including the Disability Rights Commission and the Disability Employment Advisory Committee) to ensure that the transformed assessment process is fair and equitable in application and operation.”

Now

“We would continue to produce an independent review of the WCA, and ask the Office for Disability Issues to support an independent scrutiny group of disabled people to work together with the independent reviewer to assess whether the test is being conducted in a fair and transparent way.”

Then

“It will never be reasonable to expect some people to plan for a return to work or to impose the responsibilities and conditionality associated with this on them.  These people – who have the most severe health conditions and disabilities – will receive the new benefit without any conditionality, and at a higher rate”

Now

“We also recognise not everyone can work and we’re committed to ensuring the support’s in place for those who can’t.”

The Work Capability Assessment was designed by Labour to strip sickness and disability benefits from one million claimants. There has been no announcement that this policy aim has changed. More people are placed in the Support Group now (meaning they are not expected to look for work) than they were under Labour. Whilst the Tories and Atos are currently at war, Atos have sponsored events at the Labour Party Conference in the past.

The Labour front bench have been silent about the introduction of Personal Independence Payments – designed to strip disability benefits from a fifth of disabled people. They have not spoken a word about the heartless closure of the Independent Living Fund. They voted for Iain Duncan Smith’s backdated legislation to steal hundreds of thousands of pounds from claimants by denying them compensation for illegally sanctioned benefit claims. They support unpaid work – even when the schemes are almost certainly illegal under minimum wage laws. Labour’s Job Guarantee is just workfare plus a sandwich which in practice could be more exploitative than current workfare programmes.

They have not changed. They will not change. When not pretending to give a shit about disabled people Rachel Reeves has boasted – boasted – that she would be tougher on welfare than Iain Duncan Smith. Most of the Labour front bench are chinless posh twats just like the braying toffs they pretend to oppose. They are on the side of bosses and billionaires, not us.  Do not fucking trust them.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Why Falling Unemployment Can Be Bad News For Everyone

economic-inactivity

Economic inactivity by reason (aged 16 to 64)

More people are in work than ever before claim the DWP triumphantly as the unemployment figures show another huge rise in self-employment.  Whether these people are making any money, or whether they are pensioners with an ebay hobby, does not seem to matter as the Tories attempt to spin that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are working.

Yet all that has happened is the economy has started to grow a bit and so unemployment has fallen a bit.  This is what always happens when economies start to grow – and due to a rising population there are almost always more people in work than ever before unless there is a severe economic downturn.  It matters barely at all what governments do to unemployed people – in a recession unemployment goes up, and in a recovery it goes down.  This is because unemployed people are not responsible for unemployment, despite the multi-billion pound welfare-to-work scam pretending that they are.

Falling unemployment may be good for the country’s economy, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a good thing for the people who actually live and work here.  The key to this lies in the figures for Economic Inactivity, currently at its lowest level since 1990 according to the ONS.  This is seen by politicians of all parties as a good thing.  A closer look reveals that is far from the case.

The largest group of people who are economically inactive are those looking after a family, many who will share in their partner’s salary.  The second largest group is students, whilst there are also 1.31 million people who have been lucky enough to retire before reaching pensionable age.  The other groups include those who are long term sick, whose numbers remain fairly stable, and a million or so ‘other’ – students on a gap year perhaps, or volunteers who can afford not to claim benefits.

If the number of people who are ‘Economically Inactive’ is falling, and it is, sharply, then that means less young people who can afford to be students.  It means less parents being able to afford to stay at home with young children, and less people able to afford to take early retirement.  This is not good news if you happen to be one of those people, in fact it’s a bit shit.

What it also means is that these often more experienced workers remaining in, or rejoining the workforce, are crowding out those who are unemployed and desperate to find a job.  This is almost certainly one reason why despite dubious claims that over a million new jobs have been created,  unemployment stood at 2.46 million in the first period after this Government weren’t elected and has since fallen to just 2.24 million.  It could also explain why the number of people unemployed over 12 months was 796,000 in August 2010 and after four years of welfare reforms, workfare and sanctions aimed at this group the number has actually risen to 807,000.

A fall in Economic Inactivity really represents a downward shift in the living standards of everyone.  Those who are slightly better off are having to work longer and harder, and those at the bottom are more marginalised than ever.  It’s good news for the bosses though, as more people are chasing every job and driving down wages for us all.  And for Tories -  who can’t bear the thought of a pleb enjoying an early retirement when there’s still a few years of profit to be extracted from their work – it’s the best news of all.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

DWP Block Report To Cover Up Work Programme Shambles

IDS-slugThe DWP are refusing to release an evaluation of the floundering £6 billion pound Work Programme despite the report having recently featured on Channel 4 news.

The evaluation is believed to be critical of the Work Programme and in particular benefit sanctions, warning that they found: “no conclusive evidence that sanctions were changing job search behaviour or increasing job entry rates.”

A Freedom of Information request asking to see the report has today been refused by the DWP on the grounds that they plan to publish it at an unspecified later date (PDF).  The evaluation was scheduled to be released in the Summer of last year.

This is not the first time the DWP have treated Freedom of Information (FOI) rules with contempt in a shoddy effort to conceal what’s really going on, and wrong, with the department.  A ruling by the Information Commissioner;s Office (ICO) ordering the release of the names of charities benefiting from free labour under the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme has been completely ignored.  A second ICO ruling (PDF) ordering the DWP to confirm whether a charity was involved in workfare was issued last month, and has so far been snubbed.  The DWP were found in breach of the FOI again (PDF) at the end of last month when they were slammed in a ruling for not taking the reasonable steps required to clarify another request relating to Mandatory Work Activity.

The DWP have claimed that if the public were allowed to know who is using workfare then the scheme might collapse.  They pretend this would stop people benefiting from the ‘disciplines’ that workfare offers and may even harm the economy.  After all, if people knew that household names such as The Salvation Army, the YMCA, Groundwork and The Conservation Volunteers were all forcing people to work without pay then they might decide these charities were a bunch of wankers and never give them a penny again.

There is no such excuse for refusing to release an evaluation into the Work Programme however – a report produced with our money.  The only person likely to look like a wanker if people see this document is Iain Duncan Smith himself who is still pretending how wonderful the Work Programme is.  The Work Programme statistics already show the scheme is a disaster and steadily getting worse. No doubt the DWP hope they can hide just how much of a wanker Iain Duncan Smith actually is until after the next election.  But it’s too late.  Everybody knows.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Virgin Give The Game Away: Unpaid Worker Schemes Bring Corporate And Commercial Opportunities

traineeshipsVirgin Media are the latest company to sacrifice their public image to benefit from unpaid workers on Government schemes.  According to the company, employing young people on Traineeships and paying them nothing can bring “corporate and commercial opportunities”.

The shocking admission comes in a leaflet advertising the Traineeship programme (pdf), which can involve up to six months work without pay.  They have been designed to ‘prepare’ young people for an ‘apprenticeship’ at below the minimum wage and participants are often not even offered one of these at the end of the scheme.  Instead they are given an ‘exit interview’ to pat them on the heads for all their unpaid work.

As pointed out by @boycottworkfare, unpaid work on Traineeships is not yet mandatory, although no doubt many Jobcentre advisors will try and pretend they are.  They may soon be right.  George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement that in future people under the age of 21 who refuse some form of workfare in the corporate sector will be sent on an even longer workfare scheme with a charity instead.  With the latest workfare scheme appearing to be in chaos, it remains to be seen if this particular threat will ever be fully carried out.

In the meantime Virgin Media seem quite happy with the new arrangements and say they will be recruiting unpaid workers on an ongoing basis.  This is hardly surprising, according to the leaflet Traineeships were ‘developed  in response to business needs’ and can help ‘build the workforce required for business success’.  Virgin Media Loves not paying wages and that’s the name of their new twitter campaign.  Let them know what you think @VMLoves

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Bin British Gas: Put Power in Public Hands! Take Action On May 12th

british-gas-protestA mass demonstration outside the annual AGM of British Gas has been called by Fuel Poverty Action Group on May 12th. Whilst many people are unable to properly heat their homes, British Gas made £571m in profit  last year.

Just staying alive in the UK is becoming ever more expensive as rents, fuel and food prices soar.  A low paid job now barely covers even the most basics needed for survival, whilst the safety net of the benefits system is being ripped away.  None of this is necessary or unavoidable.  Tesco workers get shit wages, whilst we pay extortionate prices for food, so that share holders and directors can make huge profits.  Pensioners are freezing in their homes so that energy company bosses can enjoy lavish lifestyles.

Virtually every last scrap of cash that passes through our hands ends up lining the pockets of the same rich who smear us as scroungers if we need benefits to survive, even if we manage to find a job.  Most of the time we spend working is not to earn ourselves what we need but to increase the huge profits made by those at the top – money we never see.  And they use that money to buy houses and flats that they rent back to us at eye-watering prices.  Then the greedy cunts complain if they have to pay some tax on the money they’ve fleeced.  Yet every single penny spent by the government is to maintain the system that keeps them rich, and us poor.

It’s time to make them feel uncomfortable for a change by confronting them wherever they gather.  The British Gas AGM is as good a place as any to start.  Join Fuel Poverty Action Group and others from 1pm on May 12th outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Broad Sanctuary, London, SW1P 3EE.

For the latest details keep an eye on: http://fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/

Join and share the facebook page for the event and please tweet, blog and spread the word!

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Just For The Record, The WCA Is Not Being Scrapped, Yet

atoskillsgrafThe report in The Daily Record which claims that Atos style assessments for sickness and disability benefits are to be scrapped should sadly be treated with caution.

There is no doubt that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is in chaos, after the announcement from Atos that they are pulling out of the contract to run the tests.  This has led to a predictable tantrum from Iain Duncan Smith, who is now running round telling everyone he was going to dump Atos anyway and is threatening them with huge fines.  This is the same Atos that he is dependent on to sort out the shabby assessments for Personal Independence Payments, which are currently also mired in chaos.  But there has been no announcement as yet that the WCA is to be scrapped, and the report the Daily Record’s story seems to be based on does not call for this.

The story refers to the recently published response by the Government to the review of the Work Capability Assessment carried out by Dr Paul Litchfield.  The Government have accepted all but one of the recommendations in this report, which includes agreeing to carry out an impact assessment into whether in some cases a decision could be made without a face to face assessment.

Litchfield recommends: “The Department carries out a full impact assessment on an alternative process whereby DWP Decision Makers triage cases” and that “where suitable and sufficient evidence is available on paper and a face-to-face assessment would provide no additional value, the Department should make a decision without referral to its HAP;”

The Government have responded: “DWP will carry out the recommended impact assessment to inform decisions about if and how triage of cases by Decision Makers might be implemented.”

So unless the Daily Record know something that no-one else does, and if they do urgent clarification is required, that unfortunately, appears to be it.  An impact assessment into whether in some cases a face to face assessment is not required – as in fact already happens in some cases – will be carried out.  A small step forward perhaps but a long way from the claim that assessments are set to be scrapped.  Atos still kills, for now at least.

Some of Litchfield’s recommendations will be welcomed, such as a six month time limit before someone who has recently won an appeal against a WCA decision can be called for re-assessment.  Others are more dubious, including the idea of involving the Government’s snake oil salesmen, the nudge unit, in the drafting of correspondence sent to claimants about the WCA.

Perhaps the most telling part of the Government’s response to this review is the recommendation that is rejected.  Litchfield makes the fairly reasonable suggestion that so-called Healthcare Professionals carrying out assessments of people with mental health problems should have: “suitable and sufficient previous experience of dealing with people with mental health problems”.

We’re not having that say the DWP, who have deferred agreement on this point complaining that they don’t know what suitable and sufficient means.

All of the recommendations and the Government’s response can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/296328/wca-review-year-4-response.pdf

Litchfield’s initial report is at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/265351/work-capability-assessment-year-4-paul-litchfield.pdf

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid