Employment Minister Chris Grayling told a string of breathtaking lies last Monday when he appeared before the Work and Pensions Committee. The Committee asked a number of questions about the Atos shambles, Work Experience and other current DWP schemes. Looking increasingly shifty-eyed the Minister bluffed and blustered his way through right up until almost the last question,when he was asked:
“Chair: Can I ask about another possible area for confusion, at least for me? Say you are in the Work Programme and are in one of the black boxes; is it possible that some of those black boxes contain mandatory work experience and that is where some of the media confusion is coming from?”
The black box is DWP jargon which means that Work Programme providers such as A4e are able to mandate claimants to almost any activity if they think it will help them find work. This can include workfare.
Grayling’s response was astonishing:
“Chris Grayling: There is no evidence to suggest that has happened, and indeed all of our Work Programme providers said to us, “What would be the point of forcing somebody to go and work for one of our commercial partners, because if we did we would lose the opportunity to send other people in the future?” What we have done since the Work Experience row is sat down with our Work Programme providers and agreed with them that they will pursue exactly the same strategy as us nationally for the Work Experience scheme. They have the power to mandate but they will only mandate to community benefit projects. All participation in Work Experience with commercial organisations will be done on a voluntary basis in the Work Programme as well as through Jobcentre Plus. So we have exactly the same rules applied across the board and we are making sure all the guidance is in line with that.”
Note he says no evidence. Not I haven’t seen any evidence. Not even I am unaware of any evidence. The Minister is adamant. Which seems a little strange when you consider this Freedom of Information response. The DWP were asked which organisations were involved in providing mandatory work placements under the Work Programme in the South East. The document reveals that claimants had been mandated to work at Holiday Inn, ASDA and Poundland amongst others. This document was removed from the DWP’s website during the workfare row and the DWP are now refusing to answer FOI requests relating to the Work Prgramme.
It doesn’t end there. Up until recently the DWP’s Work Programme Provider Guidance stated:
“Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity. This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated.”
When this paragraph was pointed out, after Grayling had lied in the Telegraph that no-one was mandated to work for a big company, it promptly disappeared from the the guidance notes. Perhaps this is what Grayling meant when he said that guidance had been updated to bring it into line with the new rules that up until last Monday hadn’t even been announced. It’s far more likely however, that just like the disappearing freedom of information response, this was a bodged attempt to cover up for Grayling’s lies.
The DWP even contradict Grayling’s claims that he sat down with the providers and decided: “They have the power to mandate but they will only mandate to community benefit projects. All participation in Work Experience with commercial organisations will be done on a voluntary basis in the Work Programme as well as through Jobcentre Plus. “
A Freedom of Information response received just over a week before the Committee meeting stated explicitly that: “Jobcentre Plus is not routinely informed of participant’s activities, which may include work experience placements, by the Work Programme provider.” The DWP had been asked specifically how many people had been mandated to workfare for private companies. If Grayling had been telling the truth they would surely have said no-one. Even if Grayling had only been fibbing a bit, they would have said that no-one will be anymore. But they said they didn’t know.
So Chris Grayling lied to the Committee when he said there was no evidence of people mandated to workfare on Work Programme. He lied when he said that all work experience for private companies would be voluntary, when in fact until recently the guidance said it must be mandated, and he quite possibly lied again about his cosy little chat with Work Programme providers.
Furthermore, documents have been altered, or removed from the public view, in an attempt to cover up these lies. Lying to Select Committee can be punished by a fine or imprisonment, although this power has not been used since the 19th Century. It still remains a serious charge however, and Grayling should, at the very least, be forced to resign.
It is now impossible to know whether people are mandated to private companies under the Work programme. The DWP said they were, now they say they don’t know. Chirs Grayling says they weren’t, and still aren’t. Someone, whether under Grayling’s orders or not, is rewriting and hiding documents to make it appear this is the case.
Not even a Commons Select Committee can get to the truth about what the DWP are really up to. Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith, who is ultimately in charge, should also consider his position. He has been just as economical with the truth.
It remains to be seen what action, if any, will be taken. It is likely they will do everything they can to sweep this under the carpet as well. Should that happen, then we now have clear evidence that this Government will lie to the press, to the public and even to Commons Select Committees about their activities and we can no longer trust a single word they say.
If Ministers can lie with impunity to the public and Parliament alike, then we have entered a different league in British politics. The House of Commons becomes little more than a talking shop whilst the Government carries out their real intentions under a cloak of secrecy. And that, however you stretch the word, is not democracy.