A major homeless charity has slammed the Government’s flagship Work Programme claiming the brutal sanctions regime pushes “individuals further into poverty with little option other than to beg, steal or work for cash in hand in order to find the means to survive.”
SHP (formerly the The Single Homeless Project) have joined the growing number of charities who have pulled out of the Work Programme, although they are the first to directly condemn the sanctions regime. Benefit claimants face sanctions if they fail to carry out any ‘mandated activity’. This can include training courses, job search activity and very often workfare. Chris Grayling lied to the Work and Pensions Committee in Parliament when he said there was no evidence of Work Programme participants being forced to work for private companies. In fact people on Work Programme have been forced to work at firms like Holiday Inn, Poundstretcher and ASDA for no pay.
SHP were one of the charities brought in by the largely private sector contractors of the Work Programme to provide support for those hardest to place in employment. A whole host of charities have allowed themselves to be used in this way including St Mungos, Salvation Army, Addaction and the members of the Disability Works Consortium which includes Mencap, MIND and Scope.
The Disability Works charities have vehemently denied being involved in imposing sanctions. The statement from SHP shows they are being disingenuous, if not dishonest, when they claim they don’t sanction people, they get the DWP to do it for them. Every single one of these charities should hang their heads in shame for conspiring with the Government to harm the most vulnerable of their service users in this way.
It is well documented (and somewhat obvious) that people with mental health conditions, serious disabilities or health conditions, drug and alcohol dependencies or those living in chaotic and insecure conditions are far more likely to face benefit sanctions. These could be for simply missing an appointment or not being able to attend full time workfare. Charities participating in the Work Programme connive with the DWP to have benefits sanctioned by raising Compliance Doubts should someone fail to complete mandated activity. This can include Housing Benefits being stopped , which means it has to be re-applied for. For those in insecure housing or with rent arrears, the delays involved in this could mean homelessness.
Of course the main reason that SHP have pulled out is that they aren’t making enough money. They complain that the Work Programme does not adequately fund the intensive work needed to support the most vulnerable into the workplace.
A surprising number of street homeless people are on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and therefore likely to be referred to the Work Programme. With far stricter eligibility for health related benefits now introduced, this group includes long term drinkers, people with heroin or other drug problems and those with mental health conditions.
The first priority for helping someone into work is to get them off the streets. Even this can prove difficult as hostels are increasingly over crowded, have strict entry criteria or are deemed unsafe by many street homeless people who may have had a bad experience of hostel life in the past.
Even if charities are able to house someone in a hostel, they are far from the most ideal environments in which to look for work. In some hostels people may be forced to share a room. There may be strict rules on access to the accommodation, meaning residents are not permitted in the hostel in the day time. Hostels can be noisy and even dangerous at night. Residents may be required to attend ‘key working sessions’, counselling, and resettlement meetings in working hours as part of a condition of their stay. Alcohol is often banned, as are guests and predictably drugs. Any breach of the rules can result in immediate eviction. If someone is attempting to kick a long term drink or drugs habit and they relapse they can find themselves back on the street.
On top of this hostels charge eye-watering rents, which are covered by Housing Benefit payments. This removes any incentive to work, and means that many hostels actively discourage, if not formally but in practice, hostel residents from trying to find a job.
Homeless people can find themselves in hostel accommodation for anything from 12 months to five years before being moved onto more permanent accommodation. Even then some people may require intensive support after entering independent accommodation such as a Housing Association property. Many vulnerable people end up back on the streets even with that support.
Should someone have a dependency on booze or drugs the situation is even more complex. No matter how many outraged Daily Mail headlines the Government incites, no-one is going to give a job to a 24 hour a day drinker, or someone dependent on crack, heroin or both.
For some people just becoming reasonably stable, attending counselling, starting a methadone script, or moderating their drinking may be the best that can be hoped for, even after intensive support. Many of these people have suffered hugely traumatic abuse in their lives. A shocking number are ex-armed forces whilst many younger homeless people grew up in the care system or faced physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children.
These are the people who have fallen through the gaps in society. Despite lurid claims about a life of riley on benefit, no-one would aspire to the lives they lead. The Work Programme appears to have been introduced with barely a thought given to the most vulnerable. Employment Minister and compulsive liar Chris Grayling has dismissed any criticism of the Work Programme claiming that charities have “got people for two years, and they should be able to succeed in that time”.
Once again the toff Government are hugely out of touch with the reality of many people’s lives. Grayling has said that charities are simply incompetent if they can’t make money out of his flawed scheme. He recently claimed that “I will be very surprised if we do not see a significant number of organisations fall away (as work programme providers) because they are not good enough at what they do.“
Charities receive barely any funding for Work Programme participants unless they manage to get them into work. Few charities have the reserves to fund intensive two year programmes in the hope someone might get a job out of it. The private companies who run the show are already creaming off the most ‘job ready’ participants to claim fat fees themselves for doing virtually nothing. There is no real money in the Work Programme for charities.
The likes of St Mungos, Salvation Army and Disability Works have sold out their most vulnerable users for a pittance and yet they still remain on board. It is truly a pathetic sight. The Government does little more than insult them if they complain, whilst private sector sharks cream off the money and use charities as a PR front for their shady and often fraudulent operations. Yet still grasping charity bosses cling onto these contracts, in the hope one day a few pounds may trickle down into their sweaty palms. They continue to suck up to a Government that clearly holds them in contempt, in the hope of an OBE or lunch with the Queen one day. They jump through endless moral hoops to justify their activities when actually they are nothing more than cowards, afraid to rock the boat in case the Government is horrid to them. Their users and their workers alike know this whole set up stinks. Cossetted charity bosses are far more concerned with their own dirty little ambitions than they are with the people who’s lives are being torn apart by this Government.
None of the private sector companies involved in the Work Programme have any interest in working with homeless people, disabled people or those who are hardest to place into employment. They know there’s no money to be made there. The charitable sector is propping up this brutal regime, where benefit sanctions and homelessness are more likely outcomes for participants than ever actually finding work. Charities could bring the whole scheme crashing down any time they choose. That they haven’t shows where their true priorities lie.
Tell them what you think: @salvationarmyuk @stmungos @addactionuk @broadwaycharity @scope @mindcharity @mencap_charity @LCDisability @action4blind @plussaddtolife @unitedresponse