In a major victory for campaigners, the concessions made to the Government’s workfare schemes after the recent storm of protest are far greater than Employment Minister Chris Grayling first suggested.
A recent response to a Freedom of Information request reveals that any referral to workfare must now be entirely voluntary on not just the Work Experience scheme for young people, but also the Sector Based Work Academies scheme and the Government’s flagship Work Programme.
DWP staff are now being told “to take immediate steps to ensure that no
claimant of any age is sanctioned under the existing rules for failing to take
up, attend or leaving the Jobcentre Plus Work Experience scheme, the Work
Experience element of sector-based work academies and work experience
arranged by Work Programme providers:”
This is only ‘temporary’ guidance, which suggests it may change once the workfare row has died down. More importantly, Mandatory Work Activity, the scheme under which claimants can be sentenced to a months unpaid work on the whims of Jobcentre staff, is not included in the new guidance.
The Guardian has already revealed that some young people who turn down a Work Experience placement have been forced onto Mandatory Work Activity. Last year George Osborne seemed to suggest this is Government policy when he said that “Young people who don’t engage with this offer [of work experience] will be considered for mandatory work activity”.
Trying to get the truth out of either the DWP or lying bastard Chris Grayling is near impossible, but it is highly likely that people who refuse to go on one workfare scheme may simply be sent on another.
Even under these new guidelines, sanctions will still exist on the Work Programme, the largest and most expensive scheme which has been inflicted on almost 400,000 claimants so far. This means any training, job search sessions, and all the other crap that private sector poverty pimps like A4e dream up will still be mandated and failure to attend will lead to loss of benefits.
So whilst (according to the rules at least) people can not currently be sent on workfare, it is likely that some people will be forced to sit around in A4e’s garish offices fighting over out of date newspapers for up to 30 hours a week. A recent account of life at A4e reveals this rip off company to be little more than a fucking embarrassment.
Jobcentre staff, under pressure from above, now have unprecedented powers to sanction claimants. Despite this new guidance it is possible that claimants may still be sanctioned under Job Seekers Agreement rules, or even that this guidance will not fully filter through to front line workers. Whilst the Work Experience was always technically voluntary, in practice many young people were told it was mandatory. This is an area the PCS, the union which represents Jobcentre staff, could help with, simply by reiterating to their members what the rules actually are and asking them to be followed. Too many Jobcentre staff seem to take relish in punishing benefit claimants, a reflection of the culture in the DWP and the wider benefit bashing campaigns in the media. The PCS should be working to change this culture.
Sanctions can also still be applied to sick and disabled claimants referred onto the Work Programme in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). Shamefully it is largely the responsibility of charities involved in the Work Programme to refer their users to the DWP for sanctions. Almost 10,000 sick and disabled people were subject to benefit sanctions last year. Some of them will have been referred by the Work Programme charitable sub-contractors such as MIND, Mencap and the Leonard Chesire Foundation.
It is also charities who will benefit from the remaining two workfare schemes – Mandatory Work Experience and the new Community Action Scheme, under which long term unemployed people can be sent on six months workfare. Both these schemes stipulate that the work must be of benefit to the community, and by and large most placements so far have been with charities. Unfortunately, in a probable breach of Freedom of Information rules, the DWP are refusing to say who those charities are.
Tesco and other corporate scum rejected sanctions at their cosy meeting with Chris Grayling. The charitable sector however has not been so forthcoming.
It is charities who are now propping up forced labour, and the DWP is helping them keep their dirty little workfare secrets safe.
Despite all of this, the new guidelines represent a major fucking embarrassment for Chris Grayling who has claimed many times that no-one has been mandated to workfare for private companies on the Work Programme. A pending Freedom of Information request should tell us this week whether the DWP are prepared to admit the minister in charge is a lying piece of shit.
It appears that the Work Programme is in meltdown behind the scenes. The private companies contracted to deliver the scheme are likely to react with fury to these new guidelines. Mandatory workfare was at the heart of many of their Work Programme activities. Sending someone off to stack shelves in Tesco for free was by far one of the cheapest ways to look like they were actually doing something for their billions. They will no doubt be demanding more money and lower targets due to the changes.
Confusion is likely to reign both within the DWP and the Work Programme contractors. Resistance to unpaid work in all it’s forms looks set to continue. No-one can believe a word Chris Grayling says anymore, whilst the Secretary of State ultimately responsible, Iain Duncan Smith, seems to have disappeared from public life.
The Welfare Reform Bill has only just passed into law and already Welfare Reform is an omni-shambolic farce. This Government couldn’t run an egg and spoon race.