Monthly Archives: November 2012

Never Trust A Hippy – The Green Charity With 20,000 Workfare Slaves

ChainGangPhotoThe Conservation Trust for Volunteers (formally BCTV) have been exposed as one of the largest exploiters of unpaid labour.

According to the charity, 20,ooo people unemployed people have been forced to work digging ditches and other physical tasks without pay since 1980 (PDF).  The charity even boast about their relationship with the DWP on their website along with their use of Mandatory Work Activity (MWA).

Mandatory Work Activity is four weeks full time work used as punishment for unemployed people judged not trying hard enough to find work by Jobcentre officials.  CTV claims these people are ‘volunteers’ and they are providing a ‘route into paid employment’.  The evidence shows however that this scheme is useless at actually helping people get a job.

Claimants can only be sentenced to Mandatory Work Activity, it is not possible to volunteer for the scheme.

All those in the green movement who are committed to both environmental sustainability and social justice should immediately boycott these fake fluffy bastards.  And tell them what you think on twitter @tcvtweets and facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TheConservationVolunteers

With workfare for sick and disabled claimants to begin on December 3rd – International Disabled People’s Day – many have wondered where all these new placements are set to come from.  The Conservation Volunteers may well be one of the largest users of unpaid forced labour in the UK.  Make it cost them.

Thanks to StokeBloke1972 for pointing this out in the comments

£60,000 A Job – The Shocking Cost of the Work Programme For Sickness Benefit Claimants

a4e-poverty-pimpsDespite the alleged ‘payment by results’ model much hyped by Iain Duncan Smith, tax payers could have paid out up to £60,000 for every job gained by sickness or disability claimants on the Work Programme.

Whilst much of the attention this week has been focused on the appalling job entry rates for those on mainstream unemployment benefits, the performance figures for those on sickness or disability benefits has received less scrutiny.

Under the Work Programme, claimants on the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), are now forced to attend job search sessions or face losing benefits.  This group represent those who have been assessed as being able to work at some point in the future and therefore not eligible for full sickness or disability benefits.

In a damning admission the DWP this week showed that just 1000 people in this group had gained work out of a total of 79,000 people referred to the scheme.  Most of these claimants will have be sent to carry out job search with charities who are sub-contracted to deliver the Work Programme.

Charities share lucrative Work Programme pay outs with the prime contractors, the welfare-to-work parasites such as A4e and G4S who run the scheme.  Each referral to the programme for WRAG claimants comes with a £600 ‘attachment fee’ meaning that around £47.4 million pounds has been paid out so far.

On top of this the providers are paid a job entry fee after the participant has been in work for six months.  They are then paid further fees for up to two years as long as the job lasts.  The maximum that can be paid out for someone who stays in work for two years is £13,720 – the minimum for a job that lasts just six months is £1,200.

This means that between somewhere between £48.6 and £60 million pounds has been handed over to charities and their poverty pimp bosses.  With only 1000 people finding work this works out at a cost of a staggering job outcome cost of between £48,000 and £60,000 pounds each.

The total spend on Work Programme for sickness and disability benefits is around the same as the money saved by the Remploy closures.  Since a small amount of WRAG claimants would have been expected to find work without any help from the Work Programme, it seems this money has simply been flushed down the toilet.

Perhaps most galling of all, some of the money spent has been handed to the very same charities who supported the closure of Remploy such as Mencap.

Under ordinary circumstances this amount of money being spent on providing access to work for those who are disabled or unwell might be seen as a positive step.  Yet all of those in the WRAG group have been signed off work by their own GPs.  With long term unemployment soaring, all the Work Programme has represented is a programme of harassment and benefit sanctions for people unable to work due to illness or disability.  Money that could have Saved Remploy, or the Independent Living Fund, has been squandered by charities and private companies  involved in the Work Programme.

Work Programme charity Scope have been quick to condemn the dreadful Work Programme performance figures.  Yet they themselves are one of the largest charities to profit from the scheme.  Scope claim disabled people need more “tailored and targeted support to find a job and the Work Programme just doesn’t offer them this.”

If Scope haven’t been offering this support then it begs the question of what exactly have these tens of millions of pounds been spent on?  The Government has responded by giving charities the powers to force disabled people to attend full time unpaid workfare.  The very strategy which has been so disastrous for non-disabled unemployed people is now to be inflicted upon people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability.

Whilst some charities, including MIND, and Addaction have announced they will not co-operate with workfare for disabled people, the silence from @scope so far has been deafening.

On December 8th a National Week of Action Against Workfare Charities will take place with protests, pickets and actions already expected in Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, Brighton, London, Edinburgh and Liverpool.

Service users and supporters are waking up the true motivations of these organisations who have so willingly profited from the most inept and brutal welfare-to-work programme ever devised.  It’s time to hold so called charities to account for their involvement in a scheme that seems to do little more than punish claimants with workfare and benefit sanctions simply for being sick or disabled .

The Questions That the Work Programme Charities Urgently Need to Answer

Ever since Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Work Programme was rolled out in 2011, the charitable sub-contractors involved have attempted to dodge and wriggle their way out questions relating to the nastier elements of the scheme.

When the workfare row blew up at the beginning of the year, the members of Disability Works (DWUK), a consortium of disability charities formed to maximise income from the Work Programme, vehemently denied that they had anything to do with sanctioning disabled people’s benefits.  A statement on their website reads: “DWUK members are not directly involved in delivering sanctions – this action is taken by DWP via Job Centre Plus.”

This is a deliberate attempt to diminish their role in delivering punishing benefit sanctions.  Their statement also admits:  “If an individual does not attend a referral or other activity, as required, DWUK would be obliged to report that non-compliance to the Work Programme prime provider.”

This is known in DWP jargon as reporting a Compliance Breach.  It is true that the DWP then make the final decision about whether to sanction a claimants benefit or not – but for the charities to claim they have nothing to do with the process is a bit like saying the police have nothing to do with putting people in prison.  It’s clearly bullshit and the charities concerned should stop treating their users and the people who fund them as if we are stupid.

DWUK’s statement even gives an impression that they agree with sanctioning disabled people’s benefits in some cases.   Whilst they claim that they will make the DWP aware if they believe an individual is vulnerable, they say this information will mean simply that “DWP decision makers can then be provided with all the relevant facts to help them make the right decision.”

At a recent meeting discussing fighting welfare reform a senior figure from one of the DWUK charities seemed to agree with this, claiming that they always challenged sanctions they thought were ‘unreasonable’.  Clearly DWUK think it is sometime reasonable to force a disabled benefit claimant into absolute poverty and possible homelessness because they missed an appointment or failed to start a training course.

Yesterday the DWP quietly announced that from the 3rd December this year -  International Disabled People’s Day – claimants of sickness and disability benefits, who have been judged by their own doctors as unable to work, can now be sent on workfare.

Once again the big charities involved in the Work Programme started spinning away any responsibility for their role in this brutal new regime.  Mental health charity MIND released a statement saying“Mind does not believe that people who have been found unfit for work should be forced to undertake mandatory unpaid work placements.”

It’s worth pointing out that they only say they disagree with this practice, but don’t say that they will not be involved in carrying it out.

Substance misuse charity Addaction (@addactionuk) responded to the post yesterday on this blog with a flustered refutation complaining that they aren’t just in the Work Programme for the money.  On further questioning they went much further than MIND, stating categorically that they have not raised any Work Programme compliance breaches (although stopping short of saying they would refuse to – as this would doubtless place them in breach of contract).

They also state that they are not involved in referring unemployed claimants into any form of workfare, will not be involved in referring sickness and disability claimants into workfare and would refuse to monitor workfare attendance and compliance if the prime contractors (their poverty pimp bosses like A4e and G4S) sent claimants on mandatory workfare.

Which is fine.  Well done Addaction, except that it is only by good luck that they haven’t yet had to refer a compliance doubt and that by taking part in the Work Programme they give charitable cover to what is turning out to be the most brutal and inept welfare-to-work scheme ever devised.

Addaction also claim they didn’t sign the gagging order which many other Work Programme sub-contractors have claimed forbids them from even criticising the Work Programme.

Finally Salvation Army have re-iterated their workfare denial, despite several appeals on their website for companies and organisations who can offer work placements.  It is impossible to know just how ‘voluntary’ these work placements are in practice, but this blogpost gives an idea of what claimants sent to the Salvation Army on the Work Programme can expect:  http://quacking-plums.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/i-fucking-hate-work-programme.html

Homelessness charities this week released a report slamming the Work Programme and its impact on homeless people.  One of the first charities to pull out of the Work Programme was the Single Homeless Project (SHP), claiming the sanctions regime could force vulnerable people to have to “beg and steal to survive”.  St Mungos, one of the UK’s largest homelessness charities, have also pulled out of the scheme.  Their reason was far more pragmatic.  They weren’t making any money.

Oxfam have refused to be involved with the Work Programme, workfare and benefit sanctions – claiming it would be inappropriate for an anti-poverty organisation.

There is obviously disagreement within the third sector about the ethics of any charity involvement in this scheme and the devastation that benefit sanctions can bring to people’s lives.

Charities have a duty to be transparent.  Perhaps they are all like Addaction, tacitly playing along whilst not referring people for sanctions or sending claimants on workfare.  If so this makes Iain Duncan Smith look like the joke he is – talking tough for the television whilst behind the scenes Work Programme charitable contractors are subverting his every move.

The only way we can finally know the truth about the involvement of MIND (@MindCharity), Mencap (@mencap_charity), Scope (@scope), RNIB (@RNIB), Leonard Chesire Foundation (@LCDisability) and all the other Work Programme sub-contractors in workfare and benefit sanctions is if they will answer the following questions.

  1. How many and what has been the nature of any Compliance Breaches (your organisation) has raised with the Prime Contractors or the DWP?
  2. How many people have had benefits sanctioned as a result of Compliance Breaches raised by (your organisation)?
  3. Would (your organisation) refuse to raise Compliance Doubts in defiance of their contractual agreement with the DWP and Prime Contractors as Work Programme sub-contractors?
  4. Does (your organisation) have a strategy in place to support Work Programme participants who have had benefits sanctioned due to compliance breaches and if so what is it?
  5. Is (your organisation) involved in mandating JSA* claimants to ‘work experience’ or ‘voluntary work’?
  6. Will (your organisation) be involved in mandating ESA WRAG** claimants to ‘work experience’ or ‘voluntary work’?
  7. If the Prime Contractors choose to mandate Work Programme participants with (your organisation) to some form of unpaid work will (your organisation) refuse to monitor these placements and report Compliance Breaches.
  8. Did (your organisation) agree as part of their Work Programme sub-contract that they will not criticise the Work Programme, meaning that (your organisation) cannot campaign against forced unpaid work being implemented for thiose on unemployment, sickness or disability benefits?
  9. Will (your organisation) be actively campaigning against forced unpaid work for sick and disabled claimants in the ESA WRAG group?

Charitable organisations are now at the heart of all mandatory work placements which must be able to demonstrate ‘community benefit’.  Along with workfare for sick and disabled claimants, unlimited workfare is being planned for those leaving the Work Programme and entering the Community Action Programme.  A fierce and co-ordinated response from the larger charities could kills this form of workfare stone dead.

The question is whose  side are they on?  Will they stand with disabled, unemployed or unwell people who are already struggling desperately due to the vicious welfare cuts?  Or will they stand on the side of Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP?

* JSA means the unemployment benefit Jobseekers Allowance
**ESA WRAG means  claimants of the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance who have been placed in the Work Related Activity Group due to being assessed as being able to work at some point in the future.

Join in with the Week of Action Against Workfare Charities beginning on December 8th.  Actions already announced in Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Brighton and Liverpool:  http://antiworkfare.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/week-of-action-against-workfare_29.html

More Money Likely For Workfare Parasites if DWP Reward Work Programme Failure

Even the skiving Employment Minister Mark Hoban, a man who makes Chris Grayling look busy, was dragged from his bed yesterday in an attempt to justify the floundering Work Programme.

As has been widely reported, the number of people finding sustained work through the Work Programme is a pitiful at just 2.3%.  It is hard to overstate just how dreadful these performance figures are.  Much of the media has pointed out that this misses the target of 5.5% and therefore the scheme is getting less people into work than simply doing nothing at all.  But 5.5% was not the target, it was the minimum acceptable level providers needed to reach to ensure they kept their contracts.

Mark Hoban has claimed the private sector poverty pimps running the Work Programme are ‘on notice‘.  Apparently warnings have been issued that if the figures do not improve then those companies performing poorly will lose contracts.  Yet all of the providers are performing poorly and all should have lost their contracts according to yesterday’s figures.

When the Work Programme was announced the DWP claimed that 36% of participants would be placed into long term, sustainable employment. Whilst this percentage covered the full two years of the scheme, plus a year’s tracking period, it is clear that providers are nowhere near the real Work Programme target.

Even these targets are derisory.  Ever since welfare-to-work parasites like A4e took over providing any help for unemployed people, the performance standards in the sector have been deliberately eroded.

Around the turn of the century Employment Service Programme Centres, many of which were run by charities, local authorities and community organisations, were expected to place 45% of participants into employment.  This was a twelve week scheme which provided basic training and job search facilities and was a mix of both mandatory and non-mandatory contracts.  The tracking period under which organisations could claim job outcomes after the provision ended was just 16 weeks.  In 2001 Programme Centre Providers were achieving a 45% job outcome rate in just six months.

Around the same time Off the Streets and Into Work – an organisation which bid for Jobcentre and European money and then subcontracted to homelessness charities – was providing training and jobsearch for street homeless people.  The target figures for those expected to find work was 10%, again in just six months.  The client group included people with literacy problems, heavy drug and alcohol users, people who hadn’t worked for decades and those living on the streets.  Four times as many homeless people were finding jobs under this scheme as the private sector are managing to place those without these difficulties into work on the Work Programme.

Many of the organisations who provided these services closed down when big money moved into the sector and muscled out the competition.  As the welfare-to-work cartel gained control of ever increasing government funding, targets were steadily lowered, workfare and sanctions replaced genuine training and long time unemployment began a relentless climb upwards.

Now there is nowhere left for the DWP to go except leeches like A4e, G4S, Ingeus, Reed and Manpower.  With government ministers now held firmly over a barrel by the welfare-to-work industry the most likely outcome of yesterday’s dismal news is that yet more tax payers cash is set to be shovelled in their direction.

ERSA, the body which represents the welfare-to-work racket, published their own figures yesterday claiming that 200,000 people had found work on the Work Programme.  What the trade body didn’t make clear is that most of these jobs were short term.  Some could even have represented just a couple of days work.  There was a time when these would be considered job outcomes, a situation the welfare-to-work sector rather liked.  Simply put, it’s far easier to cook the books by bullying someone off benefits (under threat of sanctions) into a couple of days agency work than it is to demonstrate sustained employment.

It is plain to see that ERSA are attempting to re-establish payments for any old job outcome, even if it means that the participants will be back on benefits within a fortnight.

By dangling these figures on the day of the Work Programme embarrassment they simply baited a trap that the inept Mark Hoban walked right into.  The DWP is cheering ERSA’s figures in a crude attempt to hide the truth about the Work Programme.  Expect more money for welfare-to-work parasites to be announced soon.

Not that Iain Duncan Smith will mind.  His stupid Christian think tank, which came up with the Work Programme, is funded by the welfare-to-work sector after all. 

Yesterday’s long awaited Work Programme figures were swiftly followed by today’s news that sick and disabled claimants are now to face workfare. This comes of top of the launch last week of the new Universal Jobmatch snooping system which is to be used to police how claimants look for jobs.  It appears that the DWP is using the headlines generated by the Work Programme disaster to bury some of the most brutal and insidious aspects of welfare reform.  They know doubt hope that tomorrow’s Leveson report will further keep welfare off the front pages whilst the Christmas break will dampen any ongoing resistance to the reforms.  We must not let this happen.

Sick and Disabled Claimants Now to Be Sent on Workfare (by the same charities who claim to support them)

Sick and disabled claimants face being sent on unlimited workfare from the beginning of next month a memo issued to Work Programme providers has revealed.

Claimants in the WRAG group, who have been judged by the shabby Atos testing regime as possibly able to work at some point in the future, will from next month be mandated to unpaid community work or face losing benefits.

In a new low for the third sector, charities such as Scope, MIND, Mencap, the Salvation Army, RNIB and the Leonard Chesire Foundation will now be able to force disabled people into unpaid work or report them to the DWP for benefit sanctions.

Astonishingly these charities will also be able to use workfare workers in their own businesses, meaning that charity shops could soon be staffed by sick and disabled claimants forced to work without pay under threat of poverty and possible homelessness.

The memo (spotted by the ever vigilant consent.me.uk) can be read at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/work-programme-memo-082.pdf

This appears to be a brutally flawed measure to toughen up the Work Programme after yesterday’s disastrous performance figures (more on these later by the way).

Workfare for sick and disabled claimants, some of whom may have cancer, serious disabilities or severe mental health conditions, has long been floated by the DWP as part of the war on welfare claimants.

The work must be ‘community based’, meaning that claimants will be sent to work for charities and voluntary sector organisations.  Under the ‘black box’ approach on the Work Programme, which means providers can mandate participants to whatever they see fit, there is no time limit for workfare on the two year scheme.

Charities will both administer and benefit from this vicious new attack on disabled people and those who are too unwell to find work.  They can also stop it in its tracks.

A new militancy is required and these charities need to know that we will not accept their greedy money grabbing activities on the Work Programme or any other workfare scheme. And they will no longer receive a penny of our money.  If they exploit us we will shut them down.  Start by telling them what you think of their connivance with the Work Programme and join the Boycott Workfare Week of Action Against Workfare Charities beginning on December 8th: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?p=1741

Charitable Work Programme sub-contractors include @scope,  @MindCharity, @mencap_charity, @RNIB, @LCDisability, @salvationarmyuk, @AddactionUK

Charities who exploit workfare staff include @thebhf, @barnardos, @age_uk, @CR_UK

If you donate to a charity contact them today and demand a written assurance they will not use workfare staff or carry out government contracts to force anyone into unpaid work or sanction benefits.

Homelessness Charities Slam Floundering Work Programme

Three of the UK’s largest homelessness charities have issued a scathing report condemning the Government’s Work Programme.

According to the report there is currently no provision on the Work Programme for homeless people in London, 22% of homeless claimants have had benefits sanctioned whilst on the scheme and Work Programme contractors are picking up huge job outcome fees for work the charities have done themselves.

The report, authored by St Mungo’s, Crisis and Homeless Link, comes in the week that performance figures are expected to be released showing the Work Programme is an hugely expensive disaster.

St Mungo’s have already handed back their Work Programme contract after claiming they were unable to place a single person into work under the scheme.

Whilst these charities were only too happy to endorse the scheme when they thought there might be some money in it for them, this report does suggest a change in direction from some of those in the third sector.  The report warns of the crippling poverty inflicted by sanctioning vulnerable claimants and also highlights how many homeless people had been forced to give up college or volunteering to attend the Work Programme.  Showing that these charities have a long way to go before they truly get behind there service users however, the report stops short of calling for an end to the brutal sanction regime.

Concerns are also raised about how claimants are treated on the scheme, with 58 per cent of homeless people surveyed stating they were not treated with ‘dignity or respect’ by Work Programme providers.

The report also claims that Work Programme contractors such as A4e and G4S often pick up huge job outcome fees for claimants who found work through schemes the charities themselves ran and funded.  This means that someone could successfully find work after a course with a homelessness charity – funded by donations from the public or other funding body – and all the Work Programme contractor has to do is get some paperwork signed and they can trouser up to £6,600.  The most lucrative benefit scam in  history is taking place right under the noses of the DWP and yet still  Iain Duncan Smith sings the praises of the whole shabby racket.

The document also highlights how in some cases the Work Programme has effectively destroyed people’s lives:

Sam lives in a St Mungo’s hostel. When he told his Work Programme adviser that he wanted to work in construction, his adviser suggested that Sam become self-employed.

He was assured that he could claim different benefits and led to believe that his income would not be affected. Sam followed this advice and signed-off JSA, which meant that his housing benefit was also stopped. He tried to claim benefits for those who had declared themselves self-employed, but was told by the Jobcentre that he was not eligible.

“They said I would get help and my benefits wouldn’t get cut off, but that’s not how it went – it put me in jeopardy for three or four weeks. My housing benefit was cut off, my JSA stopped….I was misguided.” He was left with no income apart from a £51 one-off grant from the Work Programme provider. After several weeks Sam started to receive JSA again.

Around this time he was planning to move-on into more independent accommodation but he had to abandon this move because he had no housing benefit to pay the rent. Because he had signed off JSA, Sam also became ineligible for Social Fund grants that would have helped him to furnish a new flat.

The report can be read in full at: http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/policy_research/TheProgrammesNotWorking_final_23-11-2012_PDF.pdf

Universal Jobmatch: The IT Shambles at the DWP

Reports are suggesting that thousands of unemployed people may be forced to sign up to Universal Jobmatch this week despite the site being so poorly constructed that registration is near impossible at times.

Several Jobcentres are believed to have threatened people with a ‘Jobseekers Direction’ unless they register with the new government job search website and allow DWP snoops access to their account.  This unprecedented and chilling intrusion means that anyone claiming benefits could now be forced to sign away their rights under the Data Protection Act or face poverty and possible homelessness due to having benefits sanctioned.

It will not just be unemployed people who face being stripped of their privacy rights should this continue.  When Universal Credit is launched next year millions of people, whether single parents,or those who are sick, disabled or working part time, will be expected to constantly prove they are seeking ‘more or better paid work’ to satisfy benefit conditions.  With DWP staff already over-stretched it seems certain that Universal Jobmatch will be the mechanism used to police and monitor claimant’s jobsearch.

Universal Jobmatch is a job matching website where employers can browse the CVs of claimants and use the DWP to threaten people into applying for jobs.  Jobcentre staff can also select job vacancies which claimants must then apply for or face losing benefits.

Already many employers have refused to use the service due to concerns about being overwhelmed by mass spam job applications.  Many of the jobs on offer are part time, self-employed or appear to be recruitment agencies simply attempting to hoover up personal details of claimants for their databases.  Barely any checks are made to see if an employer is genuine leading to fears that the site could be exploited by everyone from illegal gang masters to abusive ex-partners.  Over the weekend the vacancy pictured above appeared for an ‘elimination specialist’  with MI6 quoting a reference number of 007.

Despite this some Jobcentres are attempting to sign people up by force in direct contravention of DWP guidelines insisting the scheme is not (yet) mandatory.  Other claimants have reported that their Jobcentre barely seem to have heard of the scheme.  Perhaps most importantly, the website simply doesn’t work.  The site constantly times out with accessing job vacancies and registration just not possible at times.  Claimants mandated to sign up to the site could find themselves stripped of benefits merely because the shabby Universal Jobmatch website is virtually unusable.

Claimants may be expected to do one of two things.  Firstly they could be ordered to register with Universal Jobmatch and secondly to tick the box which allows Jobcentre staff to access their accounts.  Unless forced to under threat of sanctions the best advice is to do neither.  There is no need to register with the website to view and apply for most of the vacancies.

The DWP are attempting to launch a crude surveillance system of jobseeking activity on the cheap.  If Universal Jobmatch fails then upcoming plans to force part time workers into endless jobsearch, or compel unemployed people to spend 35 hours a week looking for non-existent jobs, are likely to prove unworkable.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid