Whilst this represents a major victory for anti-workfare campaigners, BHF have also revealed their intention to continue using workfare in some form. Bungling charity bosses appear to have picked the worst of both worlds. Whilst they now lose 600 (at the last count) unpaid workers, the ongoing campaign against the charity’s use of workfare is likely to continue.
“Currently, we are moving away from involvement in the mandatory work activity programme towards schemes which provide longer term voluntary placements. We have just established an important partnership with Job Centre Plus to actively promote volunteering as an option for people who are unemployed.”
This vague statement appears to fly in the face of current DWP policy. There are four main workfare schemes currently in operation. These are Mandatory Work Activity (MWA), Work Experience, Community Action Programme (CAP) and the Work Programme.
British Heart Foundation say they are out of MWA (or at least moving away from it – some of their over-priced furniture shops are believed to still have MWA staff). The Community Action Programme (CAP) is six months workfare for long term unemployed people. It is also a mandatory scheme. If this is the scheme that the BHF are considering, then they are fibbing when they claim to be moving away from mandatory programmes.
The Work Experience scheme is for young people only and just two months in length, which seems to rule that out. This leaves the Work Programme, and here the rules are a little more complex. Whilst workfare for profit making companies is now officially (if not in practice) voluntary on the Work Programme, workfare for a community based projects can be still be mandated under threat of benefit sanctions.
British Heart Foundation have already admitted to having employed hundreds of unpaid staff through the Work Programme. Whether these staff were mandated or genuine volunteers is unknown. The answers lie with the welfare to work companies like A4e or G4S whose staff are left to choose whether to mandate unemployed people to community based workfare.
Another possibility is that BHF and Jobcentre Plus have cooked up an entirely new scheme that has yet to be announced. But even this seems unlikely. When Universal Credit is introduced next year full time volunteering will no longer be allowed for unemployed claimants, unless the volunteering is mandated by the DWP.
It sounds like the Work Programme is the most likely scheme under which BHF have just “established an important partnership with Job Centre Plus to actively promote volunteering as an option for people who are unemployed.”
Unfortunately if those people don’t volunteer they can be mandated to work for free via the Work Programme. There isn’t even any reason for British Heart Foundation to ever know that their workers are there under threat of financial destitution. Claimants, under threat of benefit sanctions should they put a foot wrong, are unlikely to speak up.
BHF could claim to have a happy, genuine team of volunteers who are in fact nothing of the sort. If that seems dishonest, or even shocking, it is exactly what the charity have been doing up until now. BHF have boasted that workfare staff on mandatory schemes have agreed that the placement is “appropriate and mutually beneficial”.
It is hardly surprising that BHF have got themselves in a mess over workfare. The DWP themselves hardly seem to know what’s going on most of the time. But the charity only have themselves to blame for being one of the most enthusiastic exploiters of free labour schemes aimed at punishing the unemployed.
None of this takes away from the fact that BHF pulling out of the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) is a potentially death-dealing blow to the scheme. BHF claimed to have 600 workers on MWA – a four week programme – at the time of making the statement. Over the course of a year that means almost 8000 workfare workers on MWA could have been employed by the charity.
This is just under half the of the 16,790 people who started on MWA between May 2011 and February 2012.
It’s impossible to know exactly how many people have been sent to the charity on the scheme because the DWP are desperately attempting to hide all information relating to the programme.
Chris Grayling announced in June that up to 70,000 people could face the Mandatory Work Activity programme. Welfare to work insiders already claim they are struggling to find placements for far fewer people than that. With British Heart Foundation joining an increasing number of charities to reject the scheme, it’s plain to see that workfare isn’t working. Join in with the upcoming Week of Action Against Workfare Charities and let’s make sure it stays that way.
Above pic taken from an Edinburgh protest against the charity.
UPDATE: A taped conversation with a British Heart Foundation fundraiser has just emerged – “they’re taking my taxes that I pay” says the fundraiser when asked about unemployed claimants. Listen at: http://audioboo.fm/boos/1051646-british-heart-foundation-chugger#t=1m46s