Chris Grayling is once again depending on charities to prop up his Government’s exploitative and fraud ridden workfare schemes with the announcement that tens of thousands more benefit claimants are to face unpaid labour. Grayling is planning to hugely extend the Mandatory Work Activity scheme in a desperate attempt to claw back some credibility for his shambolic welfare to work policies.
Whilst sanctions have temporarily been removed from some workfare schemes, they are fundamental to the Mandatory Work Activity schemes. Sources have claimed that this scheme is used when claimants refuse to ‘volunteer’ for one of the other, currently non-mandatory, workfare schemes.
The Mandatory Work Scheme was introduced last year despite the warning of the Social Services Advisory Committee (SSAC) who claimed the scheme could be racist in practice, open to wide scale abuse and will leave no time for unemployed people to actually look for a job. The SSAC, who are an independent body whose role is to advise Parliament on welfare, issued a stark warning that the scheme should not go ahead.
Under the scheme claimants can be ordered to carry out 30 hours unpaid work for four weeks at a time. Despite Grayling claiming the scheme is ‘popular’, the mandatory nature of the scheme reveals it’s true purpose. It is effectively a punishment for those that Jobcentre staff have deemed aren’t trying hard enough to find work. After completing four weeks workfare there is nothing in the rules to stop claimants being re-referred straight back onto the scheme for another month. In fact there is nothing in the rules to stop this happening indefinitely. Claimants can be referred from the first day of their claim and face vicious benefit sanctions should they refuse. Should whoever they’ve been forced to work for dismiss them for any reason they will also face benefit sanctions.
120 hours is three times the minimum Community Service (now called Community Payback) sentence that can be handed out in the courts. Those convicted of sexual assault, Actual Bodily Harm or burglary could face a less stiff sentence than those forced onto Mandatory Work Activity because they missed an appointment at the Jobcentre or simply because their Jobcentre Advisor has taken a dislike to them. There are no checks and balances in the system to ensure that harassment of claimants is not occurring and no right of appeal.
The Government were expected to publish figures this week outlining whether the scheme has actually helped anyone into work. It now appears they have changed their mind. Just like their refusal to publish performance figures for the Work Programme, the largest shambolic Welfare to Work scheme, it seems the DWP are once with-holding information because it might embarrass ministers and reveal the scheme to be yet another expensive disaster.
Welfare to work company A4e were recently stripped of their Mandatory Work Activity contract in the South East due to concerns about fraud in the organisation. Allegations of fraud at other welfare to work companies are now beginning to emerge. An upcoming court case brought by Cait Reilly, forced onto workfare under another scheme, may yet rule that workfare is illegal.
Despite all of this, Chris Grayling, the minister just about in charge of the DWP, is to announce a huge expansion of Mandatory Work this week. It appears to be this Government’s policy that when they find themselves in a hole they should start to dig furiously. Austerity has plunged the country into the most prolonged recession in living memory so the Government has pledged more austerity. When voters in the recent local elections rejected this Government’s right wing policies, for which they have no electoral mandate, the Tory’s answer was to move even further to the right. And as workfare is revealed to be a dismal failure that may even be increasing long term unemployment, the answer from Chris Grayling is more workfare.
Astonishingly Grayling will be depending on charities to provide placements for those bullied onto Mandatory Workfare. Despite the likes of Tesco pulling out (sort of) from the Government’s workfare schemes, huge numbers of charities are only to happy to profit from forced labour on an industrial scale. Claimants on Mandatory Work will be sent to charity shops and other community organisations , many of whom are no doubt household names, to serve their sentences.
The DWP are so concerned that the image of those benefiting from this scheme may be tarnished that they are now refusing to reveal details of where people on Mandatory Work are actually being sent. Previous FOI requests, which named some of the organisations so quick to benefit from this and other exploitative workfare scheme, have now disappeared from the DWP’s website.
Charities have fallen over themselves to pick up lucrative workfare contracts under which benefit claimants can face crippling sanctions which have forced people into poverty and homelessness. The response to criticism of their involvement in these brutal schemes has been little more than pathetic. Disability charities have claimed it’s not their fault people get sanctioned, it’s the fault of the DWP. This is despite the contractual arrangements which demand charities reports ‘compliance breaches’ to the DWP. A compliance breach may mean not turning up for workfare under the Mandatory Work Scheme, or missing a meeting or training session for those on the Work Programme. These sanctions can even be applied to sick or disabled claimants, and in fact almost 10,000 sick or disabled claimants faced sanctions last year and the number is expected to soar. Many of these sanctions have been directly due to the actions of the charities involved in the various schemes.
The hypocrisy from charities has been even more staggering. Mental health charity MIND have said they will not use forced labour in their charity shops, but were quite happy to profit from a scheme in which participants could be sent to carry out forced labour in other people’s charity shops. Substance misuse charity Addaction recently condemned benefit sanctions for those with drug or alcohol dependencies, yet are one of the largest Work Programme sub-contractors. Addaction are contractually obliged to refer their own users for sanctions, despite their Chief Executive recently saying that benefit sanctions “can severely damage someone’s chances of beating an addiction and recovering”.
A piece recently published on Disabled People Against Cuts’ website contains inside information from a charity worker who calls his employer’s involvement in these schemes ‘disgusting’. and reveals: “I remember one client with severe psychosis. He didn’t know what day of the week it was—but he was about to lose his benefits because he had missed his appointments.”
After the private sector rejected workfare as unethical, Chris Grayling needs charities and community organisations to force tens of thousands more claimants into unpaid work. There should be no squeamishness about holding these charities to account for their actions. Organisations that depend on a fluffy public image at their charity fun runs and galas should not be surprised if they face protests, pickets, boycotts and direct action. Charities like Addaction, Mencap, Scope, The Salvation Army and many more are all conniving with this toff Government in a brutal and unprecedented attack on the very people they claim to support. If they are to happy to profit from Tory attacks on the sick, disabled and the unemployed, then they should be prepared to face the consequences.
If you are currently on, or about to be sent on any of the Mandatory Work schemes please get in touch with one of the many organisations campaigning against them such as Boycott Workfare . We urgently need to know exactly who is profiting from forced labour and the government is trying to keep it secret.