Whilst workfare was recently ruled not to be illegal, the judgement in the case brought by Cait Reilly and unemployed HGV driver Jamieson Wilson, contained a vicious sting in the tail for the DWP.
The ruling was highly critical of the lack of information provided to benefit claimants about the Government’s workfare schemes. Thousands of people have been forced to work in private companies for no pay under the threat of benefit sanctions. Due to the recent ruling, many of those who were sanctioned may yet be able to claim back benefits.
It is hardly surprising that the DWP should find themselves in this position. Lies, smears and often deliberate confusion have been the hallmark of the department since the almost absent Iain Duncan Smith and his underling Chris Grayling began their current reign of chaos.
Grayling has repeatedly gagged Freedom of Information requests attempting to find out exactly what the DWP is up to. When the workfare row blew up he lied to the public, the business sector and other MPs alike as he attempted to squirm his way out of trouble. Documents were disappeared, or hastily rewritten, as the DWP said one thing and Chris Grayling said something quite different.
Under this regime it is hardly surprising that benefit claimants are unable to find out the true nature of the schemes they may have been sent on. The Minister himself barely seems to know what’s going on half the time.
Chris Grayling’s behaviour over the last couple of weeks reveals that this deceitful shambles shows no sign of slowing down. Grayling this week banned publication of a report looking into the treatment of unpaid stewards at the Jubilee earlier in the year. Claiming the document is commercially confidential, it seems that Tory stooges Tomorrow’s People – the so called charity that sent unemployed people to sleep under a bridge for the night – are not to be held to public account for their actions.
Meanwhile, two recent television documentaries once more saw Grayling spinning out of control as he declared that there are no targets for the private company Atos to find people ‘fit for work’, despite the clear evidence to the contrary presented in Channel 4’s Dispatches.
The documentary explored the Work Capability Assessment, the now notorious assessment process inflicted on those claiming sickness or disability benefits, undertaken by French IT firm and Olympic sponsors Atos. The system was described as toxic by the very people paid to carry out the tests who revealed how some cancer patients were judged fit for work simply for being on the wrong type of chemotherapy.
Grayling still claims this brutal process ‘helps’ people, despite the untold suffering and increasing number of deaths which have occurred due to the endless assessments. Professor Malcolm Harrington, the man brought into the scrutinise the process, has been ‘resigned’ after being critical of the assessments and Grayling is ploughing on regardless.
In an effort to stem the growing number of successful appeals challenging Atos’ decisions, Grayling has now effectively banned a video produced by the Ministry of Justice providing advice on the appeal process.
Shortly after the documentaries were aired it was announced that Atos are to be awarded the contract to carry out similar assessments on those claiming the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA). This time there can be no pretending from ministers that there will be no targets. The Government have already announced that 20% of disabled people are to lose benefits due to the new assessment regime.
So still the Chris Grayling comedy show marches on. His latest pronouncement, as workfare collapses around him, is to introduce yet more workfare on the Community Action Programme. Under this madcap scheme, around one million long term unemployed people are to be forced into six months full time workfare for community projects and charities.
Grayling has neglected to ask the voluntary sector whether they want a million full time volunteers, many of whom won’t want to be there. There has been no assessment as to whether the sector can even absorb, supervise and afford this influx of unpaid workers. The more ethical charities such as Oxfam have already stated they will take no part in any workfare style schemes.
Welfare to Work insiders already claim that finding enough workfare placements on the current schemes is proving almost impossible. The few charities left using forced labour, such as Scope and the British Heart Foundation, only have so many shops. Once again a back of the envelope scheme aimed at punishing the unemployed is set to collapse simply because no-one at the DWP has thought through what is likely to happen in practice.
Cait Reilly is set to appeal against the recent court judgement meaning workfare will be back in the courts this Autumn. A judicial review has also recently been granted to challenge the Work Capability Assessment. More protests against both workfare and Atos are scheduled in the next few weeks. Everyday more and more people are waking up to the reality of welfare reform, as it happens to them, their friends, neighbours or loved ones. If Grayling thinks he can lie, scheme and cheat his way through yet another session of Parliament he may yet have an unpleasant surprise.