Benefit claimants who are working part time could be forced to give up work to attend workfare new documents from the DWP suggest. Those who refuse will face the highest levels of benefit sanctions which could see some claimants stripped of support for up to three years.
The Provider Guidance for the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme has recently been updated and is now available online (PDF). MWA is four weeks workfare for community based organisations and functions as a form of Community Service for claimants who are judged to be not trying hard enough to find work. Already the scheme is mired in difficulties, with major charities pulling out and the DWP desperately trying to cover up details of the programme.
What has not been publicly announced is that the DWP expects some part time workers to also be sentenced to the scheme. When Universal Credit is introduced, allegedly next year, part time workers will be expected to constantly look for more work or better paid work in order to receive in work benefits such as Child Tax Credits and Housing Benefits.
It appears that plans have now been made to ensure those who are unable to find full time work can now be sent on workfare. According to the new documentation, those working part time work will only be able to continue in employment whilst also attending workfare if it is ‘practicable’.
“In exceptional circumstances JCP may refer a customer who is working part time. If this is the case, as MWA will involve up to 30 hours work activity per week, it may be difficult to fit in part time work, but customers should, where practicable, continue with (or start) any part-time work and declare any earnings.”
Whilst this paragraph seems to leave the DWP’s intentions unclear, it could clearly be read to mean that in some cases part time work should be stopped in order to attend workfare. And this is important because these are the guidelines which welfare-to-work advisors follow when dictating to claimants how they should live their lives.
It is unlikely that the DWP actually intend anyone to give up part time work to attend workfare – and anyone who faced sanctions as a result of refusing to do so would very likely win an appeal. On the front line of delivering welfare-to-work contracts however this is very likely to take place without the DWP even becoming aware of it.
Welfare-to-work companies with MWA contracts, who include the notorious A4e, are paid for every unemployed person sent to them that they find a workfare placement for and that’s all. Unlike the Work Programme, there is no payment by results on this scheme, because it is designed as punishment, and not support to actually help people find work.
Therefore it is in the financial interests of welfare-to-work companies to make sure everyone sent to them ends up on placement. Should a claimant turn up who is working part time then the advisor will head to the rulebook, where they will read the above quote. From that paragraph they may well infer that the claimant has to give up their part time work because the advisor is unable to find a workfare placement which means it’s ‘practicable’ for them to carry on. The alternative would mean sending the claimant back to the Jobcentre, which they are not supposed to do under the guidelines and means the welfare-to-work company would lose money.
Now at this point the claimant might decide this is a load of bollocks and get on the phone to their Jobcentre, CAB or anyone else who is likely to help. But sadly many claimants won’t. With welfare-to-work companies empowered to throw around benefit sanctions like confetti, few claimants are now confident enough to challenge even the most perverse decisions.
This is how fuck ups happen on the front line. Fuck ups which might only be embarrassing for the DWP, but can be devastating in individuals lives. Badly thought through and poorly explained policy combines with profit hungry welfare-to-work sharks, and benefit claimants to terrified to complain, to wreak devastation in the lives of often the most vulnerable claimants.
And all too often no-one even hears about it, let alone cares.
Join the Week of Action Against Workfare beginning on December 8th.