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.
- How many and what has been the nature of any Compliance Breaches (your organisation) has raised with the Prime Contractors or the DWP?
- How many people have had benefits sanctioned as a result of Compliance Breaches raised by (your organisation)?
- 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?
- 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?
- Is (your organisation) involved in mandating JSA* claimants to ‘work experience’ or ‘voluntary work’?
- Will (your organisation) be involved in mandating ESA WRAG** claimants to ‘work experience’ or ‘voluntary work’?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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