A crude attempt at re-branding workfare is taking place with the development of a “Work Experience Quality Standard” to be awarded to companies and charities who provide “high quality” workfare.
This seal of approvement will be handed out to workfare exploiters by a shadowy organisation called Fair Train who describe themselves as “a down to earth company who have a deep rooted passion for work experience”.
So deep rooted is this passion that they are organising a Week of Workfare in October, when they will be actively encouraging employers to sign up to the DWP’s Work Experience scheme. This is the two month programme of forced labour which first hit the headlines in 2012 when Tesco were found to be recruiting unpaid workers via the Jobcentre. Since then an active and UK wide campaign against unpaid work has led to scores of private sector employers and charities abandoning the scheme.
Promises from the DWP that this form of workfare would become ‘voluntary’ in future were met with scorn by claimants and campaigners alike. With up to one million benefit sanctions set to be handed out this year, and Jobcentre staff being disciplined for not meeting unofficial targets to sanction claimants, nothing within the current regime for unemployment benefits is voluntary in practice. Non-voluntary schemes such as Mandatory Work Activity – four weeks workfare for charity – can easily be used to bully and cajole claimants into doing what they are told.
Claimants on the Work Programme, including those on the sickness and disability benefit ESA, can now be sent on unlimited workfare, as long as it has some form of ‘community benefit’. This benefit can include, according to DWP guidelines, working towards the profits of the host organisation.
Astonishingly there are no figures available on how many people have been condemned to workfare on the Work Programme. The DWP are also refusing to release the names of organisations making use of free labour on the Mandatory Work Activity scheme – although the Salvation Army, YMCA and The Conservation ‘Volunteers’ are all active and vocal supporters of this form of forced work.
According to Fair Train documents these charities will not be eligible for the new quality standard which will help workfare using companies “avoid potentially damaging comparisons with employers providing compulsory work experience”.
Since the DWP won’t tell anyone who is using compulsory workfare however, it will be impossible for Fair Train to know what the beneficiaries of this quality standard are really involved in. Not that they seem to care. The main way to get one of these kitemarks is for companies to “complete a self-assessment” and then send them some money, with the possibility of that assessment being audited at some point in the future, perhaps, if they get round to it.
Fair Train give the impression of being just another bunch of shiny-suited spivs trying to fleece yet more tax payer’s cash from the welfare-to-work sector with a dodgy acreditation scheme to hide the crimes of workfare exploiters. But in reality they are far more than that. The workfare Quality Standard scheme is funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Government’s Growth and Innovation Fund. UKCES is ‘non-departmental public body’ of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills who are also accountable to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – Iain Duncan Smith.
Fair Train is run by Stephen Gardner, former director of training charity Rathbone who boast to employers that they can provide a no cost “work experience package that will benefit your business”. Alongside Gardner, Fair Train employs Alun Davis as the Project Manager of the Quality Standard scheme. Prior to joining this project Davis was the Welfare To Work Operations Manager for Work Programme poverty pimps The Shaw Trust – an organisation that has driven thousands of claimants into poverty and destitution due to their enthusiastic role in sanctioning benefit claims.
In other words this so called Quality Standard is little more than a heavily camouflaged Government funded scheme, staffed by ex welfare-to-work stooges and with the aim of making unpaid work appear an acceptable and even normal part of working life. Fair Train’s Week of Workfare begins on October 14th and they will be tweeting from @FairTrainOrg using the hashtag #WEWeek2013. Some people never learn.
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