Osborne claims that 200,000 people will be forced into either full time workfare or massively increased conditionality – such as having to attend Jobcentres everyday. This will apply to people leaving the Work Programme, the two year scheme which is already costing tax payers a fortune and failing miserably.
Already Osborne’s sums don’t add up. People are currently returning to Jobcentres after leaving the Work Programme at a rate of around 50,000 a month. If all of these people are sent on Osborne’s new scheme – as he promised they will be – then that will be 600,000 in the first year alone. One third of these are expected to be sent on full time workfare.
As even bungling Iain Duncan Smith knows, this is completely unworkable. The reason IDS knows this is because he just tried it.
The Community Action Programme (CAP) was a workfare scheme which was piloted in 2011/12 for long term unemployed people. It was claimed that the programme would go live in Summer 2013 to catch the tens of thousands of people currently leaving the Work Programme without a job.
In mis-directed revenge for the failure of welfare-to-work companies to help people find work , those who were still unemployed at the end of the Work Programme were to be sent on six months workfare for a community organisation. This is exactly the same thing that Osborne proposed yesterday.
The Community Action Programme even enjoyed a brief moment of fame as one of the schemes that was hauled through the courts and ultimately found to be illegal. Curiously, when Iain Duncan Smith rewrote history to make several previously unlawful workfare programmes legal, he did not include the Community Action Programme in the revised back-dated legislation.
One reason for this was presumed to be due to an evaluation of the pilot scheme which revealed the Community Action Programme to be a disaster. A DWP report found it had no impact on whether anyone was more likely to get a job, although this is hardly uncommon for one of Iain Duncan Smith’s crazy schemes. More importantly, it brought home some stark realities to the out of touch mandarins at the DWP. According to the report, it was unsurprisingly difficult for welfare-to-work companies to find placements for some long term unemployed people who are described as being ‘particularly challenging’. This included people who were homeless, had current drink or drug problems or such serious criminal records that in the words of the report they represented a ‘risk to placement providers’.
As things turned out the welfare-to-work companies who ran the scheme were only able to find 63 per cent of CAP participants a work placement. One reason for this was that many charities pulled out of the scheme after fierce campaigning from Boycott Workfare and other groups exposed the exploitative nature of forced unpaid work. Another is that most charities do not have the capacity or skills to employ chaotic individuals dubbed the ‘hardest to help’.
That doesn’t mean everyone who is long term unemployed is ‘challenging’, has ‘behavioural disorders’ or faces ‘significant barriers to employment’. In fact the opposite is true, most long term unemployed people live in areas of sky high unemployment where there are simply no jobs and that is the biggest barrier to work by far. But there is no denying that a certain percentage of the ‘hardest to help’ are hard to help for a reason. That reason may be that they sleep in a shop doorway, or are the first ones queuing up waiting for the off-licence to open as the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal start to play havoc with their nervous system. It may be that they have been given a dual-diagnosis – meaning they have a mental health condition and a substance use problem. In a very small number of cases it may be that they have a long and violent history of offending.
It is this group of long-term unemployed people that George Osborne thinks he can fix, on the cheap, with his workfare fiasco. Osborne genuinely seems to believe that Jobcentre staff or welfare-to-work companies can solve these desperate social problems where doctors, social workers, mental health professionals and probation officers have failed. Iain Duncan Smith used to think these problems would be solved by the magical Work Programme. But where that two year scheme has been little more than an expensive waste of time, Osborne’ wants us to believe his six month workfare fantasy will mean an end to crime, addiction, homelessness and unemployment amongst this group of claimants. And if that doesn’t work he’s going to stop all of their benefits. That’ll teach them. And us.
£300 million pounds is to be spent on this nonsense, most of which is likely to end up in the pockets of the fraud ridden welfare-to-work sector. Whilst some of the most exploitative charities, like @salvationarmyuk and @YMCA_England will be only too happy to force vulnerable claimants to work for free, decent and moral organisations are likely to shun the scheme. Anti-workfare campaigners are almost certain to begin a campaign naming and shaming those involved. Charities happy to exploit the unemployed in this way will pay for it, one way or another.
That £300 million could fund scrapping both the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, along with halting the closure of the Independent Living Fund for the most seriously disabled people and there would still be money to spare. Money that could be spent on projects for the hardest to help that genuinely do help and that people do not have to be bullied by benefit sanctions into attending. It could pay to provide a home for everyone who needs one who currently beds down for the night on the pavement, or be used to reverse some of the most vicious cuts to mental health services and the NHS.
Instead this money is being squandered on a crowd-pleasing shambles – something to appease the UKIP bound swivel-eyed right of the Tory Party. Osborne will be pleased with himself for stealing the limelight and humiliating Iain Duncan Smith in the process by announcing a new flagship DWP policy. But it may yet turn out to be one of the most expensive rounds of applause in history as the social consequences of this nasty little move will be felt for decades.
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