A story so astonishing many assumed it was an April Fool is breaking in Scotland after sleazy welfare-to-work parasites the Lennox Partnership were caught fining unemployed people for looking at their phones or having their hands in their pockets.
According to the local press, the Lennox Partnership are contracted to run training services for unemployed people by the SNP controlled North Ayrshire Council. This training involved participants being fined for often trivial reasons such as ‘tutting’, swearing or answering their phones. Whilst the lowest level of fine was just 10p, those on the course could be fined as much as £5 if their phone rang outside of designated break times. After all it’s not like people looking for a job might have a good reason to take a phone call in the middle of day.
Even the DWP are appalled, with the Daily Record reporting they have suspended referrals to the STRIVE programme run by the Lennox Partnership. Those behind the schme are unrepentent, with North Ayrshire Council claiming that they are just trying to “change behaviours and instil a professional attitude”. Participants who refuse to pay the fines are required to leave the course raising fears they may face benefit sanctions for refusing to take part in ‘work related activity’
The company say that their scheme is entirely voluntary and nobody will be sanctioned should they choose to leave. This reveals a shocking ignorance of the current situation faced by claimants who are subject to benefit sanctions for ever more trivial reasons. It is Jobcentres, not the Lennox Partnership, who decide whether a sanction should be imposed.
The STRIVE programme is aimed at long term unemployed people, and it is possible that some participants may have care and support needs meaning safeguarding rules should be in place to prevent this kind of financial coercion. The Lennox Partnership also boast on their website that some participants in the STRIVE programme have been as young as 16. It is unclear whether they also fine children.
Whilst the legalities of the scheme are murky this practice is clearly unethical. With the ever-present threat of sanctions hanging over unemployed people’s heads it is little more than extortion. Whatever mealy mouthed excuses the Lennox Partnership come out with, the experience of claimants is the same. This company are demanding money from some of the poorest people in Scotland with the unspoken menace that their benefits may be taken away if they refuse.
You can tell the Lennox Partnership what you think of this vile practice on twitter @TheLennoxP
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