Tag Archives: Disability Works

The Questions That the Work Programme Charities Urgently Need to Answer

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.

  1. How many and what has been the nature of any Compliance Breaches (your organisation) has raised with the Prime Contractors or the DWP?
  2. How many people have had benefits sanctioned as a result of Compliance Breaches raised by (your organisation)?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. Is (your organisation) involved in mandating JSA* claimants to ‘work experience’ or ‘voluntary work’?
  6. Will (your organisation) be involved in mandating ESA WRAG** claimants to ‘work experience’ or ‘voluntary work’?
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. 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

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Scoping Out The Workfare Exploiters

Yesterday Boycott Workfare called for people to contact the charity Scope as part of the week of action against workfare.

Once more people picked up the phones, or took to social networking sites, to demand that Scope refuse to have any more to do with forced, unpaid labour.

This led to Scope issuing a furious denial, claiming that Boycott Workfare were attacking Scope’s use of volunteers.  This was far from the case.  Scope are involved in providing Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placements in their shops.  These are four week full time workfare placements which are inflicted on unemployed people deemed by the Jobcentre to not be trying hard enough to find work.  There is anecdotal evidence of Mandatory Work Activity being used as a punishment should someone fail to ‘volunteer’ for other workfare schemes such as Work Experience.

Whilst Scope claim all their workfare workers are ‘volunteers’ the evidence suggests this is far from the case.  A recent press release from the DWP hailed a Scope charity shop which had conscripted a ‘reluctant’ workfare worker:

“A claimant with a poor work record appeared to be doing little to find work. The Jobcentre Plus adviser thought that Mandatory Work Activity could give them valuable up to date work experience and improve their work ethic. The claimant was subsequently referred to a Mandatory Work Activity placement in a Scope charity shop – a referral that the claimant was reluctant to accept.”

More evidence of Scope’s involvement with forced labour emerged on twitter when @awesomesauceuk tweeted:  “Being sent on Mandatory Work Activity. Was supposed to be interviewed but wasn’t. Will “work” in Scope for 4 weeks from Fri 13th. #MWA

When Mandatory Work Activity was first proposed, the Social Services Advisory Committee (who advise Government on welfare) warned that the scheme was likely to target the most vulnerable and strongly recommended it should not go ahead.  They also noted, that despite Scope’s statement, claimants cannot volunteer for MWA, noting that this rendered the scheme punitive rather than a measure to help claimants back into work.  Predictably the Government ignored the Committee’s recommendations.

Sadly Scope’s involvement with mandatory Government schemes doesn’t end there.  Scope are a member of Disability Works, a consortium of charities formed to maximise income from the Work Programme.

Claimants of sickness and disability as well as unemployment benefits are placed on the Work Programme for a period of two years.  During that time charities such as Scope have unprecedented control over claimant’s lives, with the power to mandate participants to almost any activity they wish.

Currently people on sickness or disability benefits cannot be mandated to workfare, although the Government have floated plans to change this.  Claimants can however be subject to sanctions for missing a meeting, failing to attend a training course or any other ‘Work Related Activity’ that providers like Scope may dictate.

Whilst the Disability Works charities have claimed they are not involved with the sanctions process, this argument has been shown to be disengenuous, if not downright dishonest.  Work Programme charities are required to raise a Compliance Doubt should a participant fail to carry out mandated activity.  A Compliance Doubt is a referral to the DWP to sanction a claimant’s benefit.  Whilst the DWP have the final say on whether a sanction is applied, it is the Work Programme charities, like Scope, who are responsible for setting the process in motion.  Basically the DWP are the judges and Scope are the coppers, quite happy to make money from policing sick and disabled claimants.

The homelessness charity SHP (formerly the The Single Homeless Project) has already handed back their Work Programme contract after claiming the brutal sanctions regime may cause vulnerable people to have to ‘beg and steal’.  Sadly the big disability charities, which along with Scope include Mind, Mencap and Leonard Chesire Disability have no such scruples.

10,000 sanctions were applied to claimants on sickness  and disability benefits last year.  Many of these were due to Compliance Doubts raised by the charities involved in delivering Work Programme.  Sanctions are devastating for all claimants, leading to abject poverty as well as the risk of Housing Benefit payments being stopped endangering people’s homes.  To apply sanctions to claimants who are sick or disabled however is a new level of brutality.  Sick or disabled claimants may have special diets as part of their treatment, pay more in heating costs or have other costs such as fares to hospitals and GPs to manage.  To callously strip vital benefits away from this group, many of whom have life-threatening conditions, is unprecedented on the history of the Welfare State.

That charities like Scope should be part of this attack on the very people they claim to be established to help is beyond belief.   Work Programme, workfare and connivance in sanctions is fast bringing the entire charitable sector into disrepute.  It’s time that so called charities like Scope say enough is enough and hand back these savage contracts that have caused so much damage to sick and disabled benefit claimant’s live.

Boycott Workfare have re-issued their call to complain to Scope along with a response to yesterday’s statement. Scope are on twitter @scope.

Also taking place today is a communication blockade of poverty pimps A4e called by Liverpool Combat Workfare. 

Charities and Workfare: The Sad Truth

Many charities are still some of the biggest exploiters of the government’s workfare scheme despite the public outcry over the last couple of weeks.  Whilst several, most notably Oxfam and Marie Curie, have made clear statements that they will no longer be involved in forced labour of any kind, many more are being typically evasive.  Barnardos (@barnardos),   Cancer Research (@CR_UK) and the British Heart Foundation (@theBHF) have chosen simply to ignore the hundreds of people who have contacted them expressing outrage at their use of forced labour.  Others, such as the Salvation Army and Age UK have wobbled, but are still using workfare.

Far more concerning is the number of charities still happy to profit directly from workfare as contractors of the government’s Work Programme scheme.  According to Chris Grayling the Work Programme is the largest Welfare to Work scheme seen since the 1930s.  Figures just announced show that since June last year 370,000 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants have been referred onto the Work Programme scheme and around 20,000 claimants on Employment Support Allowance (ESA, the replacement for Incapacity Benefit).

The Work Programme is a mandatory scheme under which unemployed and sick or disabled claimants can be forced to undertake ‘Work Related Activity’ for up to two years.  In the case of JSA claimants this could include a period of six months workfare, often with a private sector employer.  Despite the lies told by ministers Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith, a now apparently censored document reveals that claimants have been forced to work at Pizza Hut, ASDA, Wilkinsons and many other household names from the private sector.

As ever, the ‘Work Programme’ scheme was contracted out largely to the private sector.  40 prime contracts in 18 regions were selected to manage the programme, and despite Cameron’s claims that the voluntary sector would be at the heart of the Work Programme, just one of these contracts was awarded to a charity, the Careers Development Group.  The rest have been awarded to profit making companies such as much maligned fraudsters A4e.  The contracts have been estimated to be worth 3-5 billions pounds.  To place this sum in context, George Osborne’s cuts have wiped £11 billion from welfare benefits, including savage cuts to housing benefit which have already led to many families losing their homes.  Yet he is happy to dish out almost half of that sum to private companies, for a scheme so apparently flawed that they daren’t even tell us if anyone has actually found work due to Work Programme.

Some of that cash is intended to flow down to the 289 sub-contracters who have been brought in to provide ‘specialist support’, often for the most vulnerable claimants.  The vast bulk of these are charities including household names such as MIND, SCOPE and Action for Blind People.  However all is not well on the Work Programme gravy train.  Some charities have pulled out, many are claiming a lack of referrals has made the scheme uneconomic, others are concerned that the payment after results system means they do not have the capital to develop workfare provision.

Shamefully not one charity has pulled out over concerns that some people are being bullied into forced labour in supermarkets under the scheme.  Neither have any raised concerns that many people, including sick and disabled claimants, have had benefits sanctioned  and been condemned to poverty and possible homelessness as a result.  Whilst some charities, including MIND and SCOPE have issued statements that they will no longer use forced labour in their shops, they appear unrepentant about profiting from a scheme that involves forced labour on an industrial scale.

Disability Works is a consortium of disability and mental health charities which was formed to maximise income from the Work Programme.  After facing heavy criticism when the workfare row first blew up, a statement was issued by mental health charity MIND, which attempted to clarify their position:

“Mind is a member of Disability Works UK, a not-for-profit consortium of eight disability charities that have come together to provide tailored support to people who are ready to enter the workplace.

Through Disability Works UK, our local Minds may be involved in offering specialist support to people with mental health problems helping to improve their skills and boost their confidence. 

Well-structured and meaningful volunteering can be an excellent way to prepare people for paid work.

However, we believe that forcing people to volunteer is not the best way forward.

Disability Works UK will not play a role in imposing sanctions and will only seek contracts with providers whose values are compatible with our own.”

This is disingenuous to say the least, in fact it might best be described as a deliberate distortion of the truth.  Benefit sanctions are at the heart of the Work Programme and all of the prime contracters and sub-contracters are aware of this.  Disability Works may not play a role in imposing sanctions, they don’t play a role in paying out benefits either.  Only the DWP can sanction someone’s benefit’s (obviously).  Member’s of Disability Works however are contractually obliged to report any ‘Compliance Doubts’ to the prime contractors who in turn send them onto the DWP, who are the ones who  administer a benefit sanction.  A ‘compliance doubt’ may mean that a claimant has refused to go and work in Poundland for no pay, or has failed to turn up for an Interview Skills workshop, short training course, or other activity.  If Disability Works do not follow this procedure and refuse to report compliance breaches,  then they are in breach of contract with their contractors and ultimately the DWP.

The Work Programme Provider’s Guidance* (PDF) clearly states that:  “Sanctions are a tool to encourage participants to actively engage with support offered. Where a participant has failed to comply with a mandated activity, you are required to follow a process for raising a compliance doubt.

Whilst it is true that providers can appeal that in some circumstances a claimant (on ESA only)  is vulnerable, the end decision will be made by the DWP.  Sick and disabled people are not exempt from benefit sanctions as is clear:  “If one of these participants fails to undertake WRA (Work Related Activity) without good cause, a sanction will apply. The Work Related Activity Component (WRAC) will be reduced whilst the ESA participant is sanctioned.”

All of the charities involved in Work Programme, including Disability Works have signed up to this, and indeed are profiting from it.

The big disability charities are attempting to treat both their users and the general public as fools.  Whilst corporate slime like Tesco and Burger King have at least attempted to be honest about their role in workfare, the big charities are using weasel words to completely misrepresent their involvement in the scheme.  The likelihood is that the members of Disability Works will make far more money out of workfare than Tesco ever did.

The nature of the Work Programme makes it very difficult to know for sure exactly what is going on at grassroots level.  Providers have been given free reign to mandate claimants to all kinds of activities, with many of their programmes kept confidential under the handy smokescreen of commercial confidentitality rules.  Some charities may only be partaking a small role, such as provide housing advice to homeless participants, others may manage the full spectrum of a person’s activity on Work Programme.

Were Disability Works to publish a full outline of their Work Programme provision then this may go some way towards developing some much needed transparency in the scheme.  As it stands the statement from MIND suggests that they may well be involved in mandating people to forced labour.

Under current rules, claimants on ESA cannot be mandated to workfare, although they can be  mandated to up to 15 hours of training a week amongst other activities.  For those claimants on JSA the situation is very different and they could face forced labour for six months.  Thousands of people with disabilities and mental health conditions have been bullied onto Job Seeker’s Allowance by the flawed Work Capability Assessment, many of them will no doubt have been mandated to workfare.

Those on ESA, many of whom have fluctuating conditions, are just if not more vulnerable to benefit sanctions.   Should a mandatory appointment or training scheme with one of the charitable providers happen to fall on a ‘bad day’, and the claimant is unable to attend, they are very likely to face sanctions.  All of the charities have been happy to go along with this as long as it kept lining their pockets.

The members of Disability Works, (who can be found here) should be ashamed for colluding in this attack on the most vulnerable in society.  That they allowed themselves to put aside the needs of their users in favour of juicy government contracts is a disgrace.  That they are still participating, and profiting from the scheme which is bringing misery to thousands, shows they do not deserve the support of those appalled by forced labour.   Until they clearly, and unambiguously reject the Work Programme they should be condemned along with Primark and McDonalds and all other organisations happy to profit from workfare.  Anything other than an absolute condemnation of the Work Programme, workfare and benefit sanctions will be seen as yet another gross betrayal of the very people these charities were established to support.

*Disclaimer: this document may change at any time to cover up for government lies.

A full list of charities and other organisations with Work Programme sub-contracts can be found (for now) at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wp-supply-chains.pdf

Above pic from: http://crippencartoons.wordpress.com/