An evaluation of the Government’s Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme, commissioned and published by the DWP, reveals that welfare-to-work companies are struggling to find enough placements for all those forced into unpaid work.
In a further blow to the DWP’s plans for mass workfare, this report was released before several major charities, including Scope, British Heart Foundation, Age UK and Cancer Research announced they were pulling out of the scheme.
Mandatory Work Activity is just one of several workfare schemes, and involves four weeks full time unpaid work for organisations which can demonstrate a ‘community benefit’. The scheme is used as punishment for those claimants not deemed to be trying hard enough to find work by Jobcentre advisors. Under DWP rules it is not possible to volunteer for the scheme.
The report states that 33,170 people began on MWA between May 2011 and August 2012. Of these around 75% of claimants were forced to work in charity shops, the very organisations who currently claim to be abandoning workfare. Even before charities finally took a principled stand on unpaid work, the study shows that three districts in the UK were not meeting the minimum period of ten days between referral to the scheme and workfare beginning. Welfare-to-work companies, who are paid for everybody they send on workfare, claim this is down to them being unable to source enough work placements.
One of the main reasons for the lack of placements is cited as “The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements.”
The report also highlights problems finding placements due to competition from other workfare programmes as well as Community Payback. Claimants on MWA are sentenced to a similar length of unpaid work as a mid-level community service punishment and often work alongside those convicted of an offence.
The evaluation blows apart some myths which have emerged about the scheme. It has been suggested by MWA is often used when someone is suspected of working illegally whilst claiming benefits. The report confirms that this is not one of the main uses of the scheme by Jobcentres, but instead it is used when advisors believe someone is not ‘motivated’ or there is ‘doubt’ about a claimant’s commitment to look for work.
An earlier assessment of MWA had concluded that many claimant’s sign off benefits when referred to workfare. This study finds this effect is only temporary, concluding that “the benefit impact over the first 21 weeks equates to referred individuals being off benefit for an average of about four days more than if they had not been referred.”It is clear that MWA does not help people find work and nor does it reduce the numbers of people on benefits. Some claimant’s even reported that the scheme made it more difficult to find work: “MWA will make it harder for someone to look for a job. It’ll make you more miserable – working for nothing and no time to look for a job.”
Many charities who had previously been only too happy to exploit the amount of free labour available due to MWA had attempted to suggest that that their involvement was intended to support unemployed people into work. The report reveals the real reason so many charities were quick to sign up to workfare:
“The majority of the hosts described getting involved in MWA to provide staff for their organisations, which in many cases relied on unpaid staff to operate. Indeed several described coming to rely on MWA to provide a steady supply of staff. “
The report also highlights just how early into people’s claims MWA is often used, stating that there is a push to refer claimants onto the scheme when they have been on benefits just 13 weeks.Finally the study makes some concerning recommendations, including extending the length of MWA to eight weeks. It is also suggested that the ‘community benefit’ stipulation be relaxed, meaning that more claimants would be sent to replace paid jobs in places like Superdrug and Poundland.
Once again workfare isn’t working, so the DWP want more workfare. But the key part of this report is the desperate shortage of placements. Tony Blair’s New Deal, the first large scale workfare scheme for 18-25 year olds, largely collapsed due to lack of placements.
This isn’t stopping Iain Duncan Smith steaming ahead with ever more plans for forced work. From the 3rd December sick and disabled claimants can now be mandated to workfare. The Community Action Programme, which involves six months workfare and is already a disaster, is also to be hugely extended. Workfare for young people with little work history is now beginning in London.
According to the MWA study, those who weren’t employed in charity shops were largely working for recycling or conservation charities. The Conservation (so called) Volunteers (@tcvtweets) have been revealed as one of the largest exploiters of unpaid work. Pressure on these shabby organisations – who are only to happy to undermine genuine volunteering by forcing people to work for free – can only hasten the inevitable demise of forced unpaid work.
The report can be read at: http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/report_abstracts/rr_abstracts/rra_823.asp