“Residential training” for disabled people to be extended

I’ve just come across this government document “Residential Training Provision – Independent Advisory Panel Report” [PDF] and I’m freaking out a bit. I may be wrong – I’m too exhausted to get through the whole document – but it’s full of scary statements.

“Although the primary focus of the panel’s work has been to review the provision of what is often referred to as specialist disability employment training as delivered by Residential Training providers, the panel has been mindful of other DWP programmes such as Work Choice and Work Programme and note the disappointing statistics published recently.”

The document is a review of residential training for disabled people. It makes plenty of reference to “markets”, to “cost/benefit analysis” and to how the programme is great because it is “intensive”. It doesn’t make any mention of the potential health impact of an intensive course on a sick or disabled person, or the practicalities of being away from home with familiarity, provisions for medicines and care, or the impact of upheaval and stress of being forced to go away. In my opinion the most scary statement is this one:

“In the vast majority of cases, the type and severity of a person’s impairment/health condition has little bearing on their ability to secure and sustain employment”

It seems that plans are already in place to send a lot more people on such residential training.

“If the provision continues following this review it will be subjected to an open competition to tender for contracts for provision post August 31st 2014.”

There are plans for non-disabled people too.

The panel considers that the provision can be improved in the following ways:
1) Increase numbers that use the residential element including reaching out to nondisabled people who are long term unemployed and would specifically benefit from the provision e.g. they would benefit from a holistic and intense approach. It could be more cost effective to increase numbers of RT trainees, as the unit cost of provision would then be driven down.

Read the full document – Residential Training Provision – Independent Advisory Panel Report” [PDF]

UPDATE

This isn’t what I thought it was on first impressions, however I still have serious reservations about it. As is pointed out in the comments below:

“This is talking about residential colleges that currently exist that are primarily for adults with severe learning difficulties and/or multiple complex needs. When people in that group reach 19 it often their fervent wish to go to one of these residential places and they often don’t get the chance.”

So, I can see that this can be a positive thing in some circumstances and I was wrong to call it a work camp. However, the attitude of the review bothers me a lot. To claim that impairments and health conditions don’t keep people out of work is just plain wrong. Overcoming barriers in society can only get someone so far; sometimes an impairment just will not let a person work. The suggestion to roll this scheme out to long-term unemployed people shows there is a view that this “holistic intensive approach” is to be used elsewhere, and my fear is that it will be applied to people who are significantly sick or disabled but unlucky enough to be in the work related activity group for ESA. Combined with the DWP’s penchant for sanctions this could be a very bad thing. Also not addressed is how sick and disabled people will function away from their support structures at home.

Do I really have to say why workfare is wrong?

Workfare Times cartoon

Workfare replaces paid jobs with unpaid labour

“Did you know we could offer you free, temporary staff for four weeks?”

– Previous advertising material from JHP Employability.

“After the 6 weeks were up the manager asked him if he would like to stay on for some extra weeks, my friend asked ‘with pay’? The manager said why would he pay him when he can pick the phone up and get more unemployed people who have to work for nothing”

Comment on Guardian CIF about a work placement with Tesco

“Stores such as Argos, Asda, Superdrug and Shoezone made use of the government’s workfare schemes to meet their seasonal demand, instead of hiring extra staff or offering overtime.”

red pepper: Workfare: a policy on the brink

Workfare keeps wages down for those still in jobs.

“It’s obvious that workfare workers are replacing paid jobs – pushing our low-wage economy down towards a no-wage economy.”

– Natalie Bennett – Leader of the Green Party

Workfare is literally worse than useless

“5 per cent of long-term unemployed can be expected to find jobs for six months if left alone to do so.

Successful six month employment rate during the first year of the Work Programme was just 2.3 per cent, significantly below the target of 5.5 per cent.”

– Telegraph: Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme ‘worse than doing nothing’ (The Work Programme includes work placements.)

Workfare subsidises big business

Instead of paying wages that contribute taxes and spending back into the economy, big companies like Tesco and Poundland benefit from free labour while continuing to keep the workers reliant on benefits at our expense. That money goes straight into shareholder’s profits.

Workfare does not provide the training that it is meant to

Work experience schemes are meant to provide training for future jobs. Instead we have people with extensive education toward a chosen career being sent to stack shelves and sweep floors which does not further them in the career they have trained for at all. Even when a person expects to find work in retail, four weeks experience in shelf stacking is hardly a necessity to do the job in future. In most cases little or no training is being given and the work placement consists only of manual labour.

Workfare exploits sick and disabled people

People who receive Employment Support Allowance and are placed in the Work Related Activity Group can be sent on The Work Programme or Mandatory Work Activity. Charities such as Sue Ryder, The Conservation Volunteers and The Salvation Army are fully aware of that, even enthusiastic, although TCV has now announced it will not force people on ESA to volunteer(!) and Sue Ryder has pulled out altogether.

“How can we morally take sick and disabled people and force them to work?

At The Salvation Army, we have a history of believing in emancipation through employment. People who come for work experience with us are fully supported throughout their placements with help tailored support to their needs.”

The Salvation Army, in a comment on Facebook

“Arbeit Mach Frei”

The Nazis

Workfare is costing poor people money they don’t have

People sent on work schemes are having to pay for transport to get there without any extra income. Sick and disabled people are often being hit particularly hard by transport costs as they are too sick to use the bus or train and end up paying for taxis to avoid having their benefits cut.

Workfare is damaging the health of sick and disabled people

People in the Work Related Activity Group on Employment Support Allowance are not fit for work, they are considered to potentially be fit for work at some unknown point in the next few years. And yet they can be sent to work nearly full time (30 hours) for several weeks. Of course it’s going to damage their health.

Workfare doesn’t create new jobs, only changes who might be in a job.

If there aren’t any jobs being created then all workfare does is give the employer weeks of free labour from one or more people before they employ someone, if they even need to.

Workfare doesn’t pay wages

“A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work”

the least that an employee should demand.

Whatever you think of workfare, retroactive laws are wrong

IDS - "We've heard enough of you"
“We’ve heard enough of you.”

Iain Duncan Smith is rushing a bill through in just one day that will retroactively change the law to undo a court judgement against the government.

Even if you don’t believe that it is wrong to send people to work unpaid for large profit-making companies under threat of loss of benefits, the idea that the government can change the law in the past should terrify you. Human rights law includes the idea that a person cannot be punished for something that was not illegal until after the act, although no doubt the department of work and pensions will claim that sanctions that remove benefit are not punishment despite the name “sanctions”. A government that will change the law in the past at will is a government that is out of control and has no limits on the damage that it can do.

Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP must be aware that their actions will contravene human rights law. From the explanatory notes:

“The Government considers that Article 6 is not engaged at all since the claim to entitlement to benefit, and any dispute regarding a benefit decision thereon which would require access to the courts, remains hypothetical.”

Strangely, despite considering article 6, the right to a fair trial, the government don’t even mention article 7, which guarantees rights against retroactive punishment. They could try to argue, as quoted above, that entitlement to benefit is hypothetical and therefore sanctions are withdrawal not punishment.

It is an affront to democracy and justice too to rush a bill through in one day so as to apply it without proper scrutiny before any appeal reaches the court and the government required to repay those who were subject to illegal sanctions.

To change the law for the future is one thing, but to try to reverse a lawful decision by the court against the government for the sake of £130 million, a drop in the ocean for welfare, looks like a childish hissy fit by the work and pensions secretary. His action undermines the rule of law and destroys what little respect people may have left for MPs.

parliament.uk: Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill 2012-13

DWP: Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill Impact Assessment [PDF]


Update 19:25

The government rushed through the second reading, committee stage (no ammendments) and third reading in one afternoon. The final vote passed the bill by 263 to 52. Labour’s official policy was to abstain, although about forty Labour MPs voted against it. There were some very impassioned speeches in particular from Iain Lavery and John McDonnell who even recommended looking at the Boycott Workfare website.I have uploaded videos of those speeches and included them here. They’re worth a watch.

Iain Duncan Smith slips up: “She was paid jobseeker’s allowance to do this”

IDS the puppermaster
Illustration by @dochackenbush

Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed on the Andrew Marr show today. He made some telling statements.

“I understand she said she wasn’t paid. She was paid jobseeker’s allowance, by the taxpayer, to do this.”

Funny, the government have always said that this wasn’t a work-for-your-benefits scheme but IDS seems to think it is.  In fact, the official response by the DWP to a petition to abolish Workfare said:

“We do not have Work for Your Benefit or Workfare schemes in this country.”

Furthermore, in a response to a Freedom of Information request the DWP said:

“Benefit is not paid to the claimant as remuneration for the activity. “

They continue:

“Instead, performing it is one of a number of conditions which may have to be fulfilled by the claimant in order to be paid Jobseeker’s Allowance.  The relationship between the claimant, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and any third parties involved in providing the activity is not one of employment.”

In my opinion that is a serious mistake by IDS. If, as IDS says, benefits are being paid as wages for work experience schemes, then it I suspect that it breaches minimum wage laws. If they are not, as officially claimed by his department, then we have forced unpaid labour. I thought that people paid National Insurance in the expectation that when people needed help they would be supported. Having to work for it is a breach of contract.

“I’m sorry, but there is a group of people out there who think they’re too good for this kind of stuff.”

People don’t think they’re too good for shelf stacking, they think they’re too good for shelf stacking without receiving a fair wage for it. Is “A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” really a controversial statement in the 21st century?

“Who is more important – them, the geologist, or the person who stacked the shelves?”

Every person is important, including shelf stackers. Geologists are pretty important especially in the oil industry.

“Let me remind you that [former Tesco chief executive] Terry Leahy started his life stacking shelves.”

He was paid for it!

BBC News: Duncan Smith: Shelf-stacking is more important than geology

My thanks to @A11_Seeing_Eye and @Spoonydoc for help with this article.

UPDATE

Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed by James O’Brien on LBC who put the question of remuneration to him. Listen:

DWP work schemes found illegal

The Court of Appeal has ruled today that the Department of Work and Pensions back-to-work schemes are illegal because the regulations that Iain Duncan Smith created to allow the schemes overstepped the law. (An act of Parliament allows for regulations to be created to specify the detail of the law, these regulations went further than Parliament had allowed for.) The court did not find that the schemes violated article 4 of the Human Rights Act, nor did it find that the concept of making people undertake work experience to increase employment prospects would be a problem were it in an act of parliament. Since these work schemes have been proven to actually reduce employment prospects, however, it is possible that the schemes may yet be found to violate human rights.

Public Interest Lawyers explain the judgement:

“The Court found that the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, has acted beyond the powers given to him by Parliament by failing to provide, any detail about the various “Back to Work” schemes in the Regulations. The Government had bypassed Parliament by introducing the Back to Work schemes administratively under an “umbrella” scheme knwons as the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme, claiming the need for “flexibility’. The Court of Appeal held that this was contrary to what Parliament had required.”

Paragraph 63 of the judgment criticises the information given to the benefit claimants. I have covered this in previous blog posts (Mandatory unpaid work – the evidence) where I explained that letters sent out state clearly that the work experience is not optional and will result in sanctions while DWP ministers have simultaneously appeared on TV to claim that the work is voluntary and that they have not forced anyone.

Public Interest Lawyers also tell us that:

“The effect of the judgment is that all those people who have been sanctioned by having their jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the Back to Work Schemes affected will be entitled to reclaim their benefits. And until new regulations are enacted with proper Parliamentary approval nobody can be compelled to participate on the schemes.”

The two people who brought this case were made to take part in Sector based work Academies and in the Community Action Programme. I do no know whether this judgement affects Work Experience arranged either by the Job Centre or as part of The Work Programme however it does not affect Mandatory Work Activity, which remains legal. It should be noted that some people who refused to co-operate with “voluntary” work experience were referred to Mandatory Work Activity as a result which allowed for sanctions, but this was not covered either.

In a written statement today Minster for Employment Mark Hoban MP said:

“Whilst the judgment supports the principle and policy of our employment schemes, and acknowledges the care and resources we have dedicated to implementing them, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011 (“the ESE Regulations”) do not describe the employment schemes to which they apply, as is required by the primary legislation. The Court of Appeal has therefore held the ESE Regulations to be ultra vires and quashed them.”

The government has been refused leave to appeal by the Court of Appeal but despite this they have announced that they will appeal to the supreme court to have the judgement overturned. Job Seekers who have been sanctioned by the DWP will not be able to appeal to the DWP for the repayment of their benefits until this has finished. Worryingly the minister also stated that the DWP are “considering a range of options to ensure we do not have to repay these sanctions.” This suggests to me that there will be a hastily enacted act of Parliament to move the scheme from regulations into law, but even then I cannot see how it could be retroactive.

Further Reading

The lawyers: Court of Appeal Rules that the Government’s “Back to Work” Regulations are Unlawful and Must Be Quashed

The Judges: Full judgement of the Court Of Appeal [PDF]

The DWP: Written Ministerial Statement: Judgment in Wilson/Reilly case [PDF]

The regulations: The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011

The Guardian: Graduate’s Poundland victory leaves government work schemes in tatters

Johnny Needs More Than Chalk – why welfare reform needs a cumulative impact assessment

To do his schoolwork, the bare minimum Johnny needs is: paper, a pen, a teacher, a school, a chair to sit on, a desk to sit at, and a packed lunch.

If you take away just Johnny’s lunch, he will go hungry. It would be almost impossible for him to concentrate and do well in school. However, in theory, he could still do schoolwork.

If you just took away his desk, it would make it tricky to write, but Johnny could still do his schoolwork. It would just take longer and be less neat.

If you just took away his teacher, he could, in theory, go to libraries and museums to learn. In theory. Hypothetically, it’s still possible that he could teach himself something, so he could still do his schoolwork.

If you take away his paper and pen and school all at once, he can still sit on the floor and use chalk to write on the ground.

But if you take away Johnny’s paper, pen, teacher, school, chair, desk and lunch, all at once, Johnny is sitting on some ground with nothing, hungry, without a roof over his head. It’s hard to learn anything at all sitting alone, on the ground, with nothing but a piece of chalk.

Now imagine you have a disability or a long-term chronic illness. To manage it with a degree of dignity, you need a carer, a roof over your head, a bed, heating, food and transport. You rely on the carer, who comes in twice a day from social services, because she helps you to get up and get dressed and washed. Without her, you would have to spend all day, every day in bed. But at least you still have a bed.

Or maybe you rely on housing benefit to keep a roof over your head. You are forced to move to a smaller property on the 5th floor of a tower block when your housing benefit is cut. The lift doesn’t work. It means you have to move away from family and friends who help you out whenever they can. They cook meals perhaps, or help with all those jobs around the house you just can’t do.

But at least you still have somewhere to live.

Or maybe you rely on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for transport. It means you can get a taxi to the hairdresser or social club. Without it, you would become isolated. It would be impossible to get to your GP or make hospital appointments.

But, in theory at least, you don’t actually need to go anywhere.

If, however, you cut Disability Living Allowance, housing benefits, social care, hospital budgets, the Independent Living Fund,  Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), income support and the Social Fund, then you are just lying in a bed, hungry and isolated, a prisoner in someone else’s home.

Governments must perform what is called an “impact assessment” on any new policy or law. This government has done the bare minimum to fulfil this commitment. Would it surprise you to know, for instance, that when considering the greatest cuts to disability support in living memory, they claim that they will have no impact on health, no impact on well-being, no impact on human rights, and no impact on the justice system?

The crucial flaw is that they have independently assessed each cut to the services disabled people rely on, as if it existed in a vacuum.

The government has refused to do an overall impact assessment. They have repeatedly refused to assess what thecombined impact of their cuts will be. First they said it would be too expensive, then they said it would be too difficult!

Why might it be too difficult? Because they know, as we know, that, metaphorically speaking, the result will be little Johnny sitting on the floor with nothing but a piece of chalk, hungry, without a roof over his head.

The combined impact of removing someone’s DLA so they can no longer afford care or transport, heating or food, cutting their ESA so that they must look for work with cancer or multiple sclerosis, cutting their local care support so that they cannot clean themselves or feed themselves, cutting their housing support so that they risk homelessness and, to cap it all, scrapping the Social Fund so that there is no safety net when all else fails, is a strategy so risky that it ought to be criminalised.

We call upon the government to immediately carry out an overall impact assessment of all the cuts to the support that sick and disabled people rely on to live. I’ll say it again – to live. And they must do it now, before it’s too late. Because it’s hard to survive, sitting in the dirt with nothing but a piece of chalk.

First posted by The Occupied Times.

Please sign WOW Petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment.

Iain Duncan Smith is proud of getting people off benefits

IDS - "We've heard enough of you"
“We’ve heard enough from you.”

Owen Jones confronted Iain Duncan Smith with the names of two people who have died as a result of the work capability assessment. He did not react well. I urge you to watch this video of the last part of Question Time, particularly the last minute if you want to see what IDS is really like.

“Hang on a second, we’ve heard a lot from you. Let me tell you something. I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who are parked, nobody saw them for over ten years, not working, with no hope, no aspiration, we are changing their lives, I am proud of doing that, getting them off benefit is what we are going to do.”

Iain Duncan Smith is proud of getting people off benefits. Never mind that there is no work for them to go to even if they can, and that the way lives are being changed is by sending people further into poverty and homelessness. Not only that, but he thinks that being “parked on benefits” and left alone is a bad thing. Well those of us on permanent sickness and disability benefits do have hopes and aspirations. We hope to not have too much pain today and we aspire to getting the care that we need so that we can undertake something entertaining that isn’t lying in bed waiting to die. We probably don’t aspire to being a rich Tory, which is probably similar to being dead in the head of Iain Duncan Smith. As for nobody seeing sick people, now they are being reassessed so frequently that they are committing suicide. Winning an appeal at tribunal often leads to an immediate call to another assessment.

https://twitter.com/crazybladeuk/status/271197324594786305

Dead people don't get benefits
Dead people don’t get benefits – cartoon by @dochackenbush

Further Reading

Brian Mcardle: Atos benefits bullies killed my sick dad, says devastated Kieran, 13

Karen Sherlock: How many more disabled people will die frightened that their benefits will be taken away?

Karen’s Story – RIP Karen Sherlock, Disability Rights Campaigner – Died June 8th 2012

Hundreds more: The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment

 

What’s the difference between 1930s Germany and modern-day Britain?

Before we start I would like to point out that I am not a historian and I am not a sociologist and as such I have done my best to present the information here as I understand it. With that out of the way, I’ll start with an overview of how disabled people were treated in Germany during WWII.

1930s Germany

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda
A poster about how expensive disabled people are.

The Aktion T4 programme ran in Germany from 1939 to 1945. In the 1920s  Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding, part of an extreme eugenics movement, advocated killing those who were judged to have “life unworthy of life.”  In the 1930s there were huge cuts to state institutions causing overcrowding and Nazi propaganda emphasised the cost of caring for mentally ill and disabled people. In 1939 parents of disabled child Gerhard Kretschmar wrote to Hitler to ask him to permit their child to be killed. Hitler agreed and immediately set up a committee whose job was to organise more such murders – Aktion T4. When the war started parents were told that their mentally ill and physically disabled children were being sent to special treatments centres. In fact they were murdered without the knowledge of the parents. The programme was soon extended to adults, starting in Poland then in Germany. Throughout the programme Hitler knew that there would be huge opposition to such killing and so he never put his orders in writing. The one exception was a secret letter written to authorise the formation of the Aktion T4 programme, mainly because his justice minister would not cooperate without one. The programme operated in secrecy until it was too late for most people. Under the programme at least 200,000 disabled people were murdered over six years, either through lethal medication, starvation or gas chambers.

Modern Britain

Now we jump forward to Britain today. The events I describe in the paragraph above are unthinkable. No government minister, no tabloid newspaper, no man in the street would advocate such things, right?

That’s not quite true though. Most of the pieces are in place. We have propaganda pushing the idea that sick and disabled people are scroungers, workshy, lazy. This propaganda is coming from government ministers, their special advisers, and tabloids like the Daily Express, The Sun, the Daily Mail. Even broadsheets like the Times and the Telegraph have contributed. Such propaganda has even been raised by MPs in the Work and Pensions Select Committee and ministers told to stop. The propaganda is working too, with hate crimes against disabled people up in vast numbers.

We have many people fighting to legalise assisted suicide, inadvertently promoting the idea that life for some people is not worth living. Sure, we’re only asking for voluntary euthanasia, but what other factors might be in play? Pressure to stop being a burden, financial problems, cuts to care all contribute to a desire for death. If euthanasia becomes legal what is to stop people from being pushed to kill themselves? It may be overt or it may be through suggestion and through making their lives hell. (This is more my fear of how it could go wrong than any judgement on my part for or against euthanasia.)

We have cuts to local authority care budgets, starting in Worcestershire, that mean anyone whose care costs more than sending them to an institution will lose some care. The politicians argue that it’s a choice because people can choose to move to a care home or to cut some of their care provision. But what to cut? Eating? Washing? Dressing? Using a toilet? We have already seen people lose in court after fighting to not have to wear a nappy. Adults are expected to soil themselves rather than get help to use a toilet. We have also seen the loss of the independent living fund. The net result is loss of care or institutionalising people. Most care homes are run by private companies and neglect does not seem uncommon. I think more abuse and neglect is likely especially when companies are cutting costs because they have underquoted better homes.

We have sick and disabled people being  judged as fit to work and told to claim job seeker’s allowance and look for work, and we have even more seriously sick and disabled people being placed in the Work Related Activity Group. Both groups are subject to The Work Programme where they are expected to undertake unpaid work experience for large companies, and government plans are to make such work placements of unlimited duration. Work makes you free.

Under these plans anyone who is seen to not be cooperating with The Work Programme and other work related activities will see their benefit income slashed. Those on Job Seeker’s Allowance can have their entire allowance removed entirely for weeks, even six months. Those on Employment Support Allowance (e.g. too sick to work) will see three quarters of their allowance removed. Of course anyone who has been judged as fit to work or has been placed in the WRAG is expected to be capable of going on work placements even if their assessment was wrong and they are waiting a year for an appeal, and even if people are seriously harmed by trying to work. The result is that those who don’t destroy themselves trying to find jobs that don’t exist or going to endless work placements will instead not be able to afford food, clothes, fuel bills, rent and more. Many will be able to use food banks but some will not be physically able to get to them and food banks rely on charity from other people who are struggling too.

The result

Is it such a large step for disabled people to be dying? No. It’s already  happening. Reports in April claimed that 1,100 people had already died after being placed in the work related activity group. That’s more than thirty people a week. This is what Chris Grayling calls “Tough love.”

Some government ministers make policy decisions without thinking about the consequences of what will happen in practice. Others are fully aware of what will happen and just don’t care. Either way, they are often covered by claiming that their policy in itself does not harm people, even though the flaws with implementation allow people to fall through the net and come to harm. Government ignore evidence. They dismiss statistics, they blame the previous government, they claim that processes are being sorted out now, they claim that any harm is the fault of the sick or disabled or unemployed individual. The Government are hiding behind Atos and A4e who are “just carrying out orders” but they way they carry out those orders makes things even worse. Government ministers have the same attitude as many other people in power – they can say “make it happen” and the minions do the dirty work.

In 1930s Germany the government themselves ordered the rounding up and the killing of disabled people. In modern-day Britain the government can claim that it is not their fault, even that it should not happen, but private companies and the chasm of bureaucracy between various government departments are what kill people. Starvation, homelessness and neglect are what will kill people. The implementation is different and the scale is different but the attitude and the outcome are the same.

 

Further Reading

Godwin’s law must die [A Latent Existence]

Action T4 [Wikipedia]

Disabled benefits claimants face £71 a week fines for breaching work plan [The Guardian]

32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit [Mirror]

Early day motion 295 [Parliament]

Work-or-starve plans for seriously ill welfare claimants might backfire [Eklesia]

Past Caring? [We are Spartacus]

 

DWP still breaking their own rules on Mandatory Work Activity

I suppose it was only a matter of time until one of the various things that I have been campaigning about hit someone closer to home.

My brother left college last year after finishing a BTEC National Diploma in Computing with a good result. Unfortunately jobs in IT are few and far between in this area and so after a few months he claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance while looking for a work. Wishing to continue his education but unwilling to rack up tens of thousands in student loans, he started an Open University course in Computing earlier this year (Which still attracts a course fee of £2,500 per year for part time study) with the intention of finding a part time job to pay his living costs.

My brother has turned up for his appointments at the Job Centre every fortnight except the one that clashed with our grandfather’s funeral. He went on the rather pointless one-day course that he was ordered to attend but that offered him only literacy and maths help far below the level of his qualifications. He has applied for jobs, although perhaps not as many as he could have, and filled in his Job Seeker’s record.

Then a couple of weeks ago during his regular signing-on he was asked if he was willing to undertake work experience. Not being unwilling if it would help his employment opportunities, and also fearful of what the repercussions would be if he refused, he said yes. Soon afterwards he received a text message from the DWP. It informed him that he was to start Mandatory Work Activity and would be contacted soon by a private company that would arrange his placement.

This was quickly followed up by a letter giving more details, reproduced here:

DWP letter MWA05 ESG

 

The letter reads:

To continue recieving Jobseeker’s Allowance and/or National Insurance credits, you must take part in Mandatory Work Activity.

ESG HOLDINGS LTD, or one of their partners, will support you whilst on Mandatory Work Activity. They will discuss with you the work placement and the support it will provide to improve your chances of getting and keeping a job.

You must complete any activities that ESG HOLDINGS LTD asks you to do.

You will still need to attend the Jobcentre and meet your benefit conditions, including attending Fortnightly Jobsearch Reviews and any other interviews and being available for and actively seeking employment.

ESG HOLDINGS LTD will let you know when you will start Mandatory Work Activity. You must participate until you are told otherwise.

If you fail to participate in Mandatory Work Activity without a good reason, your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks. You could also lose your National Insurance credits.

We have passed your details onto ESG HOLDINGS LTD who will be in contact with you shortly.

This letter was followed up by a phone call from ESG HOLDINGS and my brother was told to attend a placement at the British Heart Foundation shop for thirty hours per week over five days per week for four weeks.

However, campaign group Boycott Workfare were told in February that the British Heart Foundation would not take people who were forced to attend work with them:

The British Heart Foundation, contacted by a Boycott Workfare campaigner back in November, were insistent that they “would not actively encourage any placements, regardless of the scheme name, where the person involved is not a willing participant…

It is in the rules that after six months job seekers are sent to The Work Programme, but that is a different thing altogether to Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) and in any case he has not quite finished six months on JSA. The Work Programme involves learning skills and various activities, applying for work, and some work experience. Mandatory Work Activity is by definition forced on people and only involves work placements. In reality both involve forced work for no pay or face having no Jobseeker’s Allowance for six month, but the government did try to claim that The Work Programme was not compulsory. (They were lying though.) Even if JSA is counted as a wage for the work done it works out at far less than the legal minimum wage, and with MWA the job seeker has no choice in who they work for or what they do. Placements can be far outside of the skillset of the job seeker, or against their moral position, but are still compulsory.

A DWP guidance document released through a Freedom of Information request in January tells us a few relevant facts about the MWA scheme which I will quote in the next few paragraphs.

It has not been explained to my brother WHY he has been sent for MWA. Here’s what the DWP guidance says MWA is for:

15. A JSA claimant potentially suitable for MWA is one identified through the work targeted interview process, supported by use of the Customer Assessment Tool, as lacking ,or failing to demonstrate, the focus and discipline that is necessary to effectively:

  • seek out and pursue job opportunities
  • secure and retain employment

16. MWA may be beneficial for a claimant that has recently received a labour market related sanction/disallowance, providing an opportunity for them to develop the skills, disciplines and behaviours sought by employers.

19. If a lack of recent work experience is proving to be a barrier to finding work for an otherwise well-focused claimant, Advisory Teams must seek to address this through appropriate measures eg Work Together; MWA is not an appropriate measure in such cases

None of these conditions would seem to apply. My brother has attended all but one of his interviews and has looked for work. He hasn’t received any sanctions for failure to look for work. He doesn’t entirely lack work experience; he has helped out a lot over the last two years in a large kitchen for a charity that provides a conference centre and guest house, and has received training there. In any case, MWA is not to be used to provide work experience. Then we must address the issue that he was not given any indication that he would be placed on MWA or any way to avoid it:

22. A referral to MWA must never come as a surprise to a claimant. If a claimant’s circumstances suggest that they may be suitable for MWA, the adviser must:

  • explain to the claimant that they are being considered for referral and the reasons why i.e. to develop skills, disciplines and behaviours that are widely valued by employers and that can help them in seeking employment.
  • provide an overview of the provision to the claimant
  • explain to the claimant that the case for referring them will be discussed with the Advisory Team Manager in line with district implementation protocols to support MWA
  • explain to the claimant that if they are subsequently referred to MWA, their participation will be mandatory
  • record, as an LMS conversation, that the discussion with the claimant has taken place and the reasons cited for considering an MWA referral

NB The language and tone used when discussing MWA with claimants is crucial. MWA must never be used as a threat or portrayed as a punitive measure.

The news about the MWA was given by text message. However, the guidance states:

26. The referral must be made within an adviser interview (a flexible intervention interview should be used).

27. The adviser undertaking the referral must take the following actions:

  1.  Explain to the claimant:
    • why they are being referred
    • that the case for referring them has been discussed, and agreed, by the Advisory Team Manager
    • what the provision entails
    • how we expect them to benefit from the provision
    • that any travel and/or care costs they incur will be met by the provider

None of this actually took place. In the absence of any plausible reason for my brother’s referral to MWA and given that the correct procedure does not seem to have been followed in the slightest, I have to conclude that job seekers are being given mandatory work at random in contravention of their own rules, or that staff have some other motive such as targets to send for unpaid work. Perhaps the advisers don’t even know the difference between The Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity.

 

 

Letter to my MP: objection to compulsory unpaid work

UK Parliament (freefoto.com)Dear Mr Luff,

I am writing to inform you of my opposition to schemes run by the DWP and the government which send people to do unpaid work and threaten sanctions for refusal to attend. I oppose the use of sanctions and removal of benefits of any sort to compel people to take part in unpaid work or to continue in unpaid work. I feel strongly that any such work placement must be entirely voluntary on the part of the job seeker. I understand that these schemes are a core Conservative policy, however I am not satisfied that this policy has majority support from the public.

Please be aware that I oppose ALL such schemes, including the work experience scheme, the compulsory work element of the work programme, the community action programme, sector-based academies, and mandatory work activity. I am sure there are others that I have missed. I find it very offensive to be told by Iain Duncan-Smith and Chris Grayling that “these are not the schemes that people are protesting about” when myself and others are very definitely protesting about all of these schemes. Even the spokesman in the DWP press office whom I spoke to in the course of writing about these schemes made this allegation, and it is simply not true. There is widespread objection to people being made to do unpaid work or face loss of benefits.

I believe that work experience can provide useful skills and training to job seekers however I do not believe that this will be found performing manual labour such as restocking shelves or cleaning floors in a supermarket, or, indeed, being sent out as cleaners to clean people’s homes. Such placements merely make use of job seekers as free labour to subsidise already profitable business but the claimants will not learn many useful skills at all, if any. As such I believe that work experience placements must be limited to those where job seekers are provided with a genuine learning opportunity and they are not displacing other paid workers as has happened in the case of Tesco and other supermarkets. (I have evidence for all of these assertions which I will be pleased to provide if you wish to query them.)

Additionally I must draw your attention to the plight of claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been placed in the Work Related Activity Group. As things stand and under the welfare reform bill these people, who have been declared not fit to work at the moment but potentially fit to work in the next 2 to 5 years WITH the right support (by one of the designers of ESA) will be mandated to attend the work programme if Atos has decided that they will be fit to work within 3 months. Since a vast number of people are currently waiting for appeals against their placement in the WRAG rather than the support group, and since such appeals are taking a year or more, and since many people have overturned the decision on appeal, it is highly likely that people who are far to sick to work are being made to take part in the work programme and as part of that are being mandated to attend unpaid work placements. This is clearly not right in a society that claims to support those who are too sick to work. As patron of an ME support group you should be aware that many people with ME are being placed in the WRAG and later moved to the ESA support group on appeal, and these people can suffer serious setbacks as a result of being made to participate in the work programme or even work focussed interviews.

Yesterday employment minister Mr Grayling supposedly made concessions to guarantee there would be no use of sanctions on people withdrawing from the work experience scheme. However I have seen the statement yesterday from the minister in which he stated that “The work experience scheme remains and is totally voluntary.” and also that “The sanction regime remains in place.” As I understand it he has not admitted that whatever the rules may be, job seekers are routinely led to believe that placements are mandatory and threatened with loss of benefits if they fail to start or withdraw from the placement. There may be a small technicality here but in practice such work placements are not optional from the point of view of the job seeker. Again, I have evidence of these allegations taken from the DWP’s own documentation and from several people subject to compulsory work which I can forward to you if you wish.

I therefore would like you to make it plain to the employment minister that he must move towards removing all sanctions for failure to attend work experience placements.

Please do not reply to this email with a standard “everything is fine” letter, as I find these to be rather dismissive and I would be grateful if you could address the points that I have raised here.

Yours Sincerely,

Steven Sumpter.

PS

I have heard of cases where job seekers who have declined work experience have been immediately sent for mandatory work activity instead. This seems a vindictive way for job centre advisers to force compliance.

I also have found some of the responses from Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and David Cameron to be highly offensive. I object to being called “job snobs” “trotskyites” “Anti-capitalist extremists” “unemployed anarchists” and to protests being attributed to the SWP.  These are intended as insults, not arguments, and are not what I expect to hear from government ministers.