Sanctions removed from work experience – but only a small victory

The government today caved in to bad publicity and agreed to remove the possibility of sanctions from those who refuse to take part in the work experience scheme. Those guilty of gross misconduct may still be sanctioned with removal of benefits.

However, a DWP spokesperson confirmed to me this afternoon that it is only the work experience scheme which is affected by this change. Those on the work programme, which is run by third party providers such as the disgraced A4e, may still face sanctions if they do not cooperate with the programme. As detailed in the previous article on this site, it is mandatory to attend the work programme after a set amount of time receiving Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance. The DWP spokesperson pointed out that the work programme provides much more than just work experience placements and referral to the programme does not necessarily mean undertaking work experience.

In addition to the work programme there are several other schemes involving compulsory work including the community action programme and mandatory work activity. There is also the possibility that those who refuse work experience may be picked for mandatory work activity, and then sanctioned if they refuse to take part in that.

I discussed with the DWP the issue of those who are receiving ESA and placed in the work related activity group being referred to the work programme and possibly for work experience. This is problematic since at the current time many people overturn the decision to place them in the WRAG on appeal and appeals can take a year in many cases so that people who are not fit for the work programme, never mind fit for work might be sent for work experience. The spokesperson did point out that people can present evidence and ask for a reconsideration before going for an appeal, although since at least 40% of those who appeal their decision go on to overturn it I do not think this is enough to ensure that everyone on the work programme is physically and mentally up to the task.

As it stands then, the removal of sanctions from the work experience scheme is a minor victory but the danger is that it will convince the public that all is well once more and the anger over people being made to work without pay may cool. Jobseekers and sick people can still be referred to the work programme where companies such as A4e can send people to do unpaid work experience or face loss of benefits. In the case of those who recieve ESA there is no limit to the length of time they may be made to work without pay. Bizarrely, now that sanctions for refusing work experience have been removed, it may be the case that only people over 24 and those who are officially too sick to work can be forced to work unpaid.

Mandatory unpaid work – the evidence

The government are relying on technicalities to claim that unpaid work experience is voluntary. In fact they claim that they are entirely voluntary which is blatantly not true. There are multiple schemes which involve unpaid work. Some of them are:

  • The Work Experience Scheme
  • The Work Programme
  • Mandatory Work Activity
  • Community Action Programme
  • Sector-Based Work Academies

Government ministers have been trying to direct attention to the first of these, the work experience scheme, which is almost voluntary. Technically a job seeker has the option to attend work experience or not. The acknowledged element of compulsion is that once someone has been in a work experience placement for a week they can be sanctioned if they leave it. In practice, job seekers may be sanctioned if they refuse to start a placement too. The wording of the standard letter on being sent to do work experience is very strong and does not give the impression that the placement is optional, and people on the scheme have frequently reported that their advisers led them to believe that they had no choice.

The second scheme on the list, the work programme, leads do compulsory unpaid work in two steps. First, referral to the work programme – where a contracted provider administers training, skills development and work experience for the job seeker – is mandatory after a defined time period. Job seekers aged 18 – 24 will be referred after 9 months, aged 25+ after 12 months, and ESA claimants in the work related activity group within 3 – 6 months. Secondly, once on the work programme it is mandatory to take up a work experience placement when ordered to by the company running the programme.

The third scheme, mandatory work activity, speaks for itself. It is up to the Job Centre adviser to choose whether or when to send someone for mandatory work. It is supposed to be used when job seekers have behaved badly or refused to comply with direction from the Job Centre, and to provide discipline for those who have never worked. In practice it can be used vindictively by the adviser with no recourse for the job seeker. Unpaid work under this scheme is supposed to only be work that directly benefits the community but again in practice things are different and the work can be something that does not benefit the community directly, but instead brings profit to an employer who does some community work as well.

Government ministers and the DWP have tried to portray these schemes as being for young people aged 18 to 24 however that is not the case. People of all ages have been sent to do unpaid and unskilled work including those with decades of experience or multiple qualifications in their subject.

Here is an image showing the standard letter sent to job seekers on being sent to do work experience:

Work experience letter: you could lose benefit

The letter states:

Please note that if, without a good reason, you fail to start, fail to go when expected or stop going to the provision mentioned above (as in Section 19(5)(b) of the Jobseekers Act 1995), any future payments of Jobseeker’s Allowance could cease to be payable or could be payable at a lower rate. You could also lose entitlement to credit of National Insurance contributions. (Emphasis mine)

DWP memo DMG 08/11 JSA and work experience includes proof that people can be sanctioned for refusing to undertake unpaid work. Here’s a screenshot in case that document disapears:
DWP memo - JSA and work experience

WORK EXPERIENCE AND SANCTIONS

6 From 5.4.11 JSA may not be payable or it may be payable at a reduced rate to
claimants who are entitled to JSA
and have

3. after being notified by an Emp O of a place on a Work Experience, without good cause (see DMG 34751 – 34752)

3.1 refused or failed to apply for it or
3.2 refused to accept it when offered

or

4. neglected to avail themselves of a reasonable opportunity of a place on a Work Experience (see DMG 34757 – 34758)

This DWP Work Programme Statistical Release proves that referral to the work programme is mandatory. This image from page 7 shows the detail:

Work programme referal points

Another DWP document, Work Programme Provider Guidance chapter 3, proves that work experience is mandatory when sent as part of the work programme. Please note that the document has been modified to remove all trace of mandatory work experience, however you may see the original here. Work Programme Provider Guidance Chapter 3 (Original)

work programme provider guidance original

Paragraph 14 states:

Work Experience for JSA Claimants

14. Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity. This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated.

I also have letters sent to Aldston about the Community Action Programme which use similar terms to those used for the work experience scheme. See more at Aldston’s blog.

DWP letter - referral to community action programme

Provider letter - referral to community action programme

 

Apart from all that proof that unpaid work is mandatory, we also have strong indications that work experience placements are not helpful.

The DWP themselves comissioned a review of Workfare schemes in other countries, and you can read that for yourself – A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia

Their report concluded that Workfare schemes may actually make someone less likely to find work:

There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.

Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes. Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.

Full Fact have discovered that rates for leaving Job Seekers Allowance are the same whether work experience is taken or not.

Rates of leaving JSA

There is evidence that job seekers are being used purely as free unskilled labour rather than given beneficial experience:

Jobseekers forced to clean private homes and offices for nothing [Guardian]

In a clear conflict of interest work programme provider A4e has set people to work in their own offices:

A4e compelled jobseekers to work unpaid in its own offices [Guardian]

Finally, it is obvious that there are problems with sending people receiving ESA on the work programme:

My current experience for WRAG  [ABC of ESA]

Grayling: mandatory is voluntary; black is white

The standard letter sent out by the Job Centre to people who have been told to attend work experience gives an extremely strong impression that there is no choice and that the claimant will lose benefits if they do not attend. The letter says:

Please note that if, without a good reason, you fail to start, fail to go when expected or stop going to the provision mentioned above (as in Section 19(5)(b) of the Jobseekers Act 1995), any future payments of Jobseeker’s Allowance could cease to be payable or could be payable at a lower rate. You could also lose entitlement to credit of National Insurance contributions. (Emphasis mine)

 

Work experience letter: you could lose benefit

Although Chris Grayling and other ministers insist that the work experience scheme is voluntary, and that the claimant can withdraw in the first week, and point out that the above letter is sent to people after they have “volunteered” for the placement, the letter clearly states “If…you fail to start” which leaves no room for doubt that the placement is mandatory. Job seekers are also commonly led to believe in person by Job Centre advisors that the work experience is not optional. Channel 4 News interviewed several people who confirmed that they had been led to believe that they had no choice in taking work placements.

Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News confronted Chris Grayling with the evidence:

Grayling makes astonishing claims in the face of evidence. First he responds with misdirection and denial:

“It could be related to a scheme which has a training module attached.”

“Let’s be absolutely clear, the scheme is voluntary.”

“Cathy, I’m afraid that’s simply not true”

Worse, he tries to get very manipulative about this:

“I’m sure you’re not telling me that I’m not telling you the truth. I’m looking you in the eyes through the camera and saying to you this is a voluntary scheme.”

Except she IS telling him that. At the start of the interview Cathy Newman said:

“Either the letter is misleading or you’re misleading.”

Finally Grayling goes for claiming he hasn’t seen the evidence:

“Look, I haven’t seen the letter that you’ve got.”

However, as Cathy Newman tweeted after the interview, it was sent to him earlier in the day.

https://twitter.com/#!/cathynewman/status/174596000936239104

What it boils down to is this. The scheme might technically be voluntary. However, if Job Centre advisers tell people that they have no choice, and if official letters state very clearly that you can lose benefit if you do not start the placement, and if job seekers are not told that they can opt out in the first week without penalty, if everyone across the UK is under the impression that the scheme is mandatory, then the scheme might as well be mandatory.

The original story: “No benefits if you don’t work for free at Maplins” [Channel 4 News]

New row erupts over unpaid work placements [The Independent]

DWP edits documents to pretend work placements weren’t compulsory

The government have been consistently claiming that the Work Experience Scheme and the Work Programme are entirely voluntary, and that only Mandatory Work Activity is compulsory. They were lying, and now we have proof.

I previously pointed out that a DWP document proves that referral to the Work Programme is mandatory in many cases. This image taken from page 7 of the DWP Work Programme Statistical Release states that job seekers aged 18 – 24 will be referred after 9 months, aged 25+ after 12 months, and ESA claimants within 3 – 6 months.

Work programme referal points

Referral to the Work Programme does not automatically mean being sent to work in an unpaid work placement, but it does give full power over your future to the contracted Work Programme provider company. Thanks to the investigative work of Johnny Void we now have proof from a DWP guide for Work Programme providers that when a provider sends a job seeker to a work placement it is compulsory. Here is an image from the relevant page of the guide.

work programme provider guidance original

Paragraph 14 states:

Work Experience for JSA Claimants

14. Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity. This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated.

However, if you try to read the original document from the DWP website at this point that isn’t what you see. Instead you will see this page:

work programme provider guidance modified

The documents has been modified. The original paragraph 14 is gone and paragraph 15 has been relabelled as 14. Also note that the European Social Fund logo has been removed. Despite the changes, the version number of the document, shown at the bottom right corner, is V2.00 in both cases. Credit again goes to Johnny Void for spotting that the document had changed and finding the original document lurking in the Google cache.

You can check the Google cache for the original document at least until it updates to reflect the new one, and you can check the revised version from the DWP website. I have saved copies of both the original and the revised documents here. (My copy of the original was saved as a PDF from the Google cache.)

Work Programme Provider Guidance Chapter 3 (Original)

Work Programme Provider Guidance Chapter 3 (Revised)

Éoin Clarke has also discovered that the DWP have removed the latest version of the Work Programme prospectus from their web site, although the 2010 version is still available. The prospectus has a similar table to that at the top of this article. I have saved a copy of that document here too.

Work Programme Prospectus v2 (2010)

Not only do we have proof that Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith, David Cameron and the DWP were all lying, we also have proof that the DWP silently modified their documents to remove the evidence.

We are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

 

Grayling, Workfare and Lies. Again.

Yes, I’m afraid this is yet another blog post on Workfare and Chris Grayling. Sorry. I just couldn’t let this one go. Employment minister Chris Grayling spoke to Radio 4’s Today programme this morning at length and lied his way through the whole eleven minutes. You can have a listen in this Audioboo:

Grayling defends government work experience programmes (mp3)

I started to transcribe the parts that were blatant lies, but I gave up because it was going to be so long. Instead I will highlight a couple of points. Grayling repeatedly asserted that the Work Experience Scheme is entirely voluntary. On paper, it is. In practice once a Job Centre adviser has suggested that someone should go for work experience, if they refuse then they are likely to be sanctioned (lose benefits) for being uncooperative or referred for Mandatory Work Activity which is definitely not voluntary. In addition, a person will lose benefits for at least four weeks if they drop out of a work experience placement after the first week, so it is definitely not voluntary after week one.

Grayling mentioned Mandatory Work Activity. He said it would only be used “when a job centre plus adviser feels that somebody has gone off the rails or they’re not trying or they’re really kind of out of sorts.” The DWP say that it would only be used for people who need to learn the discipline necessary to hold down a job because they have never worked, however we know that MWA can often be used as a punishment for disagreeing with an adviser or simply because an adviser doesn’t like someone. There is an article in The Guardian detailing the case of a graduate who has previously worked (for pay) in McDonalds and Morrisons and yet was sent for MWA. According to James Ball of The Guardian, in November 8,100 people were sent for mandatory work activity, which is 1,500 more than those sent for work experience.

He said that MWA is only used for “community benefiting projects” which is not true. MWA can be for a for-profit company as long as that company undertakes some community work.

He said that the only scheme which involves mandatory work is the Mandatory Work Activity scheme. This is not true. People can be forced to take part in The Work Scheme, as you can see for yourself in this DWP statistics release. [PDF] The image below shows page 7 from this document with the word “Mandatory” clearly used over and over again. This is regarding referal to The Work Programme, however once on the programme the private company providing the services such as the disgraced A4e can and do send people for unpaid work.

Work programme referal points

 

“They’re coming under pressure from a big internet campaign that is being run by an organisation that is a front for the Socialist Workers Party.”

“It’s a false campaign […] My own email address was hacked by this organisation and used to lodge a complaint with Tesco so I don’t accept that the scale of the campaign is very large, it’s a small number of activists who are deliberately targeting these companies and trying to destabilise them.”

I have no doubt that there are some members of the Socialist Worker Party who object to Workfare schemes, but his assertion that objections are being run by an organisation that is a front for the SWP is just ridiculous. For a start, campaigns aren’t being run by any one organisation. There are multiple groups and all sorts of people objecting and campaigning. Boycott Workfare and Right to work are just two of those groups.

Grayling’s claim of hacking stems from his complete failure to understand IT and his labelling what he doesn’t understand as hacking. According to the Today Programme some time after Grayling’s interview:

Mr Grayling clarified his statement, saying that his email was not hacked but that his email address was used on a complaint lodged with Tesco.

Information seen later suggests that Grayling was in fact copied in to an email sent to Tesco by putting his email address in the CC field. If that is true and Grayling can’t tell the difference between being copied in to an email and computer hacking then I suggest that he has some serious defficiencies in his knowledge and needs to go on some remedial courses before he continues in his role in government.

Grayling stated that 50% of the people who start the work experience scheme are off benefits within eleven weeks. This is the only statistic that he was able to quote about results of any of these schemes, and it does not shed any light on how many of those people find work rather than simply stop claiming benefits and rely on parents or partners for room and board or end up homeless. He says “We know that a large number of those young people are actually staying on in employment with the employers who give them the placement” however he is unable to quote any proper reference for that claim and it appears to be purely anecdotal. Certainly Tesco have publicly said that of the 1,400 people that have been on the work experience scheme with them, only 300 have been taken on permanently.

“All of the evidence that we can see is that this does better than simply leaving people on JSA.”

The evidence that I have seen suggests that people do equally well on JSA or on the Work Experience Scheme.

Grayling claimed once again that no companies have pulled out of the work experience scheme. Some companies have demanded guarantees that no one would lose benefits over refusing or dropping out of the scheme, but quite a lot have pulled out entirely.

The presenter touched on an important point when he said that Cait Reilly “was under the impression that she was being forced to do it.” The phrase normally used by the Job Centre is “Your benefits may be affected if you do not attend” or something very similar. This phrase is used for all sorts of things, not just work placements. It is used for the work capability assessment for ESA, which is certainly not seen as optional by most people! It was used when I claimed incapacity benefit in 2005 and was instructed to attend the Job Centre to talk to a disability advisor about possible work. It didn’t seem optional to me. Basically, on paper many of these schemes may be optional but in practice if people don’t do as they are told by the DWP they lose benefits. If the Work Experience Scheme is optional then Chris Grayling needs to inform the Job Centre of that fact.

I will leave the last word to @anwen:

https://twitter.com/#!/anwen/status/172976751704682496

“Anti-capitalist extremists” – how insulting can Grayling get?

I heard yesterday that Chris Grayling had said that people protesting against work placement schemes were “anti-capitalist extremists.” I know I was offended by that, so I hunted it down on BBC iPlayer to see what he actually said. I’ve transcribed most of it here. Skip past the quote if you just want to read the worst parts and my response.

Employment minister Chris Grayling:

This is actually a protection for employers. If you’re a small business, somebody comes to do work experience, you buy them a uniform, you arrange mentoring support for them in the organisation, and then a couple of weeks later they don’t bother to turn up, erm, we’ve got to be very careful before we say there are no circumstances in which anybody will face any consequences for messing around on the scheme. But let’s be clear, it’s a voluntary scheme, you choose which sector you get work experience, you have time when you start with a work experience placement to change your mind and leave with no consequences. So, you know, this is not about manacling  young people, dragging them into tesco, doing forced labour, it’s a positive scheme which is oversubscribed. […]

Let’s have a sensible discussion, not in the face of, I mean what we’re getting at the moment, let’s be clear about this, what we’ve seen in the last few days, is a campaign that’s been run on the internet, by a small group of extremists, who are not the customers of any of these organisations, who are trying to completely misrepresent what is happening, and fortunately now I think we’ve got a bank of support that’s included today the independent newspaper which is not noted as a friend for the government […] right through to the other end of things, you know, columnists in the mail, Richard Littlejohn, you know, not naturally bedfellows with the Independent newspaper, but they’re all saying this is a good scheme. We’ve got to stand by it, we’ve got to protect it, providing short-term work experience placements for young people that is working and helping them get into jobs that is a good thing and I’m having none of this small group of anti-capitalist extremists who are driving an…[Presenter: But Tesco are not anti-capitalist extremists, they’ve heard the protests and they think they’ve got a point, Argos, apparently they’re meeting you next week, they think protesters have got a point. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind when you’ve got it wrong.]

Well, I’m not changing my mind in a hurry in the face of instant headlines. I’m quite happy to discuss things but I’m not responding on the hoof  to this campaign, it’s a disgraceful campaign against big companies that are doing the right thing.

Chris Grayling: minister for combustible undergarments
Image by @DocHackenbush

Let me highlight just a few things that Grayling said here.

“you buy them a uniform, you arrange mentoring support for them in the organisation, and then a couple of weeks later they don’t bother to turn up, erm, we’ve got to be very careful before we say there are no circumstances in which anybody will face any consequences for messing around on the scheme.”

I can see that you don’t want people dropping out and costing employers, I don’t agree with punishment for that, but point taken.

“you have time when you start with a work experience placement to change your mind and leave with no consequences.”

Hang on… doesn’t that happen after the employer has bought a uniform and arranged mentoring? And I think that’s an admission that after that initial time, dropping out leads to an extremely harsh punishment of losing all income for at least four weeks.

“But let’s be clear, it’s a voluntary scheme, you choose which sector you get work experience”

No, mostly people get put into particular sectors by the Job Centre advisor either because of previous work history, or because that’s all they deem the jobseeker fit for.

“what we’ve seen in the last few days, is a campaign that’s been run on the internet,”

Most campaigns are run on the internet now, what’s your point? For some of us it’s the only way.

“by a small group of extremists,”

WHAT?

“who are not the customers of any of these organisations,”

Bullshit. Everyone buys food somewhere. Plenty of the people complaining shop at Tesco, although possibly not any more.

“who are trying to completely misrepresent what is happening”

This government minister is lying his head off, and WE are the one’s who are misrepresenting it?!

I think we’ve got a bank of support […] you know, columnists in the mail, Richard Littlejohn

Littlejohn is not exactly known for his tact, judgement or taste and in my experience it is best to take completely the opposite line to that taken by him.

“I’m having none of this small group of anti-capitalist extremists”

Grayling has NO evidence for his claim, and in fact labelling someone an extremist is so outrageous that I can’t even imagine how he got to that conclusion. Extremist is a word used about suicide bombers, people that flip out and shoot everyone they know, people that blow up aircraft. For someone in government to label someone an extremist just because they have a different view is ridiculous and must be curbed before any more dangerous comparisons are made.

“it’s a disgraceful campaign”

Did you get that? Telling the government that they are wrong is now “disgraceful.”

Chris Grayling, YOU are disgraceful. Your spin, your belittling language, your dismissal of objections even as you face making changes to keep your providers on board, your lies about how voluntary the scheme is, those are disgraceful.

 

Government ministers getting defensive about workfare

IDS the puppermaster. Image by @dochackenbush
Image by @dochackenbush

The government’s various work experience and work placement schemes have come under a lot of fire in the press and the news in the last few days and government ministers have been getting defensive about it in newspapers sympathetic to their cause. Unfortunately their response is to insult those who oppose their plans and mislead the public about what the objections actually are. Quoted in the Telegraph Iain Duncan Smith was quoted extensively in the Telegraph:

Mr Duncan Smith said he was “enormously proud” of the scheme and said its critics, who have branded it ‘slavery’, were indulging in “lies”.

“Over the past few days, the battle lines have been clearly drawn on the issue of youth unemployment. In one corner, we find those prepared to do everything they can to give a chance to young people who are looking for a job and help them gain experience of the workplace.”

“In the other, armed with an unjustified sense of superiority and sporting an intellectual sneer, we find a commentating elite which seems determined to belittle and downgrade any opportunity for young people that doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion of a ‘worthwhile job’,” the former Tory leader wrote in the Daily Mail.

“Sadly, so much of this criticism, I fear, is intellectual snobbery. The implicit message behind these ill-considered attacks is that jobs in retail, such as those with supermarkets or on the High Street, are not real jobs that worthwhile people do.

“How insulting and demeaning of the many thousands of people who already work in such jobs up and down the country!

Of course, this isn’t what people have been saying at all. The overwhelming objections to these placements are:

  • People are forced to work for these companies or face losing their benefits for several weeks or months.
  • People are not paid and receive only the standard rate of unemployment or sickness benefits. (JSA or ESA)
  • The employers are getting free labour, subsidised by the government. (They get paid a fee too.)
  • Paid employees are facing reduced hours and reduced job security in the face of free labour.
  • People are being sent on placements inappropriate for the job they are likely to get because of their qualifications and experience.

No one claimed that a job in a supermarket stacking shelves or washing floors is beneath them, and yet this is the angle that Iain Duncan Smith chose to attack.

“I doubt I’m the only person who thinks supermarket shelf-stackers add more value to our society than many of those ‘job snobs’ who are busy pontificating about the Government’s employment policies. They should learn to value work and not sneer at it.”

I suggest that supermarket shelf-stackers are somewhat more useful and less dangerous than Iain Duncan Smith too.

Mr Duncan Smith added Tesco’s former chief executive Sir Terry Leahy “started life scrubbing floors at a Tesco store in his school holidays.”

But he got paid to do it!

Moving on, we find that Iain Duncan Smith has been allowed a whole column in the Daily Mail today to repeat his misdirected defence and his propaganda. Titled The delusions of X Factor and sneering job snobs who betray the young it even starts off with an insult, but it goes on:

In the other, armed with an unjustified sense of superiority and sporting an intellectual sneer, we find a commentating elite which seems determined to belittle and downgrade any opportunity for young people that doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notion of a ‘worthwhile job’

If you can’t win the argument, smear your opponents and call them “a commentating elite” and ignore their points in favour of answering a question that wasn’t asked.

It is up to young people to decide, voluntarily, whether they wish to take part in the scheme, and they can pull out of their placement during the first week without sanction.

This. Is. A. Lie.

Job seekers can face sanctions purely on the decision of the Job Centre advisor or private contractor hired to run these programmes. They MUST face sanctions under the rules if they pull out after the first week of the placement.

This is why the scheme has been so successful. The fact is that 13 weeks after starting their placements, around 50 per cent of those taking part have either taken up permanent posts or have stopped claiming benefits.

This statement is highly misleading. Only around a fifth of people who have worked for free on these placements has been given a job at the end of it. The rest have simply stopped claiming benefits, but have not necessarily found work. Many have simply become dependant on their parents, whether their parents have the income to cope with that or not.

Let me be quite clear: this Government does not have a workfare programme. Workfare is an American term used to describe employment programmes which force all jobseekers to work at a certain point of their welfare claim — a practice which we do not consider to be effective.

This is true, but also misleading. No programme in the UK is called “Workfare” however that is the name which all government work experience and placement schemes are collectively referred to as by opponents, and indeed, quite a lot of supporters too. In fact, the DWP report in 2008ahead of schemes launched by the government was titled “A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia” and it also concluded that Workfare-like schemes were not only ineffective but actually reduced the chances of finding a job.

Here, in Britain, it is true that we have a programme which can require claimants to undertake a short period of compulsory work if we do not believe they are engaging properly in the pursuit of employment. But the programme is carefully targeted and — importantly — it is entirely separate from the voluntary Work Experience scheme which I described above.

This is again true but misleading. Compulsion is applied to a lot more than just The Work Programme – even to the work experience scheme after the first week, and before that if the Job Centre advisor so chooses.

However, it is clear that retailers and employers are with the public on this, or at least afraid of the fallout from the public view. Several flagship participants in the scheme have dropped out in recent days. Waterstones, Sainsbury’s, TK Maxx, Superdrug – and several others are questioning the government over their forcing people to work for them. Tesco has issued a press release today announcing that young people sent for work experience in their stores will be offered pay throughout their placement and a job at the end of it if they prove effective workers – effectively a job with a probation period.

Tesco press release 21/02/2012: offers choice on work experience

Tesco has today announced that from now on any young person accepted for work experience with Tesco will be offered a choice:

– – To participate in the Government scheme, which protects their benefits for the duration of the four-week placement. Tesco has suggested to the Department of Work and Pensions that, to avoid any misunderstanding about the voluntary nature of the scheme, the risk of losing benefits that currently exists should be removed.

– – Alternatively, to be paid by Tesco for the four-week placement, with a guaranteed permanent job at the end of it, provided they complete the placement satisfactorily.

Richard Brasher, CEO of Tesco UK, said “We know it is difficult for young people to give up benefits for a short-term placement with no permanent job at the end of it. So this guarantee that a job will be available provided the placement is completed satisfactorily, should be a major confidence boost for young people wanting to enter work on a permanent basis.”

Tesco committed 3000 work placements under the Government’s work experience scheme. To date around 1500 have been delivered. We will offer the choice of paid work and the jobs guarantee to all of the remaining placements we will deliver under the scheme. 300 young people undertaking work experience with Tesco have already found work with us and we are confident that many more will through this approach.

Related Links

Iain Duncan Smith: it’s better to be a shelf stacker than a ‘job snob’ [Telegraph]

The delusions of X Factor and sneering job snobs who betray the young [Daily Mail]

A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia [DWP, PDF]

Tesco press release 21/02/2012: offers choice on work experience

Government taps sick and disabled people as source of free labour

Chris Grayling holds chemo pills - "Repave my driveway and I might give them back"
Image by @dochackenbush

In an astonishing revelation today we find that the Welfare Reform Bill will apply the “Claimant Commitment” that must be agreed to by job seekers to people in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance. Sanctions will apply for failure to keep to the agreement.

Let me explain: people who are too sick or disabled to work can claim ESA. After a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) they will be placed in either the Support Group or the Work Related Activity Group. (WRAG.) People in the support group are considered completely unable to work, at least until the next assessment, while those placed in the WRAG are considered to be unable to work now but potentially able to work within the next few years, with the right help to do so. (One designer of ESA has said that the intention was within two to five years.) People in this group are required to  attend regular work focussed interviews with an advisor at the Job Centre to discuss ways in which they might expect to return to work despite their illness or disability.

It is frightening to discover, therefore, that under the new Universal Credit people who are placed in the WRAG will be subject to the same agreement and conditions as those who are unemployed. This will include the same work experience and work placement schemes, run by the same private commercial providers, and with the same sanctions for refusing to take part. Given the likelihood of dropping out due to sickness and the inability of job centre advisers to be flexible about such things it is highly likely that sanctions will be applied to people merely because they are too sick to do what is asked of them.

What this means is that sick and disabled people who may be completely unable to work at this time can be sent to work for one of the various charities or companies taking part, without pay. The placements are intended to last for eight weeks but unlike for job seekers, there is no time limit for disabled people. People could be sent to work without pay for an unlimited time on the whim of the job centre advisor or the commercial contractor who the person has been sent to.

This is made even worse because the WCA, run by Atos,  is notoriously inaccurate, with many people being incorrectly placed in the WRAG or declared fit to work, but later overturning the decision on appeal. There are lots of examples of people who have been judged fit for work by Atos being sent to the Job Centre to claim Job Seekers Allowance only to be refused help and turned away because the job centre staff can clearly see that they are unable to work. These are people who are supposedly more capable than those in the WRAG.

This clause of the welfare reform bill has remained undiscovered until now but now that it is out in the open we must make a fuss, we must protest. This is too far and the government must be stopped by any means necessary.

Please sign the petition to stop and review the Welfare Reform Bill and the petition to abolish work for benefit schemes.

Disabled people face unlimited unpaid work or cuts in benefit [Guardian]

Government work placement schemes little more than slave labour [A Latent Existence]

Who benefits from The Work Programme?  [A Latent Existence]

Government work placement schemes little more than slave labour

Job ad: permanent unpaid night shift at Tesco
Job ad: permanent unpaid night shift at Tesco

The above image shows a job advertised by Job Centre Plus. (Website link) It involves unspecified night shift work (probably shelf stacking) and the wage is Job Seeker’s Allowance plus expenses. Tesco will pay no wage for this work. It also says that the job is permanent but I think this must be a mistake.

The job appears to be part of Sector-Based Work Academies. (SBWA) The employer guide to the scheme [PDF] says

“The length of a work experience placement is determined at the initial discussion between you and Jobcentre Plus”

SBWA is supposed to guarantee a job interview at the end of the unpaid placement, but so far only about a fifth of people taking part in these schemes have been given a permanent job at the end of it.

The Conservatives are very proud of their efforts to get people back into work, especially their Work Programme. Most of their efforts seem focussed on getting job seekers into unpaid work placements in shops and supermarkets and there are multiple schemes to this end. Many of these people are given no choice in the matter; placements are often chosen for them, and they can lose Job Seeker’s Allowance for 13 weeks to 6 months if they will not go. Some of these placements can last as long as six months. No wages are involved – Job Seeker’s Allowance is paid, and sometimes bus fares.

Unpaid placements are not only bad for the unfortunate people who are forced to do them but they also deprive people of proper paid work. Tesco has been one of the largest users of work placement schemes taking on several thousand unpaid workers over the last year. The work that they do is the same as the paid staff.  Now Tesco are taking unpaid workers for the night shift too, which is a new development. These people are not only working for no pay apart from minimal benefits, now they are being put through the ordeal of working nights without compensation.

It was bad enough that the Job Centre were telling people to do unpaid work placements, it is much worse that placements are being advertised alongside real jobs. The government use the number of jobs advertised by the job centre to gauge the number of jobs available altogether. Do they exclude these unpaid placements from their statistics?

Government statistics have revealed that in all, 24,010 people have been forced to take part in “Mandatory Work Activity” – four weeks at 30 hours per week – between May and November 2011. This whole thing is the modern-day equivalent of indebted servitude. Peonage.

BBC Newsnight covered this story.

Please sign the petition to abolish work for benefit schemes.

I have written more about work programmes in a previous blog post.

Who benefits from The Work Programme?

David Cameron is very proud of his Work Programme. Whenever the question of jobs and the number of unemployed is raised he answers that The Work Programme will help 2.5 million people. He claims:

“This is about ensuring that we have better education, a welfare system that helps people into work and a Work programme that provides not phoney jobs, as the future jobs fund did, but real work for real young people.” [Hansard 12 Oct 2011 Column 332]

The problem is that The Work Programme (a name which sounds really ominous to me) hasn’t actually helped all that many people. It turns out that only 1 in 5 people on the programme have managed to get a permanent job out of it, and BBC research indicates that it could be even lower. Even the DWP only estimated that 2 in 5 would do so. Given that the Future Jobs Fund was achieving a 54% success rate at getting people into work and The Work Programme was only ever expected to achieve 40% it seems like it was replaced purely out of ideology or “not invented here” syndrome. The low success rate of The Work Programme has not been helped by hiring A4e as one of the contractors to implement the scheme. Their previous efforts in the Pathways to Work Programme achieved 9% of people into work out of an expected 30%. The DWP ignored this record when considering contractors because some other contractors had no previous record to judge.

The Work Programme doesn’t seem to be all bad. This video made by The Guardian about a provider called Cheshire Training shows some positive aspects of the programme such as providing job application sessions, CV workshops, advice and some structure to keep people from giving up or being worn down by the lack of activity that is often involved in unemployment. I think such services could easily have been provided by the Job Centre rather than being outsourced, and in fact, some were or are.

(Bear in mind that the people interviewed were chosen by the Department of Work and Pensions and are not unbiased.)

While there are some positive aspects highlighted in the above video there are some rather larger down sides to the programme – forced labour being the biggest problem. There are two schemes that take place before the work programme itself: The Work Experience Scheme and Mandatory Work Activity Scheme. They involve being sent to work – usually full time – in a business that is paid to provide work experience. The placement usually lasts between two and eight weeks. Taking part in the scheme is not optional. If an adviser at the Job Centre Plus or in a provider of the work programme has decided that you must do some work experience, then you will have your benefits cut for at least 13 weeks and potentially 26 weeks if you do not. (And up to three years under the Welfare Reform Bill.) This is made worse by the fact that the job seeker does not get to choose their placement, they will be sent wherever the private contractor wants to send them. Not only that, but the work placements for the most part involve no training, only basic unskilled labour such as stacking shelves and washing floors. The Work Programme itself involves placements that can last up to six months and job seekers can be assigned to the programme for two years.

People sent on these placements are often doing the same jobs as people paid a full time minimum wage, except that is becoming rarer because many businesses that take part in the scheme have laid of temporary and part time staff in favour of free labour from the scheme. Instead of paying their staff, these big businesses are getting paid to put people to work. This might perhaps be just about acceptable if the people on the schemes were given a job at the end of the placement, but the norm is for them to be sent back to the job centre and a new unemployed person put to work in an endless cycle of free labour. It is baffling why our government thinks that paying businesses money to exploit people and making people work a full time job to the benefit of private industry for just their £53 per week job seekers allowance is a good idea. Even if the DWP do require people to work in return for their benefits (And I don’t think that fits the ideal of ensuring that no one is destitute) I do not think they should be required to work for more hours than they receive the equivalent money for at minimum wage. Indeed, it may well be illegal for these people not to be paid minimum wage and I hope that there are some successful legal cases against the scheme soon.

Times cartoon on compulsory work placements
A cartoon from The Times illustrates the problem

Cait Reilly is a good example of how the work experience scheme is at best unhelpful. She willingly attended an open day for people looking for retail work, work that she was quite prepared to take. However, after attending that open day she was then forced into a work experience placement at Poundland.

“I explained to my adviser my reservations about taking part: I was already in the middle of a work experience placement that I had organised for myself (and which was more relevant to the museum career I hope to pursue), and I already had retail experience.”

“I thought the “training” was optional, and it came as a shock to be told I was required to attend or risk cancellation or reduction of my £53 per week jobseekers’ allowance – despite the fact I have always actively sought paid work. So I began the “placement” with Poundland – it was not training, but two weeks’ unpaid work stacking shelves and cleaning floors. I came out with nothing; Poundland gained considerably.” [Cait Reilly writing for The Guardian]

The following is a quote from a comment left under the video shown earlier in this article.

“I personally know a fifty-six year old man who worked at Tesco for 40 hrs a week for 6 weeks for no pay. He said he was given the worst job, constantly filling freezers in the hope he would be taken on. 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 of face sanctions meaning loss of ALL benefits for up to three years!

My friend wasn’t alone, he was part of twelve extra staff taken on to cover the xmas rush, no one was given a job at the end of the xmas period.” [Comment at The Guardian]

The above scenario of businesses taking on free labour for busy periods is not uncommon. We also have this example of a woman who worked for six months at Newham Council alongside colleagues who though that she was a permanent paid employee.

I went to [her] leaving do … We were all so sorry to see her go. She was an older lady and was one of the most hard-working and genuinely helpful admin staff we’d ever had. Worked her hours plus more and nothing was ever too much trouble for her. We honestly didn’t know why she was leaving after only six months. She’d worked a minimum of 37 hours per week (often more) and been the backbone of service delivery. The basic starting wage for that level is around £17,000 but for the work she was doing I would have expected her to be started at a few thousand more. Yet all she was getting was JSA and the fares for her lengthy bus journeys, while people doing identical work were getting a salary, paid leave and pension contributions. We were horrified.

Wrongly, we assumed this woman would be hired back as proper staff within days. The role was needed, she’d proven herself to be a fantastic worker, was well regarded and knew the systems. But no, the post was suddenly deemed no longer required and this lady never came back to us. She did exactly the same job as paid staff, yet didn’t get the same salary. This is illegal if the reason is age or race, but perfectly acceptable if someone has claimed a state benefit. It’s exploitation and it’s repellent. [Quote taken from Coporate Watch]

Perhaps government ministers don’t understand why unpaid labour is a problem because they are in the habit of finding unpaid internships and eventually real jobs for their own children through their family and business connections. Many even pay the employers to take on interns – £200 per day isn’t unknown. This is all very well for the rich, but most people who receive Job Seekers Allowance can barely afford food and rent. For those who are rich enough, paying for an internship at a bank at least provides useful experience for future employment in that industry, while being sent to stack shelves at Tesco or wash floors at Poundland for months at a time does not provide much for a CV in my opinion. It seems unlikely that a useful reference would come from such a placement, if the manager could even remember one person among such a high turnover.  Volunteering for a charity is a positive thing that will tell an employer something about the job applicant. Being forced to wash floors for three months doesn’t say much about them at all.

It seems that opinion is turning against this exploitation. Waterstones recently pulled out of the work experience scheme and some other companies that were accused of taking part, like Sainsbury’s, denied it quite strenuously and were keen to distance themselves. (Despite their denials Sainsbury’s are still involved in the scheme.) Cait Reilly who was mentioned above is persuing a legal case against the government. There is also a growing call for interns to be paid minimum wage.

I don’t object to work experience. It is quite reasonable for an unemployed person to spend one or two weeks in a relevant job learning useful skills for future employment. The Work Programme does not provide this. Instead it sends free labour to profitable businesses, and pays them for the privilege. These people do not receive useful training but simply replace paid staff in doing hard repetitive work. Most of the businesses taking part are profitable, in fact Tesco made a profit of £14,000 per employee last year. If they have work to be done then they should pay people to do that work. It’s that simple. People being sent for work experience should not be replacing staff, they should be shadowing them, assisting them and learning.

What is even more scary is that the government are systematically destroying workers’ rights making people more likely to become unemployed. Examples such as this call to Give firms freedom to sack unproductive workers soon add up to a worrying lack of job security. Is it really the Tory plan to have so many people sacked and working for free?

Please sign the petition to abolish work for benefit schemes.