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Workfare is a government policy whereby individuals must undertake work in return for their benefit payments or risk losing them. Workfare is in effect a form of modern day slavery or indentured servitude and counterproductive in decreasing unemployment. The real effects of Workfare result in previously ‘paid’ jobs being forced on to benefit claimants which reduces overall employment while making profits for unscrupulous employers. Claimants forced onto Workfare are also then conveniently removed from the Governments unemployment figures even though they are effectively unpaid and therefore NOT in employment.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC), a federation of trade unions in the United Kingdom, has stated that workfare is exploitation of the unemployed, “paying” them below the minimum wage. The TUC also highlight that workfare is unfair to paid workers who find themselves in competition with unpaid workers. In these cases the TUC claims that the result would be job losses and the deterioration of pay, overtime or other conditions. Employers who opted not to use workfare workers would also find themselves competing with other firms who are “effectively being subsidised”..The Guardian newspaper claimed in February 2012 that businesses in the UK which take staff via “work for your benefits programmes” included Asda, Maplin, Primark, Holland & Barrett, Boots, and McDonald’s. The policy is similar to that which the Conservative Party administration hoped to introduce in the mid to late 1990s, which would most likely have been carried through had not John Major been defeated by Tony Blair in the U.K. 1997 General Election. Critics also ascertain that the majority of menial low page jobs would end up being carried out by people on workfare, who, because they are working but unpaid, would not be counted among the unemployment figures. The Green Party of England and Wales has also voiced its opposition to workfare.
There is a growing list of workfare schemes now in place. These include:
- Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) – The scheme mandates four weeks’ unpaid work for up to 30 hours a week. Although the government claims it is “community work”, its definition of this includes working “for the profit of the host organisation.”. Claimants can face losing benefits for 3 months the first time they do not take part, and this can go up to 3 years for the third time. Claimant’s can, and are, referred to MWA at any point in their claim.
- The Work Programme – This is essentially a for profit Job Centre you are forced to attend normally after 9-12 months on JSA where you can be forced to carry out workfare at the whim of the private provider. Figures are not available for the number of mandatory work placements under this programme, but Ingeus (owned by city financiers Deloitte) force people to do six month long workfare placements. The Work Programme, is expected to cost the taxpayer at least £5 billion pounds.
- Steps to Work – The equivalent of the Work Programme in Northern Ireland.
- Community Work Placements (Help to Work) – From April 2014 people who return to the Job Centre after the Work Programme are faced with the Help to Work scheme. Current plans are that there are 3 parts of which people have to take part in 1: daily sign ons at the Job Centre, ‘intensive training’, or 6 month long workfare placements.
- Day One Support for Young People Trailblazer (London only) – started in Autumn 2012, this scheme forces young people (18-24) without 6 months official work experience (attained in at most 2 jobs) to work without pay for 13 weeks on the first day of signing on. Not taking part can result in benefit sanctions of up to 3 months.
- Derbyshire “Trailblazer” Mandatory Youth Activity Programme – “The provision is designed to help Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants age 18 -24 year old who have reached 26 weeks unemployment move in to sustainable employment. It will deliver a period of 8 weeks mandatory work experience through a variety of placements that are of benefit to the community.”
All the above schemes’ placements are meant to be for ‘community benefit’. Practically this means charities, councils, waste/recycling centres, sports clubs etc.
There are also some schemes that, while officially voluntary to start the scheme, they still involve coercion since refusal to participate can lead to claimants being forced onto one of the above compulsory schemes (see this blog for more details on why they are still workfare):
- Traineeships – Traineeships started in Autumn 2013 and are 6 months long with up to 5 months of this being a work placement, normally at a company such as Subway, or Kwik Fit. The rest of the time is spent in ‘training’, which people can be sanctioned for not participating. Traineeships are expected to replace the Work Experience Scheme and Sector Based Work Acadamies (see below). See here for more info.
- Work Experience – Work placement for two to eight weeks, working 25 to 30 hours each week. Although following our campaign’s success, this scheme is now formally ‘voluntary’, sanctions remain for gross misconduct. Not volunteering means you can be sent on a mandatory scheme instead. Suggestions are that this scheme is being replaced by Traineeships.
- Sector-based work academies – Placements can last up to six weeks and people can be sanctioned for dropping out once they have started the placement. More info here. Suggestions are that this scheme is being replaced by Traineeships.
- Feeding Britain’s Future – A grocery industry specific scheme which involves workshops and interviews, but also involves work experience. Although this may appear voluntary, as with the Work Experience scheme nothing in the Job Centre is voluntary and you could be sent on MWA (see above) for refusing.
Visit; http://www.boycottworkfare.org for more information and to find out how you can help fight back against Workfare.
Click Here for a list of workfare providers.
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