Whilst MPs can collect £250 a month in expenses without even having to provide a receipt, people claiming JSA are expected to work for the likes of Asda in order to receive the subsistence benefit of £71 a week. They are being joined by people on sickness and disability benefit ESA. This makes the lack of opposition in Westminster following the recent High Court ruling that workfare schemes were unlawful even more shocking.
Labour introduced workfare with the New Deal and the Flexible New Deal, and with the Welfare Reform Act 2009. On its watch thousands of hours of unpaid work were handed to the likes of Primark, as well as replacing jobs in hospitals, businesses and local councils.
This government has simply followed suit, unchallenged by an Opposition whose shadow DWP minister this week made the draconian proposal that jobseekers’ benefits be limited to two years. Labour’s new ‘alternative’, the “Job Guarantee” replicates the workfare model of hefty sanctions for failing to take part in work at below the minimum wage.
But Labour and other politicians now have a chance to right this wrong. Workfare is in deep trouble: the number of placements has plummeted following grassroots online and direct action; every DWP study shows that workfare does not help people find work; and last month’s legal ruling could be another nail in the coffin.
Iain Duncan Smith rushed through new regulations last month to end the vacuum left when almost every workfare scheme was found unlawful. Unless the Official Opposition put in a motion within the following forty days to call for a debate and vote on it, then it automatically becomes law through the negative resolution procedure. Labour opposed workfare in the early nineties and it could do so again. If it now does nothing, then it is responsible for workfare continuing in the UK.
This not just a question for Labour. It is a question for the trade union movement, which funds the party. Workfare is replacing jobs and undercutting the minimum wage, and has been described by Unite as “state sponsored slavery”. Yet at the same time, the union has given the Labour Party £41 million since 2001, (despite saying it does not have the resources to offer representation to its unemployed members). It is now urgent that the trade union movement call Labour to account and make sure it ditches its workfare past.
Call on the Official Opposition to oppose the new workfare regulations
Once you’ve had a chance to email your MP asking them to help block the new workfare regulations, help put it on Labour’s agenda. The regulations are only likely to get overturned if the Official Opposition challenge them.
Labour introduced workfare in the UK. They could now act to right that wrong. Perhaps you’d like to send a message to the two Labour Lord spokespersons on Work and Pensions. They are:
Lord McKenzie of Luton – firstname.lastname@example.org
Baroness Sherlock – email@example.com
Please keep us posted on any responses you get! (And remember, workfare is wobbling because of the action we’re taking to stop companies and charities taking part. Take action on the streets on 18-24 March!)