On Monday, David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith launched a new workfare scheme called Compulsory Work Placements – part of a bundle of punitive measures called Help to Work. It ran into a lot of trouble on launch day and hasn’t been doing well since then.
Over 150 voluntary organisations have signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign to say they won’t take part in any workfare scheme, including Oxfam, Anti-Slavery International, Unison, Unite, and NCIA. And the government won’t be able to fall back on the public sector: Liverpool City Council say they won’t be taking part.
The pledge was launched on the same day as Help to Work. Already more than twice as many organisations have said they’ll never take part in CWP as the 70 that the government claims are signed up to deliver it. It’s not clear how those 70 organisations are going to be able to arrange for more than 120,000 people to do 780 hours of unpaid work. They’d have to accept more than 1,800 placements each.
And it turns out that even the unpaid work the DWP especially suggested unemployed people should do – like cleaning war memorials – won’t work. No-one in government bothered to check this with the War Memorials Trust. They say that they can’t actually take part in CWP, because each memorial is the responsibility of one of a hundred thousand custodians, who’d have to be asked individually. And anyway, the work is usually done by ‘specialist contractors or conservators’.
Compulsory Work Placements are one form of further punishment for people who’ve already been through the Work Programme. The 200,000 people who are expected to have to go through Help to Work will either have to sign on every day at the job centre, or undergo intensive harassment by their advisor intended to frustrate them off benefits (the Mandatory Intervention Regime), or work for 30 hours per week unpaid for six months (Compulsory Work Placements).
The placements have to be at public sector and voluntary organisations: according to DWP regulations people can only be directly forced to work for free if what they’re doing is supposed to be for ‘community benefit’.
The government won’t reveal the names of the 70 organisations that are going to delivery the schemes. Probably for the same reason it wouldn’t reveal the names of organisations involved in Mandatory Work Activity: ‘disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA scheme’.
All we know is that the primary contractors who will be organising the scheme across the UK are very familiar: Interserve, Seetec, LearnDirect, Rehab Jobfit, Working Links, Pertemps, and the brutal, fraudulent, and incompetent G4S. These are the same companies who already run the Work Programme, where you’re five times as likely to be sanctioned as find a job.
These are the companies who will arrange the placements with parts of the public sector, and ‘voluntary’ organisations like Groundwork.
We don’t think that any worthwhile voluntary organisation should take part in workfare. It’s inhuman to force people to work for no money: it doesn’t help people find jobs, and wouldn’t be justified if it did. It warps what volunteering is. It replaces jobs and erodes pay and working conditions for people who are in work. It’s oppressive, demeaning, and an excuse for sanctions, which force people into poverty, hunger, and homelessness.
The list of organisations who’ve signed up is here. If you’re part of a voluntary organisation, or you know one that hasn’t signed the agreement yet, then please ask them to sign the pledge. Any kind of voluntary group can sign up: from a union branch to a major charity to a local housing action group.
You can also find out if your council replied to research we did at the end of 2013 about councils using workfare by downloading the spreadsheet here. If there’s nothing for your council, you could try your own Freedom of Information request: they know this is information they should share.
If enough organisations refuse to take part, the government will have to scrap Compulsory Work Placements. Workfare is a ‘failed policy’: it should be an impossible one.