Update 13/6/14: Read about what happened at the hearing here. Judgement is expected in 4-8 weeks.
Media release, 11 June 2014
Tomorrow, 12 June, the Information Commissioner will challenge the DWP to reveal a list of organisations which have used Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placements for jobseekers at an Upper Tribunal hearing . The DWP will argue that due to widespread public opposition, the controversial workfare scheme could collapse if the names are revealed . If it loses the appeal, the decision could become a landmark ruling on the obligation of the DWP to reveal details of the private companies delivering government contracts .
It is thirty months since the original Freedom of Information request was made, and the second time that the DWP has appealed the Information Commissioner’s decision that it must reveal the names of MWA workfare placement providers .
Despite the government’s own evidence showing that one month MWA placements have “zero effect” on helping people into work , the government launched an extended six month version on 28 April, “Community Work Placements”. Like MWA, these placements rely on the participation of public and voluntary sector “host organisations” to deliver placements for “community benefit” .
Even without the DWP publishing a list of placement hosts, participants have received widespread criticism. Grassroots organisation Boycott Workfare has compiled a list organisations which use workfare based on claimants’ reports, and successfully challenged tens of organisations to withdraw from the scheme . The campaign is having an impact: 2,670 people were sent on the scheme in February 2014, compared to a high of over four thousand during the same period last year. In December 2013 only 1,720 starts were recorded, the lowest figure since the scheme was just beginning in the summer of 2011 .
The launch of Community Work Placements has also been met with significant opposition from the voluntary sector: in six weeks, 377 organisations have pledged not to take part, by signing up to the “Keep Volunteering Voluntary” campaign . These organisations point to the devastating impact that the benefit stoppages (sanctions) these schemes involve have on hunger, debt and homelessness. They see workfare as undermining both the values and mission of many voluntary sector organisations, and point to the risk of job replacement when thousands of unemployed people are made to work without pay for six months at a time. Over 15 councils have also pledged to avoid the schemes.
Jim McLaughlin, member of Boycott Workfare says:
“There is no evidence that these schemes help people find work and mounting evidence that they do not. Instead this punitive forced work drives people into hunger and destitution when benefit sanctions take away the little we have to survive. This is an issue for everybody: every unpaid worker could be one less paid worker. The government should reveal those involved and face up to the huge scale of public opposition to forced work in the UK.”
If the DWP loses its appeal at the Upper Tribunal, precedent will be set that the organisations using workfare through numerous other DWP schemes must also be revealed. This highlights the importance to members of the public and campaigners on making effective use of our Freedom of Information Act. 
Notes to editor:
1. The hearing relates to a Freedom of Information request first made on 25 January 2012. Following the DWP’s original review, the Information Commissioner decided that the list of placement providers must be revealed. The DWP lost its appeal at a first tribunal on 3 May 2013.
The judge’s decision at the first tribunal can be found here: http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i1016/EA-2012-0207(+2)_Judgment_17-05-2013.pdf
The Freedom of Information correspondence can be found here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/successful_bidders
2. In its submission to the first tribunal the DWP argued that: “Put simply, disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme”.
3. MPs have been urged to bring contractors under the FOI Act: http://www.cfoi.org.uk/2014/06/mps-urged-to-bring-contractors-information-under-foi-act/
4. Multiple DWP surveys of evidence have found workfare schemes to have zero effect on helping people find work.
Mandatory Work Activity: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/13/mandatory-work-scheme-government-research
Community Work Placements: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?p=1867
5. Community Work Placements were announced by George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference in Sept 2013 and were launched on 28 April: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/community-work-placements-info-pack.pdf
The maximum community sentence that a judge can hand out is for 300 hours, but claimants on six-month workfare schemes are already being forced to work without pay for 780 hours. The four-week Mandatory Work Activity scheme is already the equivalent of a medium level community service order that a person might receive if they were found guilty of drink driving or assault.
6. See Boycott Workfare’s crowd-sourced list of those using workfare and who have pulled out here: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?page_id=16
7. For analysis of MWA referral figures, see this blog piece: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/mandatory-work-activity-is-wobbling-keep-kicking-till-it-breaks/
8. The Keep Volunteering Voluntary Campaign was launched on 28 April – the day Community Work Placements were launched. 377 voluntary organisations have committed not to take part: http://keepvolunteeringvoluntary.net/blog/flagship-workfare-scheme-launch-delayed-again-following-widespread-voluntary-sector-opposition
Corporate Watch research has found that approximately 1 in 10 people sent on Mandatory Work Activity are sanctioned, although some sub-contractors refer as many as 45% for sanction: http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4730
9. Freedom of Information campaigners have been using the act to reveal essential information for jobseekers to access their rights. See: http://refuted.org.uk/
Using the Freedom of Information Act http://refuted.org.uk/foi/ and
FOI training http://www.cfoi.org.uk/foi-training/
Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign network to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, while threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights. We are not affiliated to any political party and are open to all who share our aims. More info: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/