Grayling stated on the 29th February that the Work Experience scheme was now voluntary, however a recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that the government’s suspension of sanctions extends to two other workfare schemes as well – the Work Experience element of the sector based work academies and work experience in the Work Programme. In theory this means that claimants can leave work placements in these three schemes without the threat of sanctions.
The released document includes a set of temporary instructions to staff to ensure that sanctions are not used:
claimant of any age is sanctioned under the existing rules for failing to take
up, attend or leaving the Jobcentre Plus Work Experience scheme, the Work
Experience element of sector-based work academies and work experience
arranged by Work Programme providers including:
Suspend consideration of any Work Experience sanctions where a
decision has not already been imposed and notified to a claimant. This
includes any referrals from Work Programme providers related to work
Suspend any referrals for Decision Making and Appeals (DMA)
consideration of all such cases including where the host employer has
notified us of an issue or where we have sought a claimant’s
explanation (you do not need to withdraw any notifications already sent
or contact employers or individuals)
Stop – with immediate effect – using the Labour Market System (LMS)
This removal of sanctions on three workfare schemes represents a significant victory for campaigners against workfare. The government is clearly back tracking after the public outcry over workfare. However, we are still concerned about how these schemes are implemented in practice; that the reality for many may still be forced unpaid labour for benefits.
- This is only a temporary removal of sanctions on three of five workfare schemes – the government are in the process of firming up their revised policy and there is the possibility that they will re-impose these sanctions.
- Claimants participating in these three work experience schemes can still be sanctioned for ‘gross misconduct’. The Freedom of Information request states that the Department of Work and Pensions is yet to define what gross misconduct involves meaning that there remains the possibility that this could be used against claimants who withdraw from these schemes.
- The Guardian has revealed that some claimants who have turned down the ‘voluntary’ Work Experience scheme have then been sent on Mandatory Work Activity – another workfare scheme. The Mandatory Work Activity is used as an indirect sanction on the supposedly ‘voluntary’ and ‘sanction free’ schemes.
- Often a claimant may find themselves bullied onto these schemes and not informed of their rights even if they are defined as ‘voluntary’.
- Work Programme providers and Job Centre plus can still mandate claimants under threat of sanctions to attend CV writing, motivational courses, monitored job searching sessions, crystal healing sessions, etc, etc…
- There are still two workfare schemes that claimants can be forced onto – Mandatory Work Activity and the Community Action Programme. Another Freedom of Information request highlights how the government have boosted funding for Mandatory Work Activity workfare through the £1 billion Youth Contract.
If you find yourself being sanctioned for refusing to take part in or withdrawing from a work placement then get in touch with us – firstname.lastname@example.org and consider making an appeal to your advisor using the the Freedom of Information request paragraph quoted above.
Despite this important victory, workfare is still a reality, in the form of MWA and CAP, and a threat – in that this is only a temporary suspension with the possibility that sanctions will be reimposed. For these reasons we will continue to campaign against workfare.