This is the first of two linked posts about the DWP being forced to reveal the names of hundreds of workfare exploiters from 2012, after losing a four year legal battle. Frank Zola has pursued this information since 2012. Mr Zola is a member of Boycott Workfare, and you can read the second post – his detailed account of the Court of Appeal ruling and its background – here: 500+ abusers of workfare conscripts named and shamed. He was previously sanctioned as a flexible new deal (“work for your benefit“) workfare refusenik and A4e conscript.
In January 2012, three Freedom of Information requests were made for the names of organisations that were benefitting from unpaid labour through workfare schemes. This month the Department for Work and Pensions finally released information about one of these schemes – Mandatory Work Activity – after they’d resisted and delayed, appealing from court to court, for four and a half years. The public now officially have a right to know which organisations use workfare. You can read the full list of 534 businesses and charities who were involved in MWA here.
Workfare – forced, unpaid labour in return for social security – relies on businesses and charities being willing to take on benefit claimants as unpaid workers. Up until this week, the DWP has protected the identity of these organisations.
The information the DWP has just released is about the business and charities that were using MWA placements in 2011-12. But the ruling means that the DWP should now disclose further information about which organisations are benefitting from workfare today, in response to further requests. Any of us can use a Freedom of Information request to find out what organisations are using workfare in our area, or across the UK.
Summed up, the story is as follows: the DWP refused to release the information in 2012. After the DWP’s internal review decided they were right to refuse, Frank Zola appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office, who told the DWP to release the information. The DWP refused and appealed to the First Tier Tribunal, then to the Upper Tribunal, then to the Court of Appeal. At each stage they were told to release the information, but decided to appeal again. Now finally they have complied with the law. You can track the whole process here. Unsurprisingly, however, the DWP have refused to say how much money they have wasted on court appeals, whilst perversely continuing to sanction people in record numbers.
— Frank Zola (@MrFrankZola) July 29, 2016
Workfare never works
These failing workfare schemes are run by private contractors to the DWP and have cost the public billions, yet with nothing to show for it. The flagship scheme, the Community Work Programme (CWP), was quietly axed in the 2015 Autumn Statement, after only two years of running. How could CWP succeed when the DWP’s own 2008 research into workfare concluded ‘there is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work’ and the evaluation of the CWP pilot scheme found it to be totally ineffective?
Most importantly, how could CWP succeed while charities are pulling out of using workfare in record numbers? Oxfam and many others have pulled out since 2012 – due to your actions and your support. More recently over 600 voluntary organisations have signed the Keep Volunteering Voluntary pledge, and continue to do so. When charities are informed that workfare means sanctions, they pull out.
Holding workfare exploiters to account
This is the real reason the DWP doesn’t want these names in the public domain: if people knew what was really going on in their local charity shop, council office or retail store, these organisations would be held to account: the schemes would collapse, just like CWP. Luckily, regardless of the DWP’s legal bid, thanks to claimants, and people like you, Boycott Workfare uses ‘name and shame’ tactics to expose workfare profiteers. We shut them down with your help. You can still name and shame workfare exploiters here, and it’s important you still do so. Why? Because workfare affects everyone.
With the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), it will not be just unemployed people who are subject to workfare and sanctions. UC claimants – including people in work but who are not earning enough according to the DWP – will be required to undertake workfare or will be sanctioned for refusing.
Workfare is also being forced on disabled people and people with long term health conditions claiming Employment and Support Allowance who are in the Work Related Activity Group – again to the vast profit of private companies. Workfare affects everyone. Not only does it exploit claimants and vulnerable people: the supply of unpaid labour helps to force down wages, worsen working conditions, and means that staff are laid off.
The ‘collapse of the scheme’
The DWP argued in court that if they released all the information it would lead to the ‘the collapse of the MWA scheme’ and the demise of the whole workfare system. They were worried public opinion would be against workfare exploitation and that those using workfare would be pressurised to pull out. Well they did pull out, they are pulling out, and they will pull out. Let’s make sure the DWP’s worst fears now materialise and public pressure ensures that workfare is consigned to history.
Workfare isn’t over just yet, but this legal judgement along with your active continued support quickens its demise. There is no hiding behind anonymity any more for workfare profiteers, nor any excuse for them to be involved in workfare schemes. It’s a fact, as this campaign shows, that workfare cannot exist without anywhere to send people to. So, together let us continue to shut down workfare. After all, we’re the ones providing the real public service!