Workfare is forced, unpaid work for a business, charity, or other organisation, in return for social security.
A list of current and past workfare schemes, with a brief description of what each of them involves and how you might be affected by sanctions by having to take part in them.
Current Workfare Schemes
Sector-Based Work Academies
These are 6 weeks long and involve both “pre-employment training” and a work experience placement. More on this scheme can be found here
Do not take part in Sector-Based Work Academies: If you start and then drop out you could be sanctioned
Work and Health Programme
This is a mandatory programme aimed at disabled and unemployed claimants. It utilises elements of the failed Community Work Placement scheme. (See below) The scheme is enforced via sanctions. The details of these placements are awaiting clarification
The shambolic ‘flagship’ welfare reform policy contains the prescriptive use of workfare. This is important as Universal Credit, along with sanctions and workfare, will eventually be applied to an additional 7-8 Million people who are already in work.
This is made up of a three month placement that is enforced via sanctions in a public sector organisation or a registered charity. From April 2017 it applied to 18-21 year olds on Universal Credit (UC). They are expected to ‘earn or learn’, and participate in an ‘intensive regime’ of support from day one of their claim. After 6 months on UC, they will have to apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship, gain work-based skills, or go on a work placement.
The last referrals to this programme were in March 2017, but it can last up to two years, so people will still be on it until 2019. The Work Programme is basically a for-profit Job Centre you are forced to attend normally after 9-12 months on JSA where you can be forced to carry out workfare at the whim of the private provider. Figures are not available for the number of mandatory work placements under this programme, but Ingeus (owned by city financiers Deloitte) force people to do six month long workfare placements. The Work Programme, is expected to cost the taxpayer at least £5 billion pounds.
Past Workfare Schemes
Mandatory Work Activity (MWA). The scheme mandated four weeks’ unpaid work for up to 30 hours a week. Although the government claims it is “community work”, its definition of this includes working “for the profit of the host organisation.”. Claimants faced losing benefits for 3 months the first time they do not take part, and this can go up to 3 years for the third time. Claimants can, and are, referred to MWA at any point in their claim.
Community Work Placements (Help to Work). From April 2014 people who returned to the Job Centre after going through the Work Programme were faced with the Help to Work scheme. There were three elements to the scheme: 1) daily sign-ons at the Job Centre; 2) ‘intensive training’ and ‘work preparation’; and 3) 6-month long workfare placements (Community Work Placements), involving work like litter picking and cleaning graffiti. Those who refused to participate in either a placement, training scheme or in work preparation faced being sanctioned.
The DWP announced in March 2016 that the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) and Community Work Placement (CWP) schemes would end on 31/3/16, with no claimants taking part in MWA after 27/4/16 and in CWP after 26/10/16. (For details, see these two memos from the DWP: here for JSA and here for Universal Credit.) However, Boycott Workfare received messages from people as late as August 2016, saying that they were on the MWA scheme.
Steps 2 Success – This replaced the ‘Steps to Work’ scheme and is the equivalent of the Work Programme in Northern Ireland. The programme lasts for up to a year and you can be sanctioned if you refuse to take part in it.
Day One Support for Young People Trailblazer (London only) – this scheme ran from 2012 to 2013. It forced young people (18-24) without 6 months official work experience (attained in at most 2 jobs) to work without pay for 13 weeks on the first day of signing on. Not taking part resulted in benefit sanctions of up to 3 months.
Derbyshire “Trailblazer” Mandatory Youth Activity Programme – This was a scheme that was designed for JSA claimants age 18 -24 year old who had been 26 weeks on the benefit. It involved an 8 week mandatory work experience placement of 30 hours per week. Refusal to take part resulted in a sanction.
There are also some schemes that, while officially voluntary to start the scheme, they still involve coercion since refusal to participate can lead to claimants being forced onto one of the above compulsory schemes (see this blog for more details on why they are still workfare):
- Traineeships – Traineeships started in Autumn 2013 and are 6 months long with up to 5 months of this being a work placement, normally at a company such as Subway, or Kwik Fit. The rest of the time is spent in ‘training’, during which people can be sanctioned for not participating. See here for more info.
- Work Experience – Work placement for two to eight weeks, working 25 to 30 hours each week. Although following our campaign’s success, this scheme is now formally ‘voluntary’, sanctions remain for gross misconduct. Not volunteering means you can be sent on a mandatory scheme instead.
- Sector-based work academies – Placements can last up to six weeks and people can be sanctioned for dropping out once they have started the placement. More info here.
- Feeding Britain’s Future – A grocery industry specific scheme which involves workshops and interviews, but also involves work experience. Although this may appear voluntary, as with the Work Experience scheme nothing in the Job Centre is voluntary and you could be sent on MWA (see above) for refusing.
There are also other workfare policies and schemes that are or have been in place:
Skills conditionality – This is something claimants can be mandated to take part in, and sanctioned if they refuse to do so. It is a requirement for you to attend courses in order to improve particular skills, and these courses are delivered by a college or other training organization. Often the courses provided on Skills Conditionality are low in quality and unlikely to help claimants find a job.
Supervised Jobsearch – this was a scheme that ran between autumn 2014 and April 2015 which involved claimants spending 35 hours per week in a job centre for 13 weeks doing supervised job searching. It was quietly scrapped when it emerged that it cost more money than it saved, was understaffed and had an extremely high rate of sanctions.
Each of these schemes threaten people with benefit sanctions if they do not take part. For more information on individual schemes, and on your rights on these schemes, click here.
Workfare does not only affect young people: it is aimed at people of all ages. Since December 2012, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions claiming Employment and Support Allowance are also being forced to work unpaid, if they’ve been placed in the Work Related ActivityGroup.
At the end of 2015, it was announced that two workfare schemes were not being renewed: Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements. (MWA placements finished in April 2016, and CWP placements will finish in October.)
There is a growing list of workfare schemes now in place. These include:
Community Action Programme
Community Work Placement
Day One Support for Young People Trailblazer
Derbyshire Mandatory Youth Activity Programme
Mandatory Work Activity
Sector-Based Work Academy
Steps to Success
Steps to Work
Work and Health Programme
Work Programme 'Voluntary' Work Experience
Work Programme Mandatory Community Benefit Work Placement
All workfare schemes are enforced using benefit sanctions, either directly or indirectly. Benefit sanctions are the complete removal of benefit payments for a period of time (at least four weeks and up to three years). The threat of benefit sanctions compels people to undertake unpaid work. See more information on the sanctions attached to a few of the schemes here.
DWP Work Experience
Although following our campaign’s success, this scheme is now formally ‘voluntary’, sanctions remain for gross misconduct. Not volunteering means you can be sent on a mandatory scheme instead. See more info on your rights here.
George Osborne MP stated for the record that:
“Young people who don’t engage with this offer will be considered for mandatory work activity, and those that drop out without good reason will lose their benefits.”
The Guardian has reported that those who do not “volunteer” for Work Experience have been sent on Mandatory Work Activity instead.
Sector-based work academies
This widely-publicised account of the scheme has resulted in a legal challenge. Cait Reilly claims that she was not informed that there was any option not to take part, which is something that many people report. Her lawyers, Public Interest Lawyers, make ten points about the government’s workfare here.
Mandatory Work Activity
Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) carries a heavy sanction regime:“Customers who fail to complete a placement without good cause will lose their Jobseeker’s Allowance for a minimum of 3 months.” Sanctions imposed will continue to apply regardless of whether the claimant re-engages with workfare. From October 2012, sanctions of three years apply for a “third violation”.
The Work Programme
This Freedom of Information response shows that people are mandated to work unpaid for private companies on the Work Programme. Note: The DWP appear to have removed this link, so you can find it here instead.
Until the government edited DWP documents when workfare hit the headlines in February 2012, Work Programme provider guidance stated:
“Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity. This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated.”
The campaign has had some success in removing sanctions from some of these schemes. See more info on your rights here.
Steps to Work
This scheme operates in Northern Ireland. Participation on Steps to Work is a mandatory requirement for all Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants aged between 18 and 24 who have been claiming JSA for six months, and for all JSA claimants aged 25 and over who have been claiming JSA for 18 months. It includes “work experience”.
The Office of National Statistics confirmed this in response to a parliamentary question.
Corporate Watch Research has found that 139,000 sanctions were handed out to Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in 2009 but this more than tripled to 508,000 in 2011, the coalition’s first full calendar year in government. There was little change in the number of people signing on in this period, meaning a much higher proportion of people have had their benefits cut. Sanctions can now last up to 3 years and as of early 2014 70,000 people are being sanctioned each month. In 3 years of the Work Programme 5 times as many people have been sanctioned as found long term jobs. You can see in the graph below (click to enlarge) how the rate of sanctioning grew massively after the Coalition Government came to power and the more punitive sanctions regime came into force in late 2012.
Many of these sanctions are initially suggested, or ‘referred’, to the Department of Work and Pensions by the private companies the government has sub-contracted to run many of its welfare schemes, such as the flagship Work Programme, for people who have been signing on for a year or more. DWP statistics, obtained by a Corporate Watch freedom of information request (download the disclosure here), show companies such as Serco, Seetec, Working Links and A4E have been even more eager to sanction people than the government.
Further Corporate Watch research has found that approximately 1 in 5 people sent on Mandatory Work Activity have been sanctioned for between three and six months.
The minutes from the Social Security Advisory Committee’s meeting on the 7th December 2011, demonstrate that concerns were raised last year that workfare was replacing paid employment.
“….there was also a potential issue around equity between work experience placements and permanent staff. For example, many retail jobs required staff to work for 16 hours each week, with overtime payable for any hours worked beyond that. Work Experience allowed for 25 hours work activity, so overtime to permanent staff was being reduced or removed. [p.9-10] There was also evidence to suggest that work experience placements were being taken on to cover Christmas vacancies.”
This is certainly what Boycott Workfare has found, with ASDA sending paid staff home early over Christmas and using workfare to fill the gaps, Argos explaining “Christmas is our busiest time of year and we are pleased to provide the opportunity for work experience during this time” and a staff member from Holland and Barrett informing Corporate Watch that workfare has replaced overtime that used to be available.
In February of this year, the following account emerged from one MP on the Public Audit Committee:
“… the situation that I am observing in retail where people are being placed for free in retail operations for work experience….
…squeezing out permanent employment in relatively low-paid retail. I have noticed companies such as Tesco making their standard contracts four-hour contracts. WH Smith has a zero-hour contract policy, as do places such as Primark in my constituency. I have constituents who have worked in those places and who are not getting the hours of work that they used to have, which is obviously having very substantial follow-on impacts on tax credits and so on….
…In my constituency, one of the things that is happening is that many people are being given work experience-unpaid-in retail,…when they [retailers] are offering jobs, a company such as A4e, which operates in Slough, can say to Primark, “If you want more of our free workers, I hope you are going to give our people 20-hour jobs…
…I want to know how – it is not even in the Report – we protect against the risk of job substitution as a result of this programme, because it is not factored into how people are paid.”
Tens of thousands of forced unpaid work placements have already taken place.
The government intends 250,000 workfare placements on the Work Experience scheme alone. If each placement is 8 weeks of 30 hours work, this is 60 million hours of forced unpaid work.
850,000 people were expected to be referred to the Work Programme by the end of 2012. However, due to the “black box” approach the government uses with the private providers, it has so far refused to publish how many of those are being forced to work without pay.
The Mandatory Work Activity scheme was expanded in summer 2012 to a capacity of 70,000 places a year.
Boycott Workfare maintains a list of organizations profiting from workfare, with links to references for those organisations which have withdrawn.
On the 1st of April 2011, following a review of the evidence, the Social Security Advisory Committee’s report was damning. It advised the government not to introduce Mandatory Work Activity, and observed the following:
- “Published evidence is at best ambivalent about the chances of ‘workfare’ type activity improving outcomes for people who are out of work.”
- “We are concerned that mandating an individual to this scheme could also have the opposite effect to the one intended.”
- “This seems to us to signal that being mandated to mandatory work activity is regarded as a punishment…”
In June 2012, peer-reviewed research by the DWP concluded that Mandatory Work Activity had “no impact on the likelihood of being employed compared to non-referrals.”. The trial of a scheme involving 6 month long workfare placements was found to also have no effect on helping people find work.
This graph shows that the statistics currently available demonstrate that workfare makes no difference to employment outcomes. As Ben Goldacre concluded: “Bottom line: it turns out people leave JSA at roughly the same rate, whether they’re doing workfare or not.”
This means the government’s repeated claims that 50% of people who have undertaken workfare on the Work Experience scheme have either found work or stopped claiming are incredibly misleading. More on why this is the case here.
As far back as 2008, research for the DWP on workfare concluded that:
“There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.”
“Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.”
In fact workfare has been a failure wherever it has been implemented.
The success of the Work Programme is being seriously questioned as well: See this summary from February 2013.
In January 2012, a report from the National Audit Office stated that there was: “a significant risk” that ministers’ assumptions about the numbers who can be found jobs may be “over-optimistic”.
It is predicted that there will be 500,000 public sector job losses over the next five years. In a clear sign that the government intends to use workfare to replace the gaps left in public service delivery, the provider guidelines for the Community Action Programme suggest that a community placement would be appropriate at Local Authorities and Councils, Government Departments and Agencies, Charities and third sector organisations, Social Enterprises, and Environmental Agencies. Indeed, we have already seen workfare in the NHS.
Tescos: “Why would we pay you when we can pick up the phone and get more unemployed people who have to work for free?”
The following account was posted in the comments section of the Guardian website:
I personally know a fifty-six year old man who worked at Tesco for 40 hrs a week for 6 weeks for no pay. He said he was given the worst job, constantly filling freezers in the hope he would be taken on. After the 6 weeks were up the manager asked him if he would like to stay on for some extra weeks, my friend asked “with pay”? The manager said why would he pay him when he can pick the phone up and get more unemployed people who have to work for nothing of face sanctions meaning loss of ALL benefits for up to three years!
My friend wasn’t alone, he was part of twelve extra staff taken on to cover the xmas rush, no one was given a job at the end of the xmas period.
He told me they had all worked really hard and were gutted they were abused in such a way. The worst was one day he had to throw out lots of food one day over the use by date. He asked the manager if he could take some home as he was having to eat more due to being active all day. The manager refused saying if he gave him free food he wouldn’t come through the front door and buy it!
I swear I will never shop at Tesco ever again.
Asda sending paid staff home
“Poundland takes on disabled people in a deal with Dwp via mickey mouse scheme. The claimant only works for 4 weeks including anti-social hours, stacking . The claimant is told at the beginning me the placement that there will be no job. My friend finished his placement and was immediately replaced at another disabled person. This is exploitation. ”
Primark and British Heart Foundation
“Karina” is 24 years old and lives in East London. She is a British citizen, originally from Bangladesh. She is currently looking for work and studying to improve her English. She worked without pay in a Primark store for nearly six months on a work placement in 2009, organised by the Jobcentre and the “provider” company administering the previous government’s Flexible New Deal programme.
How long were you claiming [unemployment benefit] before you had to volunteer at Primark?
Not long. March 2009 was my first claim. The placement was seven months after. [Before that] I was going to college [to learn English]. I paid £50 for it. Then when I went to the job centre they told me: “Now it’s the New Deal. You’re going to a placement”. I told them my English was not good but they said: “It doesn’t matter, you have to go. If you’re not going, we’ll stop your money.” They told me they would stop my JSA [Job Seekers Allowance] so I stopped my English course.
The first [placement] was with the British Heart Foundation. I worked from 9 or 9.30am to 4.30pm with a half hour break. I did everything. I went for one week and the manager was so rude. One day she ate something and left so much mess in the kitchen. Then she says to me: “Karina, you wash up.” The first time I didn’t say anything. I was scared they would stop my money.
When I went to [the New Deal provider company] I told the woman but she didn’t believe it. The clothes were dusty and I have an allergic problem so I went to the doctor and he wrote a letter. I gave the letters to [the New Deal provider] woman and she told me she found another placement for me at Primark.
The Jobcentre paid travel money but no lunch. I worked three days a week, 10am to 4.30pm or 5pm with one half hour break. [Primark] don’t pay any money. It was nearly six months, from January to June. When I finished the placement I took my CV and I asked the managers if they had any vacancies. They said: “Not yet – we’ll call you when we do.” I haven’t had a call.
What work did you do at Primark?
If some clothes were on the floor, I’d pick them up. In the children’s section I’d fold clothes, and [arrange] shoes and sandals sometimes. Sometimes I’d bring new clothes downstairs from the storeroom.
Is this the same kind of work that some paid staff do?
Yes, the same.
Were there other people volunteering too?
At Primark I knew one Pakistani woman and one Somali woman also on three days a week. When the placement finished other people came. Now I am looking for a job, but there are no jobs.
What do you think about these placements?
One thing is good and one thing is bad. Before, I had no experience and when I went there I learnt lots of things. Now, when I send my CV or get calls I have experience. But I was a volunteer for six months and wasn’t given a job or paid any money. They don’t pay lunch money, nothing.
What do you think should happen instead?
Pay money. Lunchtime money and money for work. When volunteer is finished, they should give the job.
Health and safety concerns
I wanted to give an account of my work placement, as this is forced on people who have no option but to do this or lose their benefit. This is the only source of income that I have (as is the situation with others on benefit). I am happy for this to be used as case study for health and safety procedure. Names have been changed.
My placement was for a month at the place that I worked. I worked for 30 hours a week (I was paid via Flexible New Deal at £67.50 a week, that translates to being paid £2.19 an hour). The work was physical. Looking for work when physically exhausted was hard and often too difficult to do. I did work for a charity and the land I worked was I think owned by the charity.
Some health and safety procedures were explained by the person supervising me on the placement (Marion). Kat (Flexible New Deal provider supervisor) asked if I had work boots, which I said I didn’t, but that I had some regular boots.
I wore these boots, which had been ok-ed by Kat. When doing manual work I trod on a plank of wood and got a nail stuck in my foot. There was no supervisor available, and I was working away from the main site. I stayed to the end of the day and treated it when I got home. I felt unable to say anything about health and safety due to my fear of losing benefits.
No one from the Flexible New Deal provider supervised whilst I was there.
Before I went on the placement I did tell the Job Centre I was going on placement.
When explaining how the placement operates the Job Centre was confused whilst signing back on to Job Seekers Allowance. This was not the reason that my benefits were delayed, as it was explained to me by the Housing Benefit staff. I signed an agreement with the Job Centre tell them if I was doing any work paid or unpaid. This could be why they were confused about the system (which has been in place for over a year). My housing benefit was delayed by about 3-5 days whilst going onto the placement and then after when going off the placement, (so was delayed in two months) my Job Seekers Allowance was not affected.
No job at the end of Bookers Wholesale placement
The following personal accounts were collated by the grumpyhatlady blog. They are reproduced here on the condition that they do not result in any negative attention.
Anne S. from Billericay:
“I worked in admin since leaving college. It’s all I’ve ever done and to be honest, it’s what I’m good at, it’s all I want to do. I lost my job at an estate agents in the recession and had to go on Jobseekers. I was asked what jobs I was looking for and I told them admin, secretarial and personal assistant work. What I’m qualified and experienced in. They sent me to work for a supermarket for four weeks. I had no choice or I’d lose my money. I finished it last week and was told there was no job at the end as I didn’t have enough “retail experience”. What was the fucking point of that? ”
Sadly, Anne’s is not an isolated case. She told of someone else who was on placement:
“There was a lad who was a single dad. He had two beautiful kids both at school. He was desperate to work and had worked for the same supermarket company before his wife left him and the kids. He thought that the work experience would be a way to get back into work with the company now the kids were back at school…They put him on shifts outside of school hours and he didn’t have anyone to look after the kids. When he tried to talk to the shift manager about it, he was told he had to work the hours they said or they’d report him for non-compliance and he’d lose all his benefits and his house.”
Edwin from Glasgow told me of his experience during a “work placement” phase:
“I was told that I was still expected to look for work during my full time placement. The placement gaffer wouldn’t let me go offsite during my lunch hour to look for work. He was a right hard bastard, task master type. When I complained about the placement he told me to shut up, that I was paid a reasonable wage and he tried to add up all the benefits I was getting to prove it. Thing is I don’t get Housing Benefit as I bought my house just before I my company went bust. He said this justified my £65 working a 30 hour week. I had repayment insurance but it ran out after a year, so now I’m living in hope of finding a job or a rich wife. Then the bru started to hammer me with all these interviews and threats. I apply for at least 10 jobs a week, including minimum wage jobs. I’m no proud. I paid tax all my life and I’m getting nothing but aggro in return and now I might lose my house too. These are very dark times”
Jaz from the West Midlands described her work placement:
“I was given a fancy title but all it meant was running around with a mop clearing up spilled jam, alcohol and urine. I was told by other regular staff, these jobs were for ‘retards’. My brother has Downs and I wouldn’t let him work with these people. They were rude, bullying, condescending and in the majority. Having a first class degree in Marketing I thought this would be a chance to get my foot in the door and I was excited at the prospect of working with such a large company. On day 1 I took my CV by day 3 it was still on the staff room table for anyone to look at. I was told I’d have to apply for vacancies online like everyone else and that I’d get no special treatment because of my placement.”
Stories in the news
Corporate Watch exposes Matalan, Savers and Newham Council amongst others.
The Guardian with people’s stories of placements at Maplin and Waterstones (Waterstones now no longer accept placements)
Please share your stories
It really helps to show why workfare is so wrong to share real people’s stories.
Please contact us in confidence if you have a story about workfare placements to share.