Workfare is not voluntary

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

On SBWA, jobseekers lose their benefits if they leave after the first week, or do not attend on the first day. See more info on your rights here.

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”.

See more info on your rights here.

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.”

(See the chapter 3, point 14 of the guidance before and after.)

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”.

More info here.