The YMCA have published this report from their Policy and Research department which was written around the end of January. The report contained a page on their participation in workfare, and we have sent them this letter in response to some of the points they raised.
Dear Jason and Mary,
We read your Policy And Research Update document (2013 issue 2) which talked about your involvement in workfare with interest and would like to respond to some of the points raised in the document.
We oppose workfare because it is mandatory and because it is unpaid. If this is work then people should be paid to do it. If this is volunteering then it should be voluntary. Claimants should not be forced to work without a wage under the threat of sanctions.
You will not be surprised though that the main part we wish to respond to is the extremely biased question posed at the end of the document:
However despite the benefits to those on the scheme, the question now is should YMCAs withdraw altogether because of the negative impact inflicted by a handful of people? Or should we continue to offer this opportunity to those who need it most at a time of high unemployment, especially amongst young people?
What are the benefits to those on the scheme? Mandatory Work Activity does not help people to find a job, but it does cause a rise in people claiming disability benefit, suggesting that workfare makes existing conditions worse or even makes people sick. Other workfare schemes, such as the Community Action Programme (CAP) also do not help people find work, and the Work Programme actively stops people from doing so.
Meanwhile, the sanctions on these schemes – a regime that you declare your support for by taking part in them – creates poverty and homelessness. The study of the Community Action Programme paints a stark picture of the effect of sanctions:
The survey identifies the key impacts of benefit sanctions reported by participants (Table A.4.20 of the technical appendices published alongside this report). These included having to borrow money, use credit cards or incur debt (56 per cent of all participants of those who have been sanctioned);having to go without food or reducing the amount spent on food (71 per cent of OCM; 58 per cent of CAP and 61 per cent of JCPO participants); delaying the purchase of non-food items that they wanted to buy (49 per cent); going into arrears on rent or bills (53 per cent), and not affording to go out (48 per cent). Reducing the amount spent on food was the only impact that varied significantly by programme strand.
In Birmingham, Sifa Fireside – a charity that works with homeless people – have said that “housing benefit is increasingly suspended if people are being sanctioned by Job Centre Plus” leading to increased homelessness as a result of sanctions. For those whose housing benefit is not stopped, homelessness comes as a result of falling behind on rent (as 53% of people who got sanctioned on CAP did) because you use the rent money to buy food or put on the heating.
As working with homeless young people is a large part of what YMCA do, could you explain why you would want to associate yourselves with schemes that increase homelessness?
So what are the benefits of these schemes? Well you identify them in your document as:
an opportunity to get back into the working habit and gain fresh skills
It is interesting that you do not state getting a job as being a benefit of the scheme – is this an admission that you agree that the schemes don’t achieve their central stated aim of getting people into a job?
We do not think you should withdraw from workfare “because of the negative impact inflicted by a handful of people”, you should withdraw because of the reasons given in our post “What’s Wrong With Charity Workfare?”
We object to the characterisation of those who oppose workfare as “a handful of people”. There are regular demonstrations all over the UK against these schemes, with thousands of people taking part in our last day of action in 44 towns and cities. Many more have voiced their opposition online in recent weeks and will once again be making themselves visible during the week of action on 18th-24th March. Amongst those who oppose workfare is your own president, Archbishop John Sentamu.
We would suggest a different phrasing for your final question:
Should we continue to take part in schemes that do not help people into work, whilst threatening them with debt, homelessness and hunger from sanctions, or should we listen to our president and the thousands of people who oppose workfare and withdraw entirely?
We await your response to our questions.