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Saturday: nowhere for charities to hide

Workfare isn't workingWith just a few days to go until Saturday’s day of action against charity involvement in workfare, the need for action has never been clearer. Yesterday, it was revealed that the DWP intends to massively increase the sanctions sick and disabled people face when they are in the “work related activity group” , which can involve workfare. This will affect the 340,000 people currently in the group, which has recently included people with terminal cancer, victims of strokes, as well as people with mental health issues and people paralysed from the chest down.

However, in a massive boost to the campaign, the information commissioner has ruled that the DWP must reveal which workplaces are using Mandatory Work Activity. Will the charities profiting from forced unpaid work, reinforcing government cuts, and directly responsible for putting people at risk of destitution, be as keen to be involved when their names will be public? Johnny Void discusses the impact of this decision.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has slammed the DWP’s refusal to name the companies and charities benefiting from forced labour on the Government’s Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme.

Previously Freedom of Information requests asking for this information had been granted by the DWP, but when the workfare row blew up earlier in the year, this information disappeared.  Further requests asking exactly where people on workfare were being sent were denied by the DWP, which led one person to issue a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Despite some desperate wriggling from Chris Grayling and the DWP, this complaint has been upheld, with the full ruling now available on the consent.me.uk website.

Those who’ve followed the workfare scandal will be all too aware of the toxic culture which has developed at the DWP under bungling Employment Minister Chris Grayling (now moved to the Ministry of Justice) and the increasingly absent Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith.  Documents have been ‘disappeared’ or hastily re-written to cover up for ministerial lies, whilst Freedom of Information requests have been rejected on the flimsiest of excuses.  Information provided to benefit claimants themselves has been so bad that the DWP may find themselves having to pay out millions in backdated sanctioned benefits after the recent workfare court ruling.

In a move which will unsettle several charities, who have also been disingenuous to say the least about their use of forced labour, this ruling means that the DWP has just 35 days to provide a list of organisations using workfare workers on the Mandatory Work Activity scheme.

Despite what some charities have claimed, Mandatory Work Activity is four weeks’ unpaid work, used as punishment by Jobcentre officials who believe that a claimant is not trying hard enough to find work.  Charities like the British Heart Foundation and Scope, who have both exploited the free labour under the scheme, claim these people are ‘volunteers’.  This is despite the Social Security Advisory Committee noting, when MWA was first introduced, that it is impossible under the rules to volunteer for the scheme (PDF) .

Claimants face increasingly brutal benefit sanctions for failure to attend MWA, leaving people facing destitution, poverty and even homelessness.  Charities like @Scope and @theBHF have been only too happy to ignore this inconvenient fact and mislead their supporters about the nature of the scheme.

Next Saturday 8th September sees another National Day of Action Against Workfare, which will concentrate on the so called charities involved in the scheme.  Protests will take place in towns and cities around the UK, for the latest information see the blog post or join the facebook page.

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