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Seducing the voluntary sector: Or, never take sweeties from the men at the DWP

Salvation Army International and UK HQs were paid a surprise visit to launch the week of action. [Photo: Sinister Pics]

Salvation Army is one of the charities propping up workfare and sanctions – let charities know it will damage their reputation if they get involved [Photo: Sinister Pics]

Community Work Placements are the workfare part of the ‘Help to Work’ scheme. This was announced by George Osborne in September, and will begin in April next year. The other parts are daily attendance at job centres (for 35 hours per week) and compulsory training.

This means that once again we’re seeing ads for workfare subcontractors that target the Community & Voluntary Sector. While some charities (e.g. YMCA, Salvation Army, The Conservation Volunteers & Groundwork) are dedicated workfare exploiters, many others say they do not support workfare, but still end up helping to deliver it. The supply chain is so (deliberately) complex, it can disguise what’s going on.

Currently EOS, Maximus, Learn Direct, Reed in Partnership, ESG, G4S (tax dodging supremos) and Interserve (they rely on prayer & financial support from Christians) are all inviting bids from voluntary sector ‘partners’ to provide Community Work Placements in a ‘real working environment’ for up to 30 weeks, for up to 30 hours per week. In other words, forced unpaid labour for people who have not found ‘sustained employment’ while on the Work Programme.

The criteria for being sent on a Community Work Placement are ‘lack of motivation‘ (for example a reluctance to be exploited in no pay, low pay jobs) and/or ‘lack of work experience‘. Claimants will have to do these placements alongside ‘supported job search’: the exhausting and pointless process of endlessly looking for non-existent employment opportunities. As blogger Johnny Void says: “This new scheme represents 780 hours unpaid work, over two and a half times higher than the maximum community service penalty that can be handed out by the courts.  And this is just for the crime of being unable to find a job.”

These subcontracts, like the Accessible Community Experts contracts with Ingeus and A4e (found guilty of fraudulently administering Work Programme schemes) can be very attractive to voluntary agencies with a history of providing ’employment support’ to people most likely to be excluded from decent jobs – such as people with mental or physical disabilities, or people who’ve been in prison (unless they are MPs). But no matter how well meaning, such support is part and parcel of a serious lie: that the problem is ‘lack of skills’. There’s no evidence that these kind of ‘skills training’ programmes increase the likelihood of getting a paid job – and there never has been. As the mental health voluntary sector knows perfectly well, what helps people to get a decent paid job is a decent paid job.

Of course there are jobs: there are a number of very low paid, insecure, zero hour, dangerous jobs. These are the jobs the DWP has in mind for claimants. As they’re so badly paid, you’ll have to do two, or maybe three of these jobs – it’s called ‘work boost’: ‘if you’re already working, what you must do to find better paid work or work more hours‘. These jobs do not lead to ‘better jobs’ – they lead to more of the same low paid, insecure jobs, with gaps in between, where you have no job.

Some people, for a variety of reasons, are not able to get or do these jobs. In some areas, even these jobs are in short supply or very intermittent. So people are also being punished through mandatory attendance at courses that use psychological techniques to change the way they think. For example, to teach people ‘mood enhancement’ and ‘assertiveness’, to appreciate the ‘benefits of work’ and to develop the ‘right mindset’ that will appeal to employers. Bloggers like K Day and Izzy Koksal have described what this feels like. This kind of psychological punishment and coercion is happening to thousands of people on JSA.

So it’s important that community and voluntary agencies are aware of the real aims of any DWP subcontract concerned with training or placements – whether they are for Community Placements, Accessible Community Experts or any other contract offered by DWP suppliers.

DWP Aim One is to use long periods of forced unpaid labour to push people into accepting any job, no matter how badly paid and insecure. Forced unpaid labour also keeps pay low and working conditions poor. Forced unpaid labour, together with mandatory job search activities, ensures that people have both no money and no time.

DWP Aim Two is to reinforce the message that the problem is the people without jobs. No. The problem is policies that support obscene greed and inequalities in wealth, income and power. Voluntary agencies who bang on about skills and support, no matter how well meaning, are perpetuating the lie that there is some skills or psychological defect in people on JSA.

The DWP knows very well that there aren’t enough jobs. That is why they have a whole set of ‘non job’ targets for their suppliers: you get paid if you can force someone to show increased motivation, confidence, job-seeking behaviour and a positive change in attitudes to work. So when organisations like Mencap, Clarion, Phoenix Futures, Action for Blind People, NACRO and Ufi, along with SAMH and RNIB in Scotland, sign up with Ingeus or A4e as Accessible Community Experts – that is what they are getting money for: psychological coercion.

The reality is – the big workfare exploiters depend on hundreds of charities to deliver these contracts. Without them, the whole thing falls apart. So keep up the pressure. Contractors like EOS are already hoping to ‘avoid charity shop placements’. They are relying on voluntary agencies to come up with less visible options. We can make sure that doesn’t happen.

What you can do:

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Landless Peasant

Just one small point, the Religious organization, Interserve, is a different Interserve to the Interserve that administers the Work Programme.

diane

why oh why isn't there mass demonstrations about this???Yes there have been some I agree, but NOT ENOUGH to stop these greedy charities abusing the most vulnerable in our society and the laughable irony is: alot of charities are for the most vulnerable in our society!!!!!!

Beast Rabban

Really excellent article, providing information on who the organisations exploiting workfare are, and the practical ways to keep the pressure up against them.

anon

I must ask what the unemployed's legal protection is on the new Community Work Placement, MWA and any work experience courses. OK you're not employed there so they can't sack you for something but what do you do if there's dangerous practices / people there? What are your rights if you have to leave?

Finbar

Never done workfare yet... Won't work if they push too far people will push back eventually. Prob is too many in jobs look down on unemployed and think cuts on them are deseerved. They will change their tune though if they lose their job due to workfare.

jim davies

Show how out of touch the government is

John

Simple solution - volunteer somewhere, that way you're too busy getting experience and job searching to jump through their hoops. There was once a case of a man in the USSR who was wanted by the KGB, he knew he would be sent to Siberia anyway so he went there himself and just done what they would have made him do. The system is going to screw you no matter what so at least make them work for it.

mark

its the companies like groundworks north east profiting from this

karen lewis

job centre plus is breaking the law. phycological mental torturing. my job adviser. started to actually speak in a whisper. my head was wrecked. she coerced me onto a course that i did not want to go on. they said my money would be stopped if i did not go. im so worn out i can hardly type due to the jcp. im 52 .

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