This blog post is reproduced here courtesy of Johnny Void.
Tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of people could be working as unpaid labour in supermarkets and charity shops and the DWP claim they wouldn’t know anything about it.
In reply to a recent Freedom of Information request the DWP state they have no idea what participants on the Government’s Work Programme scheme are being mandated to do. The response also proves beyond doubt that Chris Grayling was lying when he said: “We won’t and don’t force anyone to take a work experience placement. Where we use mandation in our welfare policies, it will be to do useful work on community projects. We will never mandate anyone to work for a big company. They wouldn’t take them if we did.”
The request asked how many people had been “mandated to Workfare under the department’s Work Programme scheme,” and how many of these people had been forced to work for private companies. This was not a particularly difficult question as had Grayling’s claims been true then the answer would have been none.
The DWP’s response is that they do not have this information claiming: “Jobcentre Plus is not routinely informed of participant’s activities, which may include work experience placements, by the Work Programme provider.”
This is a truly staggering admission. Almost 400,000 unemployed people have been placed onto the two year long Work Programme scheme and many have reported being forced to work for companies such as Pizza Hut and Holiday Inn for no pay. Some placements have been for as long as six months. although it seems that even this may not be the maximum period under which people can be mandated to workfare. The DWP were also asked what is the maximum workfare placement length, they don’t appear to know the answer to that either.
With at least one of the private sector providers administering workfare currently mired in fraud allegations, plus claims they were using workfare staff in their own company, the potential for abuse and exploitation is unprecedented.
These are not short term work experience placements aimed at young people, which the participant can duck out of in the first week. These are long term positions, which are absolutely mandatory or the claimant will face being stripped of benefits. Most people referred to Work Programme have many years of experience in the workplace, this doesn’t mean they won’t be forced to spend six months working nights at ASDA for no pay.
Every indication so far suggests that the Work Programme is failing dismally to get people off benefits and into work. The documents recently revealed by A4e seem to show that less than 10% of participants on their programme had found work. A4e claim that these are not true indications of their performance presumably because they haven’t had chance to cook the books yet. The Government meanwhile are refusing to reveal the performance figures of the flagship £5 billion pound scheme.
It is hardly suprisingly that unemployment is soaring when major high street names know they can get full time staff for six months at a time and not pay them a penny.
As ever the DWP are being less than economical with the truth. Up until recently the Work Programme Provide guidance explicitly stated that all claimants participated to workfare must be mandated. This paragraph disappeared from the online document after it was pointed out that this proved Chris Grayling was lying. The guidance however is still very clear that all mandated activity must be recorded. This information is available to the DWP and any Compliance Breaches, where a claimant loses benefit due to not attending mandated activity, are administered by the Department.
If the DWP don’t know how many people are being mandated they certainly know where they are ending up, as this now ‘disappeared’ Freedom of Information response proves by revealing the household names exploiting workfare staff.
Its increasingly clear that the DWP have no qualms about lying, altering documents and hiding information to stop the public knowing the truth about workfare. This appears to be policy from the top down, with both Chris Grayling and the Department’s Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith both lying to fellow MPs and the public alike about welfare policy.
Workfare staff have no workplace rights as well as no salary. They can be dismissed for any reason and could then be stripped of benefits as a consequence. With the DWP claiming to have no idea what people are being forced to do, this also raises questions about whether claimants are being adequately insured, whether Health and Safety procedures are being followed, or whether they may be facing abuse and harassment in the workplace.
As well as the gross exploitation of Work Programme placements, an army of unpaid labour affects everybody in the workplace. Workfare staff can be used to undermine working conditions, cut over-time and cross picket lines. If organisations know they can get workers for free then minimum wage jobs are likely to disappear and be replaced with workfare staff. This will impact on wages across the board.
On almost every conceivable marker Work Programme is a disaster. As well as being hugely expensive, it is brutally exploitative, badly thought out, mired in fraud, unaccountable and quite possible likely to lead to more, not less, people dependent on benefits.