UK councils use half a million hours of workfare

Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now.

Boycott Workfare’s research revealed half a million hours of unpaid work in councils

New research by Boycott Workfare, covered in The Mirror and The Guardian, reveals that UK councils have used over half a million hours of unpaid work through the government’s workfare schemes, which compel people to work without pay on threat of benefit sanctions. Click here to see if your council is involved!

In a Freedom of Information request to all councils in the UK, 38% of the 271 councils who responded and held the information had taken a workfare placement at some point in the last two years. These placements include schemes with direct benefit losses, benefit losses if you drop out after starting, or referral to a scheme with direct benefit losses if you refuse to take part. Also, with all these schemes, Boycott Workfare has heard of people being told it is compulsory by their job centre advisor, even if officially you can choose to take part.

In total 1,929 placements were reported to have taken place across the 106 councils involved since June 2011, with 15 councils reporting use of the schemes but not saying how many placements they had taken. This is over 500,000 hours of unpaid work.  Half of these reported placements were on the Work Experience scheme, but nearly 300 placements were on Mandatory Work Activity where people can receive a benefit sanction for up to 3 years for refusing to take part in the 4 week placements. Almost 300 people were also sent to work at councils through the Work Programme (or Northern Ireland’s equivalent Steps to Work) where placements were lasting up to 26 weeks.

Out of the 1929 placements, only 138 jobs were given to claimants at the end of their placement with the council – only 1 in 14 people! A lot of these jobs were also temporary contracts. This shows councils are more than happy to take on workfare placements which people have been bullied onto through the threat of benefit sanctions, but in the majority of cases have no intention of giving people full time, permanent work in the council afterwards.

47 councils have taken more than 10 placements over the last two years, and here are some of the worst offenders with contacts to let them know what you think!

  • Bexley Borough Council – They had taken 25 placements through the Work Experience Scheme since December 2012 but have only taken 5 placements since. This is because they have become involved in the Day 1 Support for Young People trailblazer since the start of this year. This scheme involves 13 week long work placements with the threat of benefit sanctions of up to 3 months. In total Bexley Council took 71 placements on this scheme, but only 14 completed their placements. By Bexley Council trying to exploit residents to work in the council for free over 50 young people probably had their benefits stopped for either 1 or 3 months. Over half of these placements were in the library services, where 35 posts were lost when Bexley and Bromley merged their services. No one received a job at the end of their placement. The Mayor’s facebook’s here

  • Northumberland County Council – Over the last two years Northumberland County Council have taken 44 placements on the month long Mandatory Work Activity programme. However NCC also has a sub-contract with Ingeus for delivering MWA, and therefore is receiving payment for arranging placements in their own council. This is while the claimants forced to work at NCC get nothing and can lose their benefit for up to 3 years as a consequence of the scheme. No one received a job at the end of their placement. Their facebook is here

  • Scarborough Borough Council – They have taken 120 people through the MWA scheme in the last 2 years. Only 71 attended the full 2 weeks, resulting in the other 49 probably receiving benefit sanctions that can go up to 3 years in length – and currently are a minimum of 3 months. All these placements were in the Parks Department, where cuts to staff were being proposed in 2012.  Whilst recently Scarborough Council has pledged to pay all staff a living wage they are still happy to pay claimants no wage for their work. The council were not able to confirm if anyone had been awarded a job at the council on completing their placement. Their facebook is here
  • Newport City Council – Used a total of 112 placements from the Work Experience scheme and the Work Programme with the majority lasting 1 month. 84 were in the city’s Streetscene department which includes street cleaning and bin collection. Of these 112 placements, only 12 were eventually given jobs in the council. Their facebook is here

This survey does not capture all the workfare occurring in councils. Unfortunately due to outsourcing of council services workfare such as the replacement of gardening staff on Homes for Haringey estates by Work Programme placements, or the introduction of claimants forced onto Mandatory Work Activity at the recently outsourced Sydenham Community Library, cannot be investigated through the Freedom of Information Act, and we are only getting an indication of the use of workfare in councils. However the survey captures the vast scale with which councils were willing to take claimants forced to work for them for no pay for up to 26 weeks under threat of benefit sanctions of up to 3 years.


Comments (10)

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What the Fuck are the trade Unions, UNISON , UNITE GMB representinbg Council doing allowing this when they have the absoloute power to stop it yesterday ?

Andy Clark

Has there been a response from Dartford Borough Council? If so, could you provide details/figures.


Steven North

Hi. If you have had any response from Salford City Council I would be interested to know. Feel free to contact me on the email address provided if it would not be possible to respond to this post in this comments section. Thanks.

Paul Williams

Have you got information for Milton Keynes Council?

David Walsh

Can you give a link to all (a) all recorded FOI queries by councils,(b) those that responded with their answers, and (c) all council non-responders ?

Thanks in advance

Antoinette Earl

Hi, very interested to know if you had a response from West Berkshire Council as the use of 'volunteers' is repeatedly mentioned in the recent public consultation re: cuts to library hours and other services. I'm involved in a local campaign to stop them cutting our library hours. Any info most helpful! @savepanglibrary

alison piearcey

Mr McArthur: It's cute how you think unions have any power over anything. They can ask their members to go on strike - at which point said members get fired and replaced with workfare-ees

Negotiations takes a management attitude beyond 'that's the deal, take it or leave it, if you don't thousands will'

There aren't any unions any more.


Would you be able to put a PDF copy of this up? I don't have Excel installed on my computer so can't open it.


Sign for Action


I, too, cannot view Excel files and would like to know if my council are involved (especially as I'm in a 'safe' Labour seat...). A PDF would be much appreciated and far more accessible. Thanks.