It is a disgrace that the three main political parties (and UKIP) support workfare and sanctions. This consensus has allowed the introduction of policies that are causing ill health, hunger, homelessness and deaths. All three parties have some responsibility for this and they all have questions to answer.
So today we’re asking you to take action online and help us break the election silence on workfare and sanctions. It is unlikely that these issues will even get a mention during tonight’s Election Leaders Special edition of Question Time.
Help us to make sure these issues do get talked about, and tweet up a storm about workfare and sanctions using the #bbcqt hashtag. And tweet your unanswered questions to @Ed_Miliband @nick_clegg and @David_Cameron…
Here’s the low-down on the political parties that support workfare and sanctions:
Vote Labour: Get Workfare
Shamefully it was the last Labour government who introduced workfare with the Welfare Reform Act of 2009. Under Labour’s Flexible New Deal thousands of hours of unpaid work was handed out to businesses like Primark and claimants were forced to work without pay in hospitals and local councils. The last Labour government also introduced the hated Work Capability Assessment and extended benefit sanctions to include disabled people and lone parents. Over the last five years there has been a complete absence of any opposition from Labour to any of the workfare and sanctions policies introduced by the coalition. Labour’s support for the retrospective Workfare Bill was particularly disgraceful.
Labour’s manifesto promises to introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed. Previous statements indicate that the compulsory jobs would be paid at 25 hours of minimum wage and involve an additional 10 hours unpaid “training” each week. Those unable or unwilling to accept the compulsory jobs will be sanctioned “in line with the existing sanctions regime”. Labour have also pledged to withdraw unemployment benefits completely from young people and replace them with a Youth Allowance paid at the same rate. This allowance would be means tested and conditional on young people being in “training”.
Vote Liberal Democrats: Get Workfare
The Liberal Democrats have supported every workfare and sanctions policy introduced by the Conservatives over the last five years (including the retrospective Workfare Bill) and must share responsibility for the ill health, hunger, homelessness and deaths caused by coalition policies. Nick Clegg’s Youth Contract created thousands of unpaid workfare placements resulting in millions of hours of unpaid work. In their manifesto the Lib Dems say they will expand the availability of unpaid work placements into new sectors.
Vote Conservative: Get Workfare
The last five years of Conservative-led government have seen a proliferation of workfare schemes and a huge increase in the number of benefit sanctions. Claimants can now be forced to work for 6 months without pay. Benefits can now be stopped for up to 3 years. Predictably these policies are having disastrous consequences. With the introduction of Universal Credit the Conservatives are seeking to extend workfare and sanctions to low paid part-time and self-employed workers.
Their manifesto promises more of the same, with an unspecified £12 billion of cuts to the welfare budget. There are pledges to send Jobcentre advisors into schools to provide routes into unpaid work; tougher “Day One Work Requirements” for young claimants; the ending of housing benefit for young people; and sanctions for claimants who refuse “recommended treatment”. Like Labour, they say they will replace JSA for young people with a Youth Allowance. This would be limited to 6 months – after which young people will be forced onto apprenticeships, unpaid traineeships or community work.
Vote UKIP: Get Workfare
At the last election UKIP’s policy document on social security was entitled “From Welfare to Workfare”. This was an incredibly offensive tract which cited the Daily Mail as evidence and described claimants as “a parasitic underclass of scroungers”. Tellingly, one of the workfare proposals suggested was that claimants should be forced to work without pay to build prisons (presumably for themselves). This time around it seems that UKIP have decided that workfare is no longer a vote winner and have disappeared the policy from their manifesto. It should be noted though that workfare was endorsed at their last conference and is still listed on their website as one of the reasons to vote for UKIP.