Workfare in The NHS – Not Voluntary, Not Successful

Rachel Overfield, Chief Nurse at Sandwell and Birmingham Hospitals trust – who are using workfare on their wards – was interviewed as part of a call-in radio programme on BBC Radio West Midlands today, and said that people sent to them by the job centre could face sanctions if they decided that this work experience would not be right for them.

You can hear the full 45 minute phone-in segment of Adrian Goldberg’s show on iPlayer, right from the start of his show. Rachel is on at the end, after around 40 minutes. Tom from Boycott Workfare is interviewed at around 25 minutes.

When asked if people would face losing benefits if they said no to workfare in the hospital, Rachel said that she supposes it is possible that someone could be there on pain of losing their benefits.

All through the show, people were talking about volunteers – but anything where there is the threat of benefit sanctions, which means taking away the money people need for food, electricity and even housing, cannot be considered to be voluntary. The threat, or perceived threat of homelessness is more than enough to consider these to be forced schemes, not volunteering opportunities.

Recently pressure on the government has seen some sanctions temporarily removed from some of the schemes, but the government has said that anyone who refuses to volunteer will be sent on Mandatory Work Activity instead, removing any notion of this being a truly voluntary placement, even if it is the work experience scheme.

Rachel also called the scheme a success story, on the basis that 2 of the people who attended the scheme found work elsewhere afterwards. Rachel said the scheme had 8 people on it, although the trust press release says 6. While this low rate is touted as a success, there is no evidence that this was as a result of the placements. Indeed, earlier in the week the Work Programme was shown to be failing in a report from the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) who represent A4e and the like:

According to the ERSA just 22% of people bullied onto the scheme under threat of benefit sanctions have found work so far. This shatters Chris Grayling’s deluded claims that 36% of people would find work on the Work Programme. In fact it is quite likely the figure represents people who would have got work anyway without any help from the Welfare to Work industry.

The overall rate of 22% of people finding work compares unfavourably with the 28% that would be expected to find work without help, but we pay hundreds of millions of pounds to fraudulent companies like A4e every year. The work programme alone, which is failing to deliver results, is costing a staggering £5bn. And none of that takes into account the extra benefits and lost tax that comes from people on workfare being used in place of paid positions.

There is a very real threat to jobs, as raised by Ravi from Unison on the programme, and also by one of the callers who volunteers at Cannock Hospital and has been told by Nurses that they feel the volunteers are taking paid jobs away. it is a shame that the unions which were consulted didn’t block workfare at the door – they were consulted to allow this pilot to take place.

It is one thing to have the risk to jobs with volunteers, who can leave at any time with no certainty that they can be replaced, but to have rolling workfare placements, knowing that every 6 to 8 weeks you will get a new person in, and at a trust facing £125m of cuts and 800 job losses, the temptation to replace paid work in order to cover for gaps being left by the loss of funding must be huge.

There is a demonstration on Thursday 24th May at Sandwell Hospital to protest against workfare, the use of workfare in hospitals and cuts to the NHS which have added pressure onto the trust to use these exploitative schemes.


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I walked off of a shift paying me £15 an hour as a staff nurse on a Saturday shift in Glasgow because I was so stressed. I am sure as fuck not going back to work for nothing.