Sunday, 5 February 2012

Unemployed Exploited by Workfare Programme

Just to add to Mike’s blog, which I much agree with, the unemployed are not just being turned into scapegoats, they are being turned into a source of profit ! Firstly Atos Healthcare, for their persecution of sick and disabled people to chase as many of them as possible off the (higher) benefits available to those ‘unfit’ to work on to the lower JSA rates, are getting £100mn a year from the government. That’s compared to a total of £994 million that the government expects to save by shifting disabled people from ESA to JSA between 2010 and 2015. Rather poor returns you might say, especially considering that £30mn a year is being spent by government on fighting claimants’ appeals against Atos’ decisions. Secondly, G4S, the company charged with running the new ‘Work Programme’ stands to make up to £14000 per person it manages to place into a job that lasts a minimum of 2 years. Altogether their expected income from ‘placing’ unemployed people will be around £5 billion. Thirdly, the Work Programme offers unemployed people not as ‘wage slaves’ but as UNWAGED bodies for up to three months to private employers. No conditions about whether these employers would otherwise have hired ‘real’ employees. No time limit either – the three months can be repeated so that any claimant can be made to do up to 12 months unwaged work (receiving benefits only). Nor any limit on the amount of labour a single employer can have free of charge – the local Poundland in Wood Green, for example, may be entirely staffed by job centre conscripts for all we know. Certainly anti-workfare campaigners and press reports (e.g. The Guardian here) have highlighted Poundland, Argos , Tesco and Sainsbury’s as companies that are taking part in this scheme. So how many millions of pounds are being made out of these unemployed ‘non-wage slaves’ ?

I have come across at least one GP member who thinks it’s ok for jobseekers to work for their benefit, to ‘put something back’ into society. Some already did – the requirement to join the Work Programme, for some people only three months into unemployment, is REGARDLESS of whether they paid for these benefits through their national insurance. Others might well be doing useful voluntary work which is really voluntary, if they were left to get on with it – but they are not allowed to choose that, they must go where the job centre or G4S puts them. They also might be doing a college course, but they can be asked to give that up too. All under threat of; ‘if you don’t accept a Work Programme placement, we will stop your benefits.’

What effect do these benefit sanctions have ? Hunger, homelessness, mental and possibly physical illness, driving people into crime. The more so if the government does what it wants and extended the maximum ‘benefits denied’ period to THREE YEARS! Already during the period of Labour’s ‘New Deal’ for the unemployed in the early noughties, government research showed that sanctions against refusenik youth who dropped out of jobcentre programmes were counter-productive; they went underground, were lost to the world of work and training, and often became homeless.

Greens should be demanding the government drop the Work Programme and bring back the Future Jobs Fund, as well as letting the unemployed do voluntary work or training of their own choice. But what of Citizen’s Income, the policy Greens have been after for years ? On the face of it we will be half way there with Universal Credit – the plan now going through Parliament that from 2013, tax credits and most unwaged benefits will be wrapped up into a single benefit. Then, it will become legal to do casual or part-time work alongside claiming benefits – you will just have to ’ fess up to the tax office how much you made, and benefits will start to fall away once it’s more than a specified level. But a huge gulf still remains between Universal Credit and Citizen’s Income in terms of the rules for claiming. With Universal Credit, claimants will still have to attend job centre interviews, prove they are seeking work, and join job centre programmes whenever ordered to. Any breach of these rules will lead to loss of Universal Credit. The spirit of Citizen’s Income is that it’s UNCONDITIONAL – it should not depend on jumping through all these bureaucratic hoops.

Rather than endlessly wonder about the cost or details of Citizen’s Income, Greens should be campaigning for a lifting of compulsory programmes and easing of benefit sanctions. Not only because they demean and harass unemployed people and have negative effects in practice – there is a huge amount of research criticizing ‘workfare’ and tough benefit rules, which I wrote about a few years ago (Anne Gray, ‘Unsocial Europe’, Pluto Books 2004). We should also be pushing home the argument (which I also made in that book) that the effect of forcing people to work for nothing, or to take rock-bottom pay for fear of losing benefit, is to drive down wages for everyone. We may be campaigning for a ‘living wage’, but it’s no good if the job-centre system is continually pressuring the unemployed to work for the legal minimum and encouraging employers to take free workfare labour.

Written by Anne Gray
Haringey Green Party


Ghost Whistler said...

"Secondly, G4S, the company charged with running the new ‘Work Programme’ stands to make up to £14000 per person it manages to place into a job that lasts a minimum of 2 years."

I can't speak for G4S (though you'd expect each provider to operate the same scheme), but this isn't how the WP works.
The provider is paid if the job lasts at least 6 months. The claimant will remain on the WP, even if in work, for 2 years. This means that if said job doesn't last past 6 months, the provider gets a payment and can then refer the claimant, upon their return, for another 6 month stint elsewhere, netting further payments. I haven't seen any evidence this isn't how it works. Of course if the claimant doesn't comply they risk losing their benefit entitlement, if they choose to sign back on.
The scheme is monstrously corrupt and poorly run. Chris Grayling has been extremely duplicitous about how it works. Opportunities such as training or funding for various activities is ultimately down to pot luck; it isn't provided as a matter of course and it depends how generous the provider is feeling - assuming that provider, on the ground, isn't a charity with no money to (apparently) spare subcontracting from one of the primes.
This scheme needs to be exposed for what it is by everyone involved. It is a massive waste of taxpayers money offering nothing in return except more scapegoating of the unemployed. Workfare is one of the easiest tools that a provider has in his arsenal to 'help' people on the scheme. Of course it is entirely self defeating - to say nothing of the harm to the claimant's self esteem at being made to work for nothing, potentially over and over.

Anne Gray said...

Thanks Ghost Whistler for this useful correction which I've only just seen, for some reason I missed your comment when it was first posted way back then.

We need to beef up awareness of workfare in the Green Party as whole since, unfortunately, some advocates of Citizen's Income are apparently wanting to design it with a compulsory labour element.