the youth are in the streets!
Workfare refers to the government policy of working for benefits, often for 30+ hours per week, under threat of sanctioning. It is argued that the welfare to work scheme “helps the unemployed to get back into work”. This exists in different forms, including: Mandatory work activity, the work programme, community action programme, sector-based work academies, work experience (now voluntary, but not volunteering means being pushed onto other mandatory schemes), steps to work (N.I) and day one support for young people trailblazer. None of these schemes are “voluntary “and if not attended they result in either “low level” sanctions, (for 3 months) or high level sanctions (for 3 years).
Rather than getting claimants into work, only 3.5% of those in the Work Programme find paid employment lasting more than 6 months and it has been shown to decrease the amount of paid jobs available. For example, before Homebase pulled out they had used 25 workfare placements in one store to avoid using paid staff. This scheme results in hours being cut for paid workers as well as reducing overtime and forces job seekers to work full time for £56.80 a week; proving to be damaging and exploitative for those on the schemes and those working beside them. Not only is it clearly exploitative, it does not work.
Workfare has been tried in America and other countries, yet was scrapped as it proved ineffective in getting people into work…due to the difficulty of applying for jobs which do not exist. The Tories do not see this as a problem as while the unemployed are forced to work for free they are classified as “in work” for official statistics. This is upheld in the public eye by playing on divisive techniques such as creating the image of the undeserving poor and the terrifying vision of closed curtains in order to generate support, the horror.
Although the Tories introduced these particular schemes in the UK in 2011, workfare was originally introduced by New Labour, which may help to explain why the Labour party has been so abysmal in providing any opposition, as acting as an opposition party might come across as a bit out there.
The party even decided to abstain from a Commons vote on a bill that would prevent 250,000 people from receiving £130m in rebates for being improperly informed, after a woman called Cait Reilly successfully appealed after being told to work for free or face losing her benefits. This has led to infighting in the party. Those who witnessed this event overheard Liam Byrne sobbing uncontrollably, “it’s all so difficult” he repeated over and over again, whilst using centre right MP’s as a human shield. Only 40 Labour MPs rebelled against the party whip (although a shadow ministerial aide resigned).
However, there has been opposition in the form of the boycott workfare website, where you can keep up with local action and see the list of stores currently involved in workfare schemes and those who have pulled out. Grassroots campaigns such as this one and others have been successful in putting pressure on stores, leading to many pulling out altogether, such as Sainsburys, TK Maxx, Oxfam and many more.
Continuing pressure has meant that last month a tribunal ruled that the DWP must publish the names of businesses and charities involved in the scheme. However, there are many companies still involved and the opposition has arguably lost momentum over the past year. Therefore, as companies are soon to be publicly shamed, there is a need to get involved in these campaigns and continue to add pressure until the scheme proves unworkable.
Alice S, LMU Revsoc