The element of 'support' has more or less disappeared now. The new Mandatory Work Programme is not so much about work experience as forced labour. People on benefits - for whatever reason, including illness - will be told to go and work for 'providers' or lose all their benefits. While they're working, they will not be paid by the employer but by the taxpayer, in the form of benefits. From next year, these placements will last for up to two years.
Companies already using workfarers include Tesco, Poundland, Sainsbury's, Reed and A4E. These last two - employment agencies, who are also scheme administrators - do not make their regular vacancies available to workfarers, which seems to show limited commitment to workfare as a route back into regular work.
The DWP refused a Freedom Of Information request about how many long-term real jobs have resulted from workfare. Anecdotal evidence is strong that very few employers have any intention of keeping their workfarers on after placement - well, would you, if you could get an endless stream of free staff, courtesy of the taxpayer?
Not only that, but employers are paid several thousand pounds to get free staff.
Since workfarers are not actually employed by the 'provider', they aren't covered by regular employment law. If they're abused at work, are taken ill or have an accident, they won't be covered by normal procedures and can even have their benefit taken off them. (In many cases, this will also make them homeless.) They don't have normal entitlements to breaks and holidays, etc. Their travel expenses won't be paid, even though they're only getting benefits at less than minimum wage.
Even if claimants have been signed off sick by their doctor, they can still be made to go on workfare:
"If you’re getting Employment and Support Allowance and are in the work-related activity group there are rules about taking part in the Work Programme. You may have to take part from three months before the date your doctor expects you to be fit for work."From this directgov page.
It's hard to see how workfare's supposed to improve our economy. Jobs, which could have been available at normal market rates, are being filled by people on benefits: hence fewer jobs, and less money in circulation. When London Underground laid off security staff, they were quickly replaced by people on workfare. In New York, where workfare has been operating for years, it's not uncommon for people to be sent to their old jobs on workfare, after being made redundant.
There's a strong popular myth about the skiving 'sick benefit' (ESA) claimant, however most genuinely are sick and living close to poverty because of it. Somebody who's developed heart disease, say, or a progressive illness, can now be made to go and work in a supermarket warehouse three months before their doctor says they're well. If they can't hack it - which would seem likely under the circumstances - their benefits can be completely stopped. As a result, they're likely to become homeless. They will then have to be accommodated, at still greater expense to taxpayers.
This is already happening to people you've met, and will be happening to many more in 2012. It could be happening to you if you're made redundant or fall ill.
Frothers will be adding more posts on this topic, and we will link to organisations that provide information. Meanwhile we're asking for first-hand accounts of workfare, whether you're a participant or have worked alongside workfarers in your real job.