The fabric of Britain as we know it is being ripped apart. So much is changing, almost behind our backs, we haven't got time to notice what is happening to us. And it is happening fast.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

How 'workfare' affects you

It will take several posts to explain the Work Programme: it's hard to believe and the goalposts keep moving. The programme was introduced as part of the New Deal back-to-work initiative several years ago, with the aim of supporting the long-term unemployed and young jobseekers into regular employment. It is still described that way..

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.

Back to top


  1. I'm due to start my second workfare placement early in the New Year. It's totally demoralising and the last thing it does is prepare you for work.

  2. EXcellent post- thank you!

  3. there needs to be something posted/campaigned about the media battle and labours lettuce like stance

    i think this is all important especially when working class people are thinking the tories are saving the country. somethings going wrong

    cheers Custy

  4. If customers boycott the companies in the scheme, like Sainsbury's, they'd quickly lose their appetite for workhouse-inspired work programmes.

  5. Thank you, Lee and Anonymous(s). Lee, I looked at your lovely walking blog and noticed you said you have Aspergers. How did you cope with being put into environments where you didn't know anybody?

    Can you tell us a bit more about what actually happened during your placements?

  6. I'm currently on JSA, after being made redundant in November (with a tiny, statutory severance package, so nothing to support me for the coming months) and I wonder how the hell they think people on JSA, who are seeking jobs and trying to attend interviews can manage this.

    I would love to take on some proper work experience or study - to do something which, as a 29-year-old, would help me move into a new career before it's essentially too late - but they refuse to support people in doing that. Instead, they want to force us to stack shelves.

    That isn't helping people, it's wilfully punishing them for being unemployed, whatever the reason.

    The worst part, is that I would think this was a great idea, if they were helping people into roles in charities or small companies, which are desperate for the support but are currently struggling to make ends meet.

  7. I agree, Rosie - most people think workfare is going to help charities, "Big Society" style. Folks have no idea it's being used to provide free staff for big businesses.

    As you say, a full-time (unchosen) job does nothing for a person's prospects. Say you were an accountant who's been laid off; how will 2 years on Tesco's shop floor enhance your CV? And when will you be able to do your job-searching?

    If the Govt wants to pay multinationals £5k a time to take on jobseekers, they should have to actually employ them, not just use them for free. All that money would be much better spent on vocational training and education.

  8. If people are being forced to work in order to receive their benefits then they are also being forced to work for much less than the NMW. It's not work experience, it's not volunteering, it's not an apprenticeship so people would be protected by the National Minimum Wage Act. It is actually illegal to pay people less than the NMW so I wonder how they, the Government, are going to get around that, and not paying travel expenses too!! That would be £20 a week in travel alone, to go work for free.

    I put myself on the Lone Parent New Deal programme at the beginning of this year. This included a three month work placement, chosen by the agency running the programme. I was sent to work for an organisation which had a large number of people who were there on work placement or as volunteers. Yes, it was nice to have a purpose but I was exploited, I was expected to carry out the same duties as the paid members of staff and in fact covered for staff that were taking their holiday entitlement. The training I was promised wasn't given so I left not having updated a lot of the skills I would like to have updated. I was also told I could claim my travel expenses but I wasn't paid the full amount so in effect I was paying the organisation for my services. Before my three months came to an end they had already lined up my replacement, yet another single mum trying to better herself by gaining work experience. More free labour for them.

    I came away feeling the only people who gain anything from this sort of situation are the Organisations involved. They are getting free labour but not delivering the training or experience they promise to. I was also led to believe there could be paid employment at the end of it but after a few weeks of me observing the system it was obvious that they wouldn't be employing people when they could get them for free.

    The system stinks!

  9. Work Fare = Legalised Slavery.

    That is all.

  10. Good grief this is the first I'd heard of this. Absolutely atrocious.

    Still cheap labour = more profit for the big business mates of the tories I guess.

  11. It's becoming well publicised that a legal challenge is being mounted against Mandatory Work Experience - this would also include the Community Action programme now being "trailblazed" in CPAs 01 and 02 (Derbyshire; Lincolnshire, Rutland & Nottinghamshire; East Anglia; and Leicestershire & Northamptonshire,). Around 16000 claimants being targeted for either CAP, Ongoing Case Management activity or
    the control group (normal JCP support). This means around 5333 people being sent on 30 hours per week of unpaid work + 10 hours mandatory jobsearch. In practice there is no time limit so this could go on until retirement age.
    Already we are hearing of people being mandated to CAP. This needs a legal challenge along the lines of that already being mounted against MWA/experience. If you want to fight it here are the Solicitor's details:
    Jim Duffy


    Public Interest Lawyers

    Eight Hylton Street


    T: +44 (0) 121 515 5069
    F: +44 (0) 121 515 5129

  12. 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.


  13. I am due to start this soon and am very worried. I want to work ,I want a job. That doesn't mean I have no pride at all, I am already hungry most of the time, how will I work on an empty stomach for 30 hrs a week?

  14. frothingangry,

    Thank you for publishing this article. I have a message that i'd like to pass on to you, do you have a contact address?

  15. Thank you for the links to Public Interest Lawyers and Economania, above. Bill, I loved your article about the ethereal nature of money (though I don't think you'd use that word!) True, of course, but a bit later than too late to do anything about it.

    PIL's site is a mine of useful (if depressing) links. I'm encouraged to know there are good people fighting!

    I'm intrigued by your message, Stuart. You could mail me on this user name, at

  16. I'd seen something about "Community Action Programme" while trawling the DWP for information about Mandatory Work Activity. Isn't it wonderful how the DWP / A4Group can find such empowerful-sounding names for - er, slavery??

    So, yes, CAP has little to do with community action like repainting the community centre, and much more to do with a new name for workfare ... even before the Mandatory Work Programme's been fully rolled out.

    From the DWP:
    "The claimant group for the trailblazer will be a selection of JSA claimants who are 18 years or over and who have participated in the Flexible New Deal (FND) programme and returned to JCP.

    "Attendance will be mandatory for those referred, claimants will not be able to volunteer to participate in the trailblazer.

    "This section provides details of the claimant group who will be referred via random allocation and the eligibility conditions for CAP."

    The trailblazer appears to be a large-scale pilot for the full scheme, as far as I can see. The docs I read placed emphasis on the additional (third?) bonus if a slave manages to find & keep a real job for 6 months after placement. I imagine A4E will be able to engineer that, won't they, if the bonus is big enough? Six-month jobs, paying NMW, followed by the boot as soon as they've done the forms.

    ... I wish I were being too cynical :(

  17. I find the inclusion of A4E in any of these schemes deeply disturbing. This is the company that despite receiving millions in public funding couldn't hold a candle to the Job Centre when it came to finding work for perfectly healthy people, this in the recent boom years too. Now they're inexplicably being given millions more from the public purse in the improbable expectation they'll be able to find even disabled people work in an extremely troubled economic climate. One could suggest this is a triumph of hope over experience but my more pragmatic explanation is this is fraud, a way of passing public funds to private companies yet again. Grayling should be answering questions on why they and companies with similarly lamentable track records are being rehired and he should be being asked these questions in the dock not in parliament where he's allowed to grease his way out of answering. I've seen him asked in the HOuse of Commons how wheelchair users are supposed to get to work in the rush hour given bus services are being reduced. His answer was to go into a minor rant about how the Coalition had inherited this situation from Labour (his questioner was a labour MP). Not one word of answer by way of explanation relevant to the question. This is a very serious business, this is a minister of the Crown in one of the world's most developed countries, in the job in the first place because he and his party suggest they have solutions to the problems created by the former Labour government. With all the resources he has at his disposal if he can't even answer an simple question like that what's he doing there? This strongly suggests to me it's Chris Grayling himself who ought to be unemployed.

  18. Ha! I'd like to see ALL of them stacking shelves for £65 a week ... while being told how useless they are, it's all their own fault and accused of fraud. They'll be getting used to the last bit soon enough, but I think the poverty-line slavery should be mandatory for them, too. They seem to be hopelessly out of touch with ordinary life.

    One of the Frothers was personally promised a commitment to disability provisions, by Shiny Dave himself. She's unimpressed so far.

    Good to see new/positive economics getting an airing. I hope people come to grips with what banks are actually doing.

    Agree with you about A4E. Also Atos, now using the 'healthcare' system that was found illegal in the USA, of all places. What are the numpties in Westminster actually doing??

  19. Sharing in the proceeeds would be my guess. Laughing all the way to the tax haven.

  20. £65 a week is not the poverty line. Its halfway BELOW the poverty line.

  21. thanks for share.


later posts

earlier posts