A Response To Mark Hoban’s Lies: Workfare Doesn’t Work

Boycott Workfare 3rd March 05In the Telegraph today, ahead of the vote which will pass retroactive legislation so that the government doesn’t have to repay £130m of sanctions illegally robbed from unemployed people on workfare schemes, Mark Hoban – the minister for employment – sought to justify this move and workfare generally.

It is almost to his credit that he claims criticism is “misguided and insulting” whilst lying and misleading about schemes which are misguided in their methods. This is a response to the points he made in the article, showing his lies for what they are.

When you’ve been out of work for months it can be easy to lose motivation and be sucked into a long spell without a job. Gaining some extra experience and keeping – or discovering – the habit of work is vital.

Yes, being unemployed can be and often is depressing. Not least because no matter how hard you are trying to get work you are constantly hearing that you are a scrounger, a skiver, a no good lazy feckless bum who’d rather scrounge off others than be a decent member of their community.

Applying for hundreds of jobs, not even getting a reply most of the time, is demoralising, and it’s made worse by the job centre who direct everyone to apply for every available job, sometimes even if you don’t meet the essential criteria. This is going to get worse with Universal Jobmatch as a computer will decide whether you should be made to apply for jobs so no common sense can be applied. The result of this apparent belief that all people need to do is be made to apply for more and more jobs is 1,700 people applying for 8 jobs at Costa Coffee.

The work experience argument is a red herring. It is obviously true that having direct and recent work experience is vital for getting a job. But if you don’t have this, what use is workfare? I personally have over 10 years experience working in an office. It’s been 16 years since I had reatil or customer service experience, when was at college working part time in MacDonalds. The vast majority of workfare is in retail – charity shops or places like Poundland. Me being sent on workfare won’t help me compete against the thousands who have been made redundant from HMV, Comet, Jessops or any other shops that have gone under recently. They will have years of recent paid experience and workfare cannot ever equal that.

When the job market is tough, and there are lots more people applying for jobs than jobs available, a few weeks or even months of forced work experience cannot give you the edge against people coming out of a real job. The regulations for workfare state that placements cannot be in place of “existing or expected vacancies” so forget the idea that you could show to an employer how good at the job you are and they’ll give you a job because if they do it breaks the rules of the scheme (and quite possibly minimum wage regulations).

That’s why we run several schemes where unemployed people are required to carry out a period of work on a project which benefits the community and gives a real boost to their job prospects. If they refuse that help without good reason, then they will lose their benefits for a period.

Yes Mark, JSA claimants can have benefits stopped for up to three years, whilst ESA claimants can have 70% of benefits stopped indefinitely. The effect of sanctions is to increase hunger, push people into debt and closer to homelessness. Sanctions are often applied in ridiculous circumstances (which may be overturned on appeal but that still means weeks without money). Some examples of this include:

These are just some examples of clearly ridiculous situations in which people are sanctioned. There is a lot pressure that comes down from on top – just have a read of this article from a former Job Centre Advisor.

JCP signpostIn this paragraph though it’s the “real boost to their job prospects” that is the issue. This is the biggest lie of all, and it is repeated by politicians and rarely challenged by journalists. Let’s look at the results from workfare schemes running in the UK:

Mandatory Work Activity: Does not improve job outcomes, does increase disability claims.
The Work Programme: Actively reduces the chances of people finding a job
The Community Action Programme: Has no effect on how many people find work
The Work Experience Scheme: Rate of people on the scheme leaving benefits is exactly the same as that for people not sent on the scheme.

If we look abroad, as the DWP did in 2008, then we also find that workfare schemes don’t help people into work. This is the conclusion of the study by the DWP into workfare:

There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.

These are mostly government run trials, and they all conclude that workfare doesn’t work, but this government has a habit of ignoring evidence in favour of lies.

So workfare doesn’t help give unemployed people a “real boost to their job prospects”. At best it makes no difference at all (but does cost money for the taxpayer to run, and does provide a supply of unpaid labour to companies threatening paid jobs – more on that later). At worst, like the Work Programme it actually stops people from finding work, or like Mandatory Work Activity it increases the number of people claiming disability benefit, suggesting that it makes existing health conditions worse or even makes people ill.

According to new research from the British Social Attitudes survey carried out by social research charity NatCen, most people agree with us – 85% of the public believe that someone who is unemployed and on benefits should be required to do some unpaid work in the community while keeping their benefits if they’re fit and able.

Well we can’t find this research this morning. It’s a shame that the Telegraph don’t put links into their articles so we can check them. The most recent British Social Attitudes research available on the NatCen charity’s website is from 2012, and does not ask a question about unpaid work. The Employment Related Services Association had to reach back to 2011 to get this question from a YouGov survey, long before the workfare campaign had started having a strong effect, theses schemes had hit the headlines or the evidence of their failure to get people into work had been shown.

Sadly a loud but misguided minority – often spurred on by the leftwing press – still attack these schemes and, ridiculously, label them ‘slave labour’. Not only is this misleading and downright insulting, but they also completely fail to offer any workable alternative.

What can we say to this but lol. It’s been the campaigners who have spurred on the press, with the exception of a couple of journalists like Shiv Malik at the Guardian. We do not label these schemes slave labour, however many people who are forced onto the schemes do.

We offer plenty of alternatives, but fundamentally we don’t need to. Workfare doesn’t work, it doesn’t help people to get a job, it can only reduce the number of paid jobs available. All we are saying is don’t do something that is useless at best and harmful at worst. If your only suggestion for something to do is to do something harmful, isn’t it better to do nothing?

But we don’t suggest doing nothing. We suggest investing in our economy to actually create jobs. Paid jobs with a living wage in organisations that have proper apprenticeship and training schemes to build the skills infrastructure we need to move to a zero-carbon economy. By creating jobs you address the fundamental problem of the labour market – that there are not enough jobs for everyone.

Far from being slavery or punishment, these schemes are designed with the sole motive of helping people get back into work – giving them the vital workplace skills and experience which may be holding them back from getting a job. Indeed, as the Court of Appeal recently concluded in a judicial review, we are completely within our rights to expect people to attend these schemes.

Except we know they don’t help people get back into work, so why are you expanding the schemes and supporting workfare if this is your sole motive? With 20% of people referred to Mandatory Work Activity having benefits stopped can it really be said that punishment is not part of these schemes?

Again, the work experience question. Reading this, you’d think that the only people sent on workfare are those who have never been in work, but actually people with recent and lengthy work histories are often sent to work. People who are volunteering are forced to leave their position to stack shelves in Poundland, and when Universal Credit comes in later this year, part time workers could find themselves being sent on workfare too.

While the court agreed with us on that key point, we disagree with another part of its ruling that said the regulations underpinning some schemes weren’t specific enough. We’re seeking to appeal but have already laid new regulations so the programmes could continue. Today MPs will debate emergency legislation to make sure that people who had benefits taken off them for failing to participate do not get that money back. It cannot be right – especially in these difficult economic times – that claimants failing to do enough to prepare for work receive an undeserved windfall payment.

“an undeserved windfall payment”

Let’s get this straight. Someone on a workfare scheme was sanctioned because the regulations weren’t laid out properly, often meaning that people did not get the right information. The courts have ruled that these sanctions were illegal, i.e. that people had their money illegally stopped. Now they should be getting that money back.
Mark Hoban claimed over £12,000 on parliamentary expenses for furnishing his second home, including £80 on four silk cushion covers, and he calls returning money illegally taken from someone an “undeserved windfall payment”

Sometimes all that is needed is a short burst of activity to reintroduce claimants to the world of work – and this is what our Mandatory Work Activity scheme offers through a placement of community work, teaching people the basic disciplines any reasonable employer will expect, such as team working and punctuality. Our own research found that nine in ten participants said they better recognised the benefits of a working routine, and more than half felt more positive about work afterwards

And yet, despite these positive outcomes, Mandatory Work Activity does not improve someone’s chances of finding a job. So what evidence is there that “a short burst of activity to reintroduce claimants to the world of work” is sometimes all that is needed? Actually the vast majority of claimants have been in for for at least three of the past four years, and given that participation on workfare doesn’t help anyone to find a job, it should be obvious that the short burst of activity doesn’t help people into work, despite achieving some positive outcomes.

Mark Hoban goes on to praise the companies that take unpaid workers into their business and the charities that give a respectable veneer to the schemes. He praises them for helping people but often as not, people on workfare have bad experiences, and most do not get into work. Mark chooses to ignore this anecdotal evidence of course, along with the structured statistical evidence that show overall workfare doesn’t work.

What is never addressed is the fundamental flaw in the heart of these schemes, and that is the lack of a job creation mechanism. Read the literature from workfare companies and they all talk about “finding a job”. What this means is that when the scheme “works”, someone who is sent on the scheme gets a job. The job they get would have existed without the scheme, and someone would have got the job – perhaps not the person sent on the scheme, but unemployment would still have been reduced by one.

What theses schemes might do is change who gets a job, which can be a worthwhile aim, but what they can never do is to reduce unemployment. If you want to reduce unemployment what you need to do is to create new jobs.

This is a fundamental deception by this government who pretend these schemes are about reducing unemployment. It either shows their pure inability to think beyond the neo-classical economic theories and neo-liberal ideology that they inhabit or that they simply want to create a supply of unpaid workers, funded by the taxpayer, to subsidise companies wage bills.

In fact the only possible effect on unemployment is to increase it, as companies take advantage of a steady supply of unpaid workers to reduce hours or cut jobs.

So when Mark Hoban talks about helping unemployed people, you can be certain this is a lie. His only interests are to punish us, to undercut the minimum wage and to supply unpaid workers to companies to increase their profits at our expense. This is part of the corporate welfare state, and it should be no part of a social security programme.

Join the Boycott Workfare week of action this week, with online events taking place every day (today is the Salvation Army) and demonstrations around the UK on Saturday. In Birmingham we will join SolFed, Boycott Workfare and others for a picket of Poundland on Corporation Street from 1pm. Help us to spread the message that workfare doesn’t work.

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4 responses to “A Response To Mark Hoban’s Lies: Workfare Doesn’t Work

  1. Pingback: A Response To DWP Minister Mark Hoban’s Lies: Workfare Doesn’t Work | Black Triangle Campaign

  2. Pingback: Birmingham Trades Council » A Response To Mark Hoban’s Lies: Workfare Doesn’t Work

  3. Pingback: No. 134 Solidarity action – “We need a General Strike” | National Shop Stewards Network

  4. Pingback: Take Part In Boycott Workfare Week Of Action This Week | Birmingham Against The Cuts

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