Workfare is the system whereby unemployed and disabled people are forced to work for charities, community organisations and companies under threat of having their benefits stopped entirely for up to three years for unemployed people and losing 70% of their benefits indefinitely for disabled people.
The schemes vary from the theoretically voluntary “Work Experience Programme” to the definitely mandatory “Mandatory Work Activity”. The schemes vary in length from 2 weeks to 2 months, but the government has decided this isn’t enough, since none of the schemes are proving to be any use in getting people back into work, the problem is clearly that they don’t last long enough.
So the “Community Action Programme” was piloted. 6 months of workfare, with other groups staying on the standard jobcentre programme or going into a more intensive version of the jobcentre programme.
The result? The same amount of people found work regardless of which scheme they were sent on. Workfare had no effect at all.
This shouldn’t be a surprise really since the same is true for every workfare scheme, and the DWP in 2008 said that workfare can even make unemployment worse by replacing paid jobs with unpaid jobs and taking away peoples’ time and energy to look for work.
That every workfare scheme has failed would lead more thoughtful people than IDS or Liam Byrne to consider whether the whole idea is maybe just a bit misguided. Supplying free labour to companies is just obviously foolish when you are trying to get more people into work. All companies will happily make some paid staff redundant if they can get free labour in their place, so more people find themselves on the dole. Some may even find they are back in their old job, working for free, before long.
The “experience” gained is often worthless, and in the worst recovery from recession for over 100 years, with thousands applying for every job, the competition is so fierce that this type of experience is useless even if you’ve actually had a decent placement somewhere.
Simple maths says that there aren’t enough jobs for everyone to have one anyway, so any kind of training or experience scheme, even a proper one which taught real skills, will have little or no effect. What is needed is more jobs, or a better distribution of the work (and results of that work) than we currently have.
Workfare cannot achieve this. By design it cannot create jobs, only replace paid jobs with jobs paid for by the taxpayer. Because of this it can only increase unemployment – when workfare “works”, the job someone gets as a result would have gone to someone else anyway. Still, just because the scheme cannot achieve what it is claimed to, is expensive to run and morally wrong is no reason not to expand the scheme eh?
You can join in the online actions organised each day by Boycott Workfare, targetting the charities and companies profiting from the taxpayer footing the bill. These protests are effective, the government is still defying court orders to release the names of workfare abusers as they believe the resulting protests would cause the collapse of workfare schemes. The Salvation Army, one of the staunchest supporters of workfare has said they will not take part in the new 6 month scheme, though they’ll continue with Mandatory Work Activity of course. Together we can end this foolishness.