Sandwell and Birmingham Hospitals trust have begun using unpaid workfare labour to cover for £125m of cuts to the “ringfenced” NHS budget.
First reported by Eoin Clarke, the story has been picked up by the Guardian, and Right to Work have called a demonstration at Sandwell Hospital on Thursday, from 5pm.
6 people, forced under threat of having their benefits stopped, have taken part in a trial scheme, which has seen them undertake a number of duties including cleaning and running errands but also extending to patient care in non-clinical areas, helping with meals and drinks.
Ravi Subramanian, the head of Unison, West Midlands, said:
Far from Tory claims to protect the NHS, Birmingham and Sandwell hospital trust is being forced to find savings of £125m over the next five years.
Thousands of staff are facing the prospect of losing their jobs and wards are closing. Now the hospital is making moves to deliver healthcare on the cheap, by using people on work experience to help with patient care. Patients and staff will rightly be very worried about the standard of patient care as this scheme is rolled out.
When we signed up to the Boycott Workfare campaign, we did so on the basis that we believed that workfare would be used to cover for cuts, with people on benefits being forced to do unpaid work in order to keep the money they need for food, fuel and rent. People who refuse to take part in workfare schemes face benefit sanctions of up to 6 months, although pressure on the government from campaigners and legal challenges has seen sanctions removed from some of the schemes.
With unemployment remaining at high levels, no sign of economic recovery and a continued commitment to austerity from the ConDem coalition, we can expect to see more of this, unless we make such a huge outcry now that it is not politically viable for public sector organisations to continue to take part in workfare schemes.
Today the Telegraph has reported that the £5bn work programme is failing, as employers are reluctant to expand their workforce in the face of economic uncertainty. The Telegraph reports that only 20% of people sent on the Work Programme find work, and there is no data as to whether these jobs are temporary or permanent. One thing is clear, that the work programme does not improve people’s chances of getting a job, and is an expensive waste of taxpayer’s money.
The issue with the NHS is not just about the exploitation of unemployed and disabled people, or about the fact that this is taking the place of paid positions, it is also about threats patient care and cuts to the NHS. We implore everyone who can to come along on Thursday and say No to Workfare and No to NHS Cuts.
Thursday 24th May at 5pm
Sandwell Hospital, West Bromwich, B71 4HJ. Assemble at the corner of Little Lane and All Saints Road, outside the A&E dept.