Workfare protests, both online and in the high street, have resulted in a spate of withdrawals from the forced labour schemes by charities. In recent months PDSA, Sense, Sue Ryder, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scope, Age UK and Cancer Research have withdrawn from these schemes. It should be pointed out, however, that often their statements are vague, such as in the case of the BHF, which leaves doubt about whether they have withdrawn completely or only in part or at all. That leaves them looking like some lying, scheming 19th century mill owner trying to get one over on the workers he’s exploiting.
That cannot be said of Scope. Not only have they pulled out but they’ve been clear about why. Scope’s chief executive, Richard Hawkes, interviewed in The Guardian by Shiv Malik (12/12/12), said that a change in the rules governing the workfare schemes by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had forced them to withdraw. The change was that sick or disabled people, some severely disabled, some trying to recover from strokes or battling cancer, many of whom had been categorised as unfit for work were now eligible to be forced to work for their benefits on work placements that did not have a fixed time limit. Hawkes said “These moves do not feel like they have been designed around what disabled people need to find work” – clearly the man is a master of understatement.
The Red Cross is another charity that has recently pulled out of workfare. In reply to a letter from a customer querying their use of workfare ‘volunteers’ in their shops they said -
“In line with our fundamental principles our aim has always been to support vulnerable people in crisis and as such we no longer feel that it is appropriate to participate in a programme where sanctions might be applied that could result in an individual losing their benefits” (quoted on boycottworkfare.org).
Charities haven’t just allowed people to be placed with them to work for free, some charities and other non-profit organisations such as Remploy and the Workers’ Educational Association are subcontractors in the Work Programme. They have placed jobseekers in work with profit making companies such as Tesco and Poundland. One charity, Conservation Volunteers, has even placed people with profit making companies when they were supposed to be doing work that benefited the community. That particular charity has had an income in-excess of £19 million from its involvement in workfare schemes (Malik, 12/12/12). It is clearly distasteful, to say the least, for charities to be using the labour of people forced to work for them without pay but for them to be making money out of forced labour is despicable.
It is important to remember that many of those using unemployed workers as a source of free labour are highly profitable companies but charities may be the weak link because a higher standard of respect for their fellow human beings is expected of them. As more and more charities pull out of workfare schemes the companies, such as the loathsome A4e, and other organisations who are trying to find and fill placements are struggling to do so.
As the wheels threaten to fall off of the whole project Iain Duncan Smith has been valiantly (almost violently) trying to defend it. In a heated exchange on LBC radio last month he found his competence called into question after a court ruling in the case of Cait Reilly who had famously been forced to work for Poundland for free rather than the museum she volunteered in. The court ruling had not said that workfare infringed anyone’s human rights (which was disappointing but what can you expect from a pig but a grunt?) but the judge had criticised the legislation – Mr Duncan Smith’s legislation.
In an angry outburst the arrogant S.O.B. (Son Of a Ballerina) said, in reference to Cait Reilly not being paid for her labour -
“She was being paid for it, what do you think the taxpayer was paying her for God’s sake? Her jobseekers allowance. The tax payer is paying her wages” (qouted in: Iain Duncan Smith’s Anger Over Poundland, Workfare And Cait Reilly Boils Over On LBC, by Felicity Morse, Huffington Post, 20/02/13).
You can hear the whole interview on huffingtonpost.co.uk.
I wonder if you’ve spotted Mr Duncan Smith’s faux pas? Yes, I’m sure his taking the Lord’s name in vain will not go down well with some conservatives but I was referring to something else. He said “she was being paid for it” and “The taxpayer is paying her wages.” If that’s not enough of a blunder he then went on later in the interview to use the phrase “earn their jobseekers allowance”. Paid, wages, earn – all words IDS used in reference to benefits and what he likes to call ‘work experience’. It’s not the first time he has done this but it seems an odd thing for him to say when you consider that according to the DWP “benefit is not paid as remuneration” and the UK does not have a “pay for your benefits system”. Indeed IDS has himself repeatedly said that Britain doesn’t operate a workfare system but working for your benefits is precisely what workfare is.
Not content with breaking the official policy of his own department IDS may well be breaking the law. If these schemes are a form of workfare or work-for-your-benefits or whatever other name that may apply and people are being paid their benefits as a wage for the work they are doing then those wages fall well short of the legal minimum wage.
The minimum wage is currently set out as follows: £3.68 for under 18s; £4.98 for 18-20 year olds; £6.19 for those 21 years old and above. At the moment jobseekers are expected to spend at least 20 hours a week searching for work (rising to over 30 later this year) and the workfare schemes usually require 30 or 40 hours of work per week. Jobseeker’ Allowance is currently paid at £56.25 per week for younger claimants (16 -24) and the usual rate is £71 per week. I have no idea why teenagers should be paid less for their work or receive less in benefits but sadly they do. Below is a table showing how much jobseekers ‘earn’ whether they are searching for work (20 hours per week) or on a workfare scheme (30 or 40 hours per week):
|Minimum wage||20 hours (job searching)||30 hours (workfare)||40 hours (workfare)|
|Lower rate of JSA – £56.25||£4.98 (18-20 years)||£2.81||£1.86||£1.41|
|Higher rate of JSA – £71||£6.19 (21 years and over)||£3.55||£2.37||£1.78|
As you can see, some people on the lower rate of JSA can accept to be ‘paid’ the princely sum of £1.41 an hour for their work. The best ‘wages’ you can hope for on workfare are £2.37 an hour. So if you happen to be a 19 year old doing 30 weeks of community service – oops! Sorry, if you’re a 19 year old doing 30 hours of volunteering to help Poundland maximize its profits, eh I mean ‘work experience’ your ‘wages’ to use Iain Duncan Smith’s word will be nearly three times lower than the national minimum wage for your age group and people on the higher rate of JSA don’t do much better.
So there it is – by Iain Duncan Smith’s own admission workfare breaks both the DWP’s policy and the law regarding the National Minimum Wage. Let’s hope IDS sees the inside of a prison cell soon for his crimes or perhaps he could stack shelves at Poundland for
£2.37 an hour (JSA).
Workfare is under pressure and it’s chief architect, IDS, is feeling the heat but we have to keep the pressure on. Boycott Workfare have called a week of action against workfare from March 18th to 24th. Check the Boycott Workfare website to see if there’s something near you or check for events on facebook. I know there are events in Glasgow (organised by the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network and the Crutch Collective) and Edinburgh on the 23rd. For General info on workfare check boycottworkfare.org or righttowork.org.uk.