Why workfare won’t work

The Government yesterday announced its plans to make benefit claimants work for their benefits. Under this US-style Workfare, people who have been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for 12 months or more will be required to do community work for 30 hours a week for four months. This could be cleaning the streets, picking up litter or painting walls.

Stephen Evans has worked on and published research on a range of public policy areas, including welfare reform, skills, productivity and housing; he spent five years as a Senior Policy Adviser at HM Treasury, as well as two years working on the independent Leitch Review of Skills and went on to be Chief Economist at the Social Market Foundation

The government yesterday announced its plans to make benefit claimants work for their benefits. Under this US-style Workfare, people who have been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for 12 months or more will be required to do community work for 30 hours a week for four weeks. This could be cleaning the streets, picking up litter or painting walls.

Explaining the scheme, which will form part of a wider welfare reform White Paper later in the week, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:

“One thing we can do is pull people in to do one or two weeks’ manual work – turn up at 9am and leave at 5pm, to give people a sense of work, but also when we think they’re doing other work. The message will go across; play ball or it’s going to be difficult.”

The idea is that people who have been out of work for more than a year have lost the habit of work and that this approach will get them back into the habit of work, thus making them more employable.

This plan has been criticised by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who argued people could be driven into a “downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair”. The Trades Union Congress, meanwhile, argued the main problem is lack of jobs, not lack of work ethic. Also highlighted was the risk that Local Authorities, faced with 26 per cent budget cuts, may see this as a substitution for their own workers.

But just as bad, the evidence clearly shows that these workfare-style measures simply do not work. The DWP’s own research looking at workfare in the US, Canada and Australia, published in 2008, found that:

“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…

“Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high… Workfare is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to work.”

At the same time, this is a relatively marginal proposal for a relatively small number of people. It is focused on those who have been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than 12 months. There are around 230,000 people in this position, a tiny fraction of the almost 5 million people on out-of-work benefits in the UK.

Cuts to Housing Benefit, Local Housing Allowances, local authorities’ Council Tax Benefit payments, childcare tax credit, and increases in the hours people have to work to get in-work tax credits will have a vastly bigger impact.

So if workfare won’t work for the long-term unemployed, what will? The same DWP research found that:

“Subsidised job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes.”

This is exactly the model the Future Jobs Fund followed, creating real jobs that add genuine value and, in many cases, are leading on to permanent jobs. But this was one of the first things the Coalition Government scrapped.

Demos’s Liberation Welfare argued for the Future Jobs Fund model to be extended to form a Jobs Guarantee for all long-term benefit claimants. This would be a better way of getting Britain working again, not a Workfare scheme that has consistently failed wherever it has been tried.

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25 Responses to “Why workfare won’t work”

  1. Paul Seery

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  2. Hazico_Jo

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  3. Fiona

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  4. Richard Bradley

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work http://bit.ly/ansrZu

  5. Angela Pateman

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  6. Arran Russell

    @leftfootfwd Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs – – – really interesting

  7. Beatrice Bray

    If you want to kill the work ethic destroy the individual’s freedom to choose an occupation that might suit their talents. Force people to work for benefits. Make them do menial tasks of no vocational value to a future employer. This is punishment, not personal development.

    This is especially true for people with mental health problems. In this sector there used to be a belief that people needed lengthy periods of pre-work experience before they could move into a job. That idea is falling beside the wayside because experience shows that people fare much better if they choose their own goal, albeit with a bit of guidance. The individual makes up their own mind about their interests and talents and then competes in the open labour market for work. The idea is to minimise the length of time on benefits. Help them into a job quickly. Help the employer with adjsutments if necessary. The reward is occupation and pay. This is carrot not stick.

    Of course this is easier when jobs are available but even when jobs are scarce this is the best way to nurture and preserve the will to work. Punishing people will simply breed resentment. That is a sure way to condem vulnerable claimants to a lifetime of dependency.

  8. Shamik Das

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  9. Mr. Mxyzptlk

    Its just a modern version of putting people into the stocks so they can be humiliated and ridiculed in public………..A very Toryish thing to do

    http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/conisbrough/i/stocks.jpg

  10. Ash

    “people who have been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for 12 months or more will be required to do community work for 30 hours a week for four months”

    – isn’t it four *weeks*?

  11. Jane Howie

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  12. Lynda Edwards

    I am concerned that those people who have found a small amount of part-time work, which isn’t sufficient to keep them away from the Jobcentre, will be forced out of these paid jobs onto this ridiculous scheme. If JSA is only £65 it will only work out at around £2.16 per hour for a 30 hour week – this is illegal. Minimum pay is £5.93 per hour.

    I understand it may only be suitable for anyone who has never worked but those with a good work history but cannot find further work through corporate greed should not be treated in this way.

  13. Wendy Maddox

    A workforce on the cheap, well below minimum wage: RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work http://bit.ly/ansrZu

  14. Wendy Maddox

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  15. Frances London

    RT @leftfootfwd Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  16. Redstar PCS Stoke

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work: http://bit.ly/93scYs

  17. Matthew Lloyd

    Why workfare won't work | Left Foot Forward http://bit.ly/cvjXFz

  18. K Knight

    Why workfare won't work | Left Foot Forward: The Government yesterday announced its plans to make benefit claima… http://bit.ly/a1RqDn

  19. ad

    “Subsidised job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes.”

    Whats the difference between “working for a benefit” and “working for a wage”?

  20. Mr. Sensible

    Stephen I fully agree.

    I think it is very telling that the Arch Bishop has got involved in this way.

    Again the government fails to appreciate the damage their cuts are doing to jobs.

  21. Nick H.

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why workfare won't work http://bit.ly/ansrZu – It is a provably failed policy – but 'there's money in them there hills'.

  22. Shamik Das

    Hi Ash, you’re quite right – the post has been corrected.

  23. merthyr_bill

    the cuts haven’t even started yet Stephen. we are seeing a recovery built on the confidence of a Conservative administration. the stock market is heading up, its done better in 6 months than over the last 13 years.

  24. Tesco's unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfare | Left Foot Forward

    […] Why workfare won’t work – Stephen Evans, November 8th […]

  25. The information you need to end workfare | Left Foot Forward

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