Work experience is now voluntary, but the government still forces unpaid work

Alex Hern celebrates a minor victory over workfare, but warns that there is more to fight for in the future.


Patrick Wintour is reporting that the DWP has embarked on a partial climbdown over their workfare schemes, removing the element of compulsion from the work experience program.

Wintour tweeted:

DWP confirm all benefit sanctions for work experience programme are dropped save for gross misconduct such as stealing.

Chris Grayling the employment minister: ‘We have listened to employers.” Denies protestors have got their way.

The work experience program was originally supposed to be voluntary to enter, becoming compulsory after a week-long cooling off period. However, as Political Scrapbook reported yesterday, the DWP was sending out letters to claimants saying:

“Please note that if, without a good reason, you fail to start, fail to go when expected, or stop going to the [placement] … any future payments of Jobseeker’s Allowance could cease to be payable.”

This element of compulsion has now been removed from the scheme, leaving it entirely voluntary, but changing it substantially from the program IDS defended as “brilliant” this morning. It now appears to not been so great.

Workfare, however, remains an issue. Of the five schemes that the government runs, this change affects just the work experience program. As far as we know, the other four of them still have an element of forced, unpaid work.

These are:

Mandatory work activity scheme

The clue’s in the name, and Citizens Advice clarify:

If you are required to take part in the scheme, but you don’t without a very good reason, you will be sanctioned.

The work programme

Citizens Advice detail the groups who have to take part in the work programme; although further groups can volunteer, it is compulsory if:

• you are aged 18-24 and have claimed jobseeker’s allowance for nine months

• you are aged 25 or over and have claimed jobseeker’s allowance for 12 months

• you are seriously disadvantaged in the labour market, for example because a disability has made it hard to find work. When you qualify and whether you can choose to take part will depend on which area you live in and what your circumstances are

• you have recently claimed incapacity benefit, after claiming jobseeker’s allowance for three months

• you are claiming income-related employment and support allowance, are in the work-related activity group, and are expected to be fit for work within three months.

Sector based work academies

Directgov explains:

Taking part in sector-based work academies is entirely voluntary, but once you accept a place you must complete the process.

Community action programmes

The DWP’s guidance booklet states (pdf):

Mandation is there to use as a tool to ensure that claimants do what is required of them… Claimants who are mandated to undertake activity may incur a loss or reduction of benefit should they fail to comply without good reason.

Until the government stops forcing unemployed people to work for free, it cannot claim to treat “making work pay” as a priority. The best way to make work pay is to pay for work, and that seems to be something they will not do.

See also:

The government’s got big plans for workfare – don’t expect them to back down easilyIzzy Koksal, February 27th 2012

Workfare versus compulsory work: When is it right and wrong to mandate labour?Richard Exell, February 24th 2012

The information you need to end workfareAlex Hern, February 22nd 2012

Chris Grayling should respond to criticism of workfare, not smear the criticsIzzy Koksal, February 21st 2012

Tesco’s unpaid labour shows the flaw at the heart of workfareAlex Hern, February 16th 2012

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