Why I know workfare doesn’t work

Chris Grayling makes large claims for his workfare schemes:

There is a work experience scheme, it’s voluntary. If you are a young person looking for work, the Job Centre Plus advisor will talk to you about which area you might be interested in going and working in. Let’s suppose you want to go and work in the care sector, they’ll find you a work experience placement in the care sector, you’ll go and meet the employer, if you’re both happy with that and the employer is willing to take you, then you’ll start the placement. You’ve got a week to change your mind… (Transcript: Grayling on work experience – Today this morning)

This idea of what workfare is like doesn’t seem to be borne out by anyone with actual experience of it. LatentExistence outlines the lies in depth (and it was noticeable that Ed Vaizey on last night’s Question Time appeared to have the government line down pat but to know so little beyond that, that even the Tunbridge Wells audience was amused).

On a tumblr in praise of workfare:

At the end of the day;
This has not cost the taxpayer money – they pay benefit anyway Doesn’t cost the young anything – they get expenses covered
Small cost to sponsor company is offset by ‘free labour’
What’s not to like?

Well, the idea that this doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything is a particularly absurd claim in the same week in which four employees of A4E were arrested for fraud and A4e Chef Executive Emma Harrison paid herself almost £9 million this year already – and this is no new development.

Recruitment companies getting tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to find jobs for the unemployed are at the centre of a fraud probe after staff made false claims of getting people into work.

The Observer found that A4e, one of the government’s biggest private contractors, is at the centre of the Department for Work and Pensions inquiries. It is understood that at least two other recruitment companies have been probed by the DWP. Last night Yvette Cooper, the work and pensions secretary, confirmed that investigations were under way and said she could cancel multimillion-pound contracts if widespread fraud was uncovered.

The revelation comes weeks after A4e was earmarked for £100m of contracts for the government’s Flexible New Deal, in which private companies will be paid for each person they place in a job. (Guardian, June 2009)

The taxpayer is paying these companies to accept claimants as free labour. The taxpayer is paying A4E to get people into these workfare schemes. We funded that nine million that the head of A4E has just taken with her into retirement. How many actual jobs would that money have funded? (More on A4E here.)

Emma Harrison has resigned from A4E this evening:

She is the majority shareholder in A4e, which has won more than £200m worth of contracts to run welfare-to-work schemes since May 2010. The company has five shareholders who were paid £11m in dividends last year, of which Harrison received £8.6m.

Harrison has been under pressure since details emerged last week of her dividend package. The political heat was turned up over the weekend after it emerged that Thames Valley police had visited the firm’s offices in Slough over claims of fraud last Friday. The force has confirmed it arrested four people in connection with its investigation.

Because these companies are able to get people to work for them without paying, they stop hiring at the most basic casual-work level. So the taxpayer goes on paying to keep people on benefits. Further, many people who have been on these workfare schemes report that doing a full-time job means they don’t have time to spend doing the full-time job search and application routine which you need to do in today’s recession, if you hope to get a job at all. So they’re less likely to find a job while they’re on workfare.

Although big retail outlets are vulnerable to public opinion, as we’ve seen – Tescos, Poundland, and Greggs all pulling out – there are other companies that can make use of free labour that are less vulnerable:

Rebecca Fagan, a manager at DC Property Maintenance in Sussex, said that it had been sent “loads” of jobseekers from Avanta during the last two years. “They normally come for four weeks and they are put with other team members,” she said.

The unpaid work involves cleaning houses and flats in the Sussex area as well as offices. When asked if they were job shadowing, she replied that “they are actually doing” cleaning.

Over the last two years she said that she had had 20-25 unpaid cleaners through the work programme and the previous new deal scheme. According to Fagan, the firm, which employs 18 full-time staff including those in head office, had hired six or seven during those two years.

I can speak from my own experience from 20 years ago that although I did a fair amount of time doing the kind of work workfare claimants are assigned to – though as this was the 1990s, I could and did expect to get paid to do it! – the most useful thing I did in order to get a new job was to find a part-time voluntary job in a charity office which was related to the kind of work I wanted to do.

Now I work for a charity, I offer unemployed people the same kind of option – part-time volunteer work which is related to the kind of job they want to get into. More often than not, they leave us because they’ve been offered a job – and they say themselves that the voluntary work they’re doing for us helps them, on their CV, in interviews, when they need a reference. But sometimes I’ve lost a volunteer because they’ve been assigned to do something else called “work experience”. They’re not allowed to keep going on the volunteer work they’re doing for me: they have to quit and do something else that they’ve just been randomly assigned to by the Job Centre, under threat of losing their benefits. This is not voluntary – they don’t want to go.

Keeping people on benefits rather than getting them into paid work is stupid. Letting employers avoid hiring people in a recession by allowing them to get people for free, funded by the taxpayer, is just exactly backwards.

The repeated claims that this has been “proven” to work in the US or elsewhere?

Really not.

Update, 31st August 2012

From a former Poundland supervisor:

For their first few days as “A4Es” they were enthusiastic and were expecting training and support to give them skills and experience that they could add to their CVs which could help them get a job in future. Towards the end of their first week, they would be resigned to what was actually expected of them. They were expected to arrive on time, be given trollies of stock and pointed towards an area of the store that they were required to fill that day.
These schemes could, in my opinion, be greatly improved by something which appears to be very simple. Ask the jobseeker to find a work placement themselves. This would not only help provide training and experience when they arrived but it would also improve their initiative. If a jobseeker couldn’t find their own placement or simply didn’t want to attend one, then one could be assigned for them. People interested in shop work could volunteer within a shop. People interested in cooking could volunteer in the kitchen of a cafe. Although this system would be more difficult to keep track of, I think from first-hand experience that it is the only way a work placement scheme could work. Jobseekers would be getting experience in their chosen field rather than being forced into a placement that is unlikely to benefit them. If a person dislikes what they are doing then they aren’t likely to do it to a very high standard or take much away from the experience.

1 Comment

Filed under Benefits, Poverty

One response to “Why I know workfare doesn’t work

  1. Eric Greenwood

    These companies get a £400 attachment fee per client.

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