Cheap-work conservatives: arbeit macht frei

Today, people who are sick or disabled become eligible for mandatory workfare placements.

Mark Hoban, Minister for Employment
, says that forcing people to work for no pay is “a very good way to increase someone’s confidence” and claimed that

“People on sickness benefits who do all they can to improve their chances of moving back into a job have nothing to worry about.

“They will get their benefits and we will do all we can to help. But in the small number of cases where people refuse to stick to their part of the bargain, it’s only right there are consequences.”

The consequences are an open-ended sanction – benefits-cut – for someone who, from the perspective of the Work Programme, has been declared fit for work but refuses to do a “work placement”. The open-ended period during which a “fit for work” client must do without benefits will end when “the claimant meets the requirements” – agrees to go work for their benefits, but the open-ended sanction is followed by “a short fixed period of 1, 2 or 4 weeks”.

So for the first week (or first four weeks) of the unpaid and indefinite work placement, the client will still have their benefits cut. After they’ve worked for a week or more for no money, they can get their benefits back – assuming they’re still alive.

The idea that forcing someone who is ill into an unwanted work placement will improve their chances of finding a job when they are well enough to work, is flagrant nonsense. If someone is too ill to work, making them work unpaid against their will won’t help them get better. All job seekers who have been unemployed for at least a year must now do at least one unpaid, compulsory period of work for a charity or a private company. And anyone ill or disabled, deemed “fit to work” by Atos, must also now do compulsory unpaid “work experience” or lose their benefits.

Already, thousands of people have died after being told they were “fit to work” and having their disability support cut: now if they don’t do mandatory work placements, they can be sanctioned further. Labour MP Michael Meacher says:

“There are thousands of people being told wrongly that they are able to work. The Government have admitted that 11,000 people forced on to work-related activity after assessments have died before getting work.

“I am trying to gather all the cases I can, because this is a massive injustice. I am prepared to campaign for months or years until this is addressed properly.”

Mandatory workfare, organised by private companies, was Iain Duncan Smith’s joy and pride. Instead of people on the dole just “shirking”, force them to work. None of that snooty stuff about expecting to get paid for their labour, or for looking round for a work placement that fits their needs for on-the-job experience: that might be more effective for the economy or for getting people back to work, but Tory ideology doesn’t allow for unemployed people getting to make decisions like that. But this scheme’s cost five hundred million pounds to reduce a person’s chance of getting back to work:

The Work Programme has by the government’s own figures reduced a person’s chances of employment significantly: prior to workfare, a person in long-term unemployment had a 5% chance of getting work: if they’ve participated in the Work Programme, they invariably have less than that.

An analysis by the Guardian reveals that none of the 18 Work Programme contractors – 15 of which are private companies – managed to get 5.5% of unemployed people referred to the scheme a job for half a year in the 14 months until July 2012, despite the government having spent £435m on the scheme so far. Providers are paid for taking on a jobless person, finding them a job and then ensuring they keep it.

Ingeus, part of a multinational founded by the wife of the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, is the biggest private contractor, winning seven franchises of the programme worth £727m over five years. In the north-east of England, Ingeus was referred almost 28,000 jobless people and got 920 into sustained employment, a success rate of 3.3% until July 2012. A4e, which is the second biggest contractor to the programme, with £438m of deals, found 490 jobs for 17,650 unemployed people in the south of England – a performance rate of 2.8%.

In the run-up to Christmas this year, Argos will be busy: but instead of hiring temporary staff, they’re just recruiting free labour from the Work Programme. Shoezone are doing the same.

It’s a big problem for any business: the biggest cost, the biggest slice into the company’s profits, isn’t even taxation: it’s that people won’t work for you without being paid. And if somehow you can get away without paying your employees, if other businesses do that too, soon the local economy is tanking because no one in the area has any spare money to spend on anything because none of them are actually getting paid. Minimum wage isn’t just the law, it’s a damn good idea: it stops businesses undercutting each other in a time of high unemployment.

No one who’s been through the Work Programme has a good word to say about it.

Vlog of experience of Workfare/Mandatory work related activity with Working Links:

The DWP stopped responding to Freedom of Information requests earlier this year because the naming-and-shaming of companies getting free labour from the Work Programme was proving very publicly embarrassing for those companies and for even for charities – especially those who supposedly support the sick and disabled but will now be getting them as free labour.

This from the DWP Press Office publicly states what could have been hidden: Premier Inn makes use of workfare.

Premier Inn isn’t struggling. It’s described as one of the “growth engines” in Whitbread (which also owns Costa Coffee): overcoming “a decline in the wider market with growth of 2.4 per cent in revenue per available room” and increasing the number of available rooms.

Glasgow Premier Inn West Nile StreetA news item in the Glasgow Herald’s business section mentions this in August: out of 70 new jobs in Glasgow at its new £14 million hotel on West Nile Street, half will be “participants on their [Working Links] work programme to provide jobs for young people currently not in employment, education or training.”

Not exactly “jobs” if they’re on the work programme: work programme placements don’t get paid.

Richard Hamer, director of external affairs at Capability Scotland:

“When disabled people get forced into jobs, they tend to be unsuccessful jobs,” Hamer said. “It can be very difficult, not just because of physical difficulties, but also mental impairments – poor mental health for example – for people to adapt to the labour market. If we start simply forcing people into jobs then there’s a high likelihood that the employer won’t be the best solution for them.”

Hamer says that the person best placed to decide what work a disabled person can take on is that disabled person. He also says that many people who have been placed in the WRAG group should not even be there, because of serious problems with the health assessments being run by the private contractor Atos.

“The Government’s own figures about these assessments is showing that they are wholly failing. The Atos healthcare regime of assessments is simply not working.”

Why would a company that can get free labour from the Work Programme bother to take on people whom they have to actually pay? That’s the long-term problem for the Work Programme: it’s plainly in use for providing casual labour for free to commercial companies that see it as a means of generating profit by cutting down their wage bill.

Why would a company that can get free labour from able-bodied, healthy unemployed people bother to take on people with a disability, people who are ill and not really able to work no matter what ATOS decided?

In June 2011, Philip Davies, Conservative MP, said that people with a disability should work for less than minimum wage:

“Given some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, cannot be as productive in their work as somebody who has not got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable given the employer was going to have to pay them both the same they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk,” he said.

He continued: “My view is that for some people, the national minimum wage may be more of a hindrance than a help.

“If those people who consider it is being a hindrance to them, and in my view that’s some of the most vulnerable people in society, if they feel that for a short period of time, taking a lower rate of pay to help them get on their first rung of the jobs ladder, if they judge that that is a good thing, I don’t see why we should be standing in their way.”

At the time, a Conservative Party spokesman told the BBC:

“These comments do not reflect the views of the Conservative Party and do not reflect government policy”.

They do now.

On this day last year: Scotland for Marriage

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Filed under Benefits, Poverty

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