Workfare in the United Kingdom

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Workfare in the United Kingdom refers to government workfare policies whereby individuals must undertake work in return for their benefit payments or risk losing them. Workfare policies are politically controversial. Supporters claim that such policies help people move off welfare and into employment (See welfare-to-work) whereas critics argue that they are analogous to slavery or indentured servitude and counterproductive in decreasing unemployment.

History[edit]

In November 2011, the Prime Minister's Office announced proposals under which Jobseeker's Allowance claimants who haven't found a job once they have been through a work programme will do a 26-week placement in the community for 30 hours a week.[1] According to The Guardian in 2012, under the Government's Community Action Programme people who have been out of work for a number of years "must work for six months unpaid, including at profit-making businesses, in order to keep their benefits".[2]

These developments followed years of concern and discussion by people both for and against such schemes. In 1999, the UK charity Child Poverty Action Group expressed concern that a government announcement that single parents and the disabled may have to attend repeated interviews for jobs under threat of losing benefits was "a step towards a US-style workfare system". The Social Security Secretary at the time, Alistair Darling, described the plan as "harsh, but justifiable", claiming that it would help address the "poverty of expectation" of many people on benefits.[3] In 2008 research undertaken by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) found that there was little evidence that workfare programmes increased the likelihood of finding paid employment and could instead reduce the prospect of finding paid employment by "limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers."[4] Despite the report, Lord Digby Jones, former Minister of State for Trade and Investment, said in April 2010 that Britain needs to adopt American-style workfare.[5]

During their 2013 annual conference the Conservative Party announced a new scheme, called Help to Work, in part of which ("Community Work Placements") long-term unemployed people will be expected to work for up to 30 hours a week for 26 weeks in return for their benefits. The scheme was introduced in April 2014.[6][7][8]

Schemes[edit]

Myriad workfare schemes exist. The anti-workfare group Boycott Workfare list eight schemes involving the risk of benefit loss (directly and indirectly).[9]

Support[edit]

The former Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling (pictured) had supported workfare policies as a means of tackling unemployment.[10]

Supporters of workfare argue:

  • That it is not unfair that individuals have to work in order to receive help from the state in the form of benefits as tax-payers are working in order to pay the taxes which form part of the recipients benefit payments.[11]
  • That workfare participants benefit from workfare as they get references and experiences of the "working world".[11]
  • That there is no compulsion to workfare as individuals are able to sign off and stop claiming benefits if they wish.[11]

Chris Grayling has attacked what he calls the "Polly Toynbee left" for failing to understand the modern labour market.[12]

Criticism[edit]

The Trade Union Congress (TUC), a federation of trade unions in the United Kingdom, has stated that workfare is exploitation of the unemployed, "paying" them below the minimum wage. The TUC also highlight that workfare is unfair to paid workers who find themselves in competition with unpaid workers. In these cases the TUC claims that the result would be job losses and the deterioration of pay, overtime or other conditions. Employers who opted not to use workfare workers would also find themselves competing with other firms who are "effectively being subsidised."[13] The Guardian newspaper claimed in February 2012 that businesses in the UK which take staff via "work for your benefits programmes" include Asda, Maplin, Primark, Holland & Barrett, Boots, and McDonald's. The policy is similar to that which the Conservative Party administration hoped to introduce in the mid to late 1990s, which would most likely have been carried through had not John Major been defeated by Tony Blair in the U.K. 1997 General Election. Critics also ascertain that the majority of menial low page jobs would end up being carried out by people on workfare, who, because they are working but unpaid, would not be counted among the unemployment figures. The Green Party of England and Wales has also voiced its opposition to workfare.[14]

Academic analysis[edit]

Academic analysis by the Department of Work and Pensions has cast doubt on the effectiveness of workfare policies. After surveying the international evidence available from America, Canada and Australia the report states:

"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. Subsidised ('transitional') job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than 'work for benefit' programmes. Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high."[15]

Backlash[edit]

Opposition to workfare has caused a number of companies to withdraw from "workfare" schemes. A number of organisations including Maplin, Waterstones, Sainsbury's, TK Maxx and the Arcadia Group withdrew from the scheme in early 2012. Argos and Superdrug announced they were suspending their involvement pending talks with ministers.[2][16] Clothing retailer Matalan subsequently suspended its involvement in the scheme in order to conduct a review of the terms of such placements, with a spokesman for the DWP saying "The scheme is voluntary and no one is forced to take part and the threat of losing the benefit only starts once a week has passed on the placement - this was designed to provide certainty to employers and the individuals taking part" although this is incorrect and many people are sanctioned regardless.[17]

Controversies[edit]

Tesco[edit]

There was controversy later in February 2012 following the involvement of the Tesco supermarket chain in a government workfare scheme linked to the payment of benefits. An advert appeared on the Jobseekers' Plus website in which Tesco sought permanent workers in exchange for expenses and jobseeker's allowance. After the advert was highlighted by users of Facebook and Twitter, the supermarket claimed its appearance was a mistake and that it was intended to be "an advert for work experience with a guaranteed job interview at the end of it as part of a Government-led work experience scheme".[18] A protest about this advert later caused the temporary closure of a Tesco store near the Houses of Parliament.[19]

Poundland[edit]

The discount retailer Poundland's participation in a workfare scheme has been controversial. A graduate took the Department of Work and Pensions to Court arguing that participation in a workfare scheme was a breach of her human rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Caitlin Reilly and Jamieson Wilson lost the case but the decision was reversed on appeal.[20] However, the appeal decision was made primarily on technical grounds, and the judge found no breach of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights[citation needed].

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Community Work For Job Seekers". Number10.gov.uk. HM Government. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Malik, Shiv (3 February 2012). "Waterstones ends unpaid work placements after investigation". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "'Britain heading towards workfare', says charity". BBC News (BBC). 15 June 1999. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Crisp, Richard and Fletcher, Del Roy.(2008) "A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia" Department for Work and Pensions Research Report No 533. HMSO.
  5. ^ "Lord Digby Jones says Britain needs US-style 'workfare'". BBC News (BBC). 25 April 2010. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  6. ^ http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/work-for-dole-scheme-launched-today/7003421.article
  7. ^ "The government has announced Help to Work - a new scheme designed to tackle long term unemployment.". 30 September 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  8. ^ Chapman, James (30 September 2013). "Pick up litter for your dole: Long-term jobless will also clean up graffiti or cook for the elderly in Tory 'work for benefits' plan". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  9. ^ http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?page_id=663
  10. ^ "Chris Grayling defends Workfare AGAIN (Jeez, when will he give it up?)". Graduate Fog. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  11. ^ a b c "In Praise of Workfare - Guy Fawkes' blog". Order-order.com. 2012-02-18. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  12. ^ Patrick Wintour, political editor (18 April 2012). "Employment minister Chris Grayling rails at 'Polly Toynbee left' | Politics". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  13. ^ "Say no to workfare: a TUC Charter on work experience". TUC. 18 May 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  14. ^ "Writing Off Workfare: For a Green New Deal, not the Flexible New Deal". Green Party. 28 Oct 2008. Retrieved 8 Aug 2013. 
  15. ^ "A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia". Research.dwp.gov.uk. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  16. ^ Topping, Alexandra (28 February 2012). "Workfare that shames UK plc or a leftwing plot by the job snobs?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  17. ^ "Matalan reviews role in Get Britain Working scheme". BBC News (BBC). 18 February 2012. 
  18. ^ "Tesco drops 'job for benefits' ad for Suffolk store". BBC News (BBC). 16 February 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  19. ^ "Tesco job advert protest closes store in Westminster". BBC New (BBC). 18 February 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  20. ^ http://www.theweek.co.uk/uk-news/51471/workfare-scheme-setback-poundland-slave-wins-appeal