DWP A history of Workfare Pt 1

Workfare refers to government 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. Critics argue that they are comparable to slavery & counterproductive in decreasing unemployment.

In November 2011, the Prime Minister’s Office announced proposals under which Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) 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. 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”

 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.”

Despite this report, Digby, Lord Jones, former Minister of State for Trade and Investment, said in April 2010 that Britain needs to adopt American-style workfare.


Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) is a workfare programme in the United Kingdom that started in May 2011, whereby individuals must work for their benefits or risk being ‘sanctioned’ and losing them.

An academic analysis by the Department of Work and Pensions cast doubt on the effectiveness of MWA, and despite finding “little evidence” that workfare improved claimants gaining paid employment,. The DWP ignored the findings of the study, and in June 2012, the scheme received a £5m expansion.

A similar but little-known scheme ‘Jobseeker Mandatory Activity’ (JMA), was piloted by New Labour in 2006, but did not last beyond 2008. JMA targeted those claimants 25 and over, who had been unemployed for 6 months or more and made claimants liable to ‘sanction’ for non-compliance.

The legality of the scheme was indirectly challenged in 2012. A legal case heard by the Administrative Division of the High Court in which an unemployed geology graduate & an unemployed driver, challenged the Department for Work and Pensions “workfare” policy whereby the unemployed can be “forced” to work for private companies for their benefit payments. Under the workfare scheme, individuals have the right to opt out, but face having their benefits removed–something that makes participation in the scheme necessary for those who would be unable to support themselves without their benefit payments. The outcome of the case affects over 3,000 claimants and entails around £130m unpaid benefits.

On 6 August 2012, the High Court ruled (contrary to the arguments of the claimants) that the scheme could not be considered slavery, and was not therefore a breach of Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights. However, it also ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions had breached its Regulation 4 (which required certain details of the Work Programme to be given to participants in writing).

9 March 2013, before its appeal was completed, the Government also passed the Jobseekers (Back to work) scheme to retrospectively make its unlawful sanctions against benefits claimants legal, in order to avoid potentially having to repay unlawfully withheld benefits payments of around £130m.

In response to the law-change, the law firm acting for the claimants, Lawyers lodged submissions to the Supreme Court, arguing that ‘the actions of the secretary of state … represent a clear violation of article 6 [of the European convention on human rights] and the rule of law, as an interference in the judicial process by the legislature’.

The Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 is an emergency Act of Parliament of the UK introduced to the House of Commons in March 2013. It retrospectively changed the law to make past actions of the government which the courts had found unlawful to be lawful. As of July 2014, the Act has itself been found to be unlawful, contravening Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On Friday 4 July 2014, Mrs Justice Lang, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled that the retrospective nature of the legislation interfered with the “right to a fair trial” under Article Six of the Convention on Human Rights. The government announced that it would appeal this ruling.

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

The Trades Unions Congress (TUC) 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.

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.

There has been opposition to workfare & a number of companies have withdrawn from the scheme. (including Waterstones & Sainsbury’s) Clothing retailer Matalan suspended its involvement in the workfare scheme in order to conduct a review of the terms of such placements. A spokesman for the DWP said “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”

This is incorrect & many people have been sanctioned regardless.

The link below is from Birmingham against the cuts of Stupid Sanctions


14th June 2015

Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work, for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. They are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. They want to expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.

***New evidence on the coercive use of psychology to ‘change the attitude’ of claimants was published this week. At the same time, the DWP confirmed plans to put 350 psychologists into JobCentres.

Streatham Job Centre will be the first of 10 pilot sites to bring CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) into JobCentres. And the opening of Lambeth ‘Living Well Hub’ for Community Mental Health Services in the same building is planned for Monday 29th June.


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