Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Workfare: We Need to Have a Serious Think About It (Guest Blog)

Here's another guest blog from the editor of The Shittro, this time on the subject of Workfare. More offerings from The Shittro can be found here and, and the previous guest blog for Standing Stone's Blog is here.

You've heard about Workfare right? It's that thing that means that unemployed people can 'volunteer' to work for their benefits.

Many people agree with the use of Workfare. It means that people aren't just doing nothing for their work and soon disability benefits; it means they contribute to society - well not quite. You see, the majority of people that have signed up to Workfare are private companies looking for cheap labour. The well-known users of Workfare include Tesco, Argos, Poundland, Asda, Boots, Buckingham Palace and the Olympic contractors. But hang on, they are providing work experience for these people right?

Yes, they are providing work experience, no one is denying that. But work experience is supposed to benefit the person and it's not supposed to be exploitative, and you aren't supposed to be doing work experience for more than 2-3 weeks. The common thing that people think when going on Workfare is that there will be a job after completing the placement, which 25% of the time is true - most Workfare placements, especially the ones at Asda, Argos, Poundland and Boots, DO NOT guarantee a job at the end of it, meaning that thousands of people are left with nothing other than their unemployment benefit.

The controversial company, A4E, currently being investigated for fraud, should make you question whether Workfare is of any use to this country or not. If not, here are some things that should help you make up your mind:
  • Workfare does not actually help people find a job. The unemployment rate has in fact increased.
  • There is no way that providing 'temporary' placements to JSA claimants will help them get a job because more jobs are being cut than being created.
  • Because of a massive shortfall in public sector jobs, the private sector is being told to create more jobs, which the private sector don't want to do because it costs them more in the short term to hire more people
  • Workfare means that people aren't covered by unions, meaning that claimants can be subject to practices that should be illegal under employment law which don't apply because they are on 'work experience' and not employed
  • It's borderline slavery. They are not gaining anything extra to what they are entitled to anyway, someone has taken this to court but we have not heard back from that yet.
  • Workfare placements actually hinder the job market because it means that real employment can't be used to fill up the places which are taken up by Workfare positions. There is a very chilling story in which Asda sent all of their regular workers home and replaced them with unpaid Workfare 'volunteers'
Despite Workfare being marketed as voluntary, it's not. While 4/5 of the schemes are classed as voluntary, there are stories of people being harassed by the job centre onto going onto the Work Experience or the Work Programme. However, the catch is that if you refuse to do a voluntary scheme you can be forced onto Mandatory Work Activity which, as it says on the tin, is completely mandatory and carries a heavy sanctions scheme. The sanctions have been lifted from the other schemes because of public outcry back in March in which cities all across the UK held host to angry activists demanding Workfare to be scrapped.

Convinced yet? I thought not. The problem we have with Workfare isn't the idea of work experience, it's the fact that this scheme is clearly being used as a front to make money. One person described Workfare as 'an appallingly corrupt and unacceptable scheme', while another said:

'Well this is the fundamental flaw with the work programme, the WP provider (Tomorrow’s People) are responsible for checking employers out and getting reassurances from them that the conditions will be acceptable, as it stands they clearly haven't and their press release was the squirmiest piece of shit I've read in months.'
I've had many complaints from friends, comrades and people online who have told stories about how they feel let down and disheartened by the fact that Workfare has not helped them find a job. One woman was kicked off of a course helping her with her English when she was told to work. Her being able to speak English has a better chance of her finding a job than having experience stacking shelves at Tesco, surely?

To conclude: We need to have a serious think about Workfare and what it's actually doing to this country. Chris Graying calls us 'job snobs' for being anti-Workfare; you know what I call those who oppose workfarce? I call us the heroes of the working class. We are the people standing up to the bullies and slave masters; we demand full pay and rights while they find ways to take that away from us. When they say Workfare, we should all reply with 'unfair'.


  1. I didn't know about workfare, so thanks. Did you know about profits made from prisons?
    In the US, there are private prisons. Judges have vested interests in them or can be bribed. More prisoners means more profit. Michael Moore has been following a case of juveniles sentenced for no crime at all. I don't know if we have private prisons in the UK, but we will soon.
    In the US and the UK, prison labour is either very cheap or free. Prisoners have no moral choice about what they can do for work. They are often used to manufacture arms. It is the big companies that are profiteering from this again, as with Workfare. It also means that other people can't get jobs! The minimum wage doesn't apply in prisons. The worst thing of all is that is incentivising putting people in prison. The Judges and the people that run the big corporations are in the same group of people. And look how many new crimes are appearing all the time, very conveniently to put more and more people in prison.
    Slave labour camps are here in the UK. They are called prisons, and you do not have to be an evil person or commit an evil act to be put in one.

    1. Hi Julia, glad you found the post informative. I've been following events in the US about the private prison scandel and it is getting to the point where we will see the same thing here. I'll do more research about the private prison problem and report about it as you do raise important points.