Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/707/14058
Interview with a jobcentre worker
What workfare really means
What are the government's workfare schemes?
Workfare is a catch-all term used to describe the various unpaid work schemes the government operates through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Some are specific for different groups of claimants, for example the Work Experience scheme only applies to 18 to 24 year olds. The £1 billion Youth Contract, launched by the government in November, meant an increase in Work Experience and Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) funding.
Will workfare reduce unemployment or bring down the unemployment figures, as the government claims?
The government says that adding labour market experience to a CV will benefit jobseekers. This could be true if they had never worked before, perhaps, or if the experience was in useful skills.
The reality is the work experience is not vetted for quality (what really is to be gained from stacking shelves?). Claimants often already have employment history and it is not the lack of experience that is holding them back from working, but the lack of vacancies out there.
If the businesses supporting the initiative truly wanted to give young people experience then they could just as easily give them paid employment - it would give the jobseekers a real confidence boost to find a proper job.
We know that it is often easier to find a new job when you are already in employment. And, let's face it, the companies involved can well afford to pay the staff they have taken on for free.
The government says the schemes are voluntary, is this true?
No. Work Programme activity and (MWA - the clue is in the name) are mandatory. Work Experience is supposed to be on the basis of a voluntary agreement between the benefit claimant and DWP adviser.
However, any adviser can make a 'jobseekers direction' which means the claimant can be mandated to undertake whatever action the adviser wishes to make in relation to their claim.
DWP said from the outset that there would be a mixture of voluntary and mandatory referrals when they introduced Work Experience last year. If the claimant drops out of the placement after a few days their benefit will be referred to a 'decision maker' to have it stopped.
Advisers are also put under pressure to make referrals to Work Experience and MWA through 'profiles' the job centres are supposed to hit. This means that individual advisers are given monthly or weekly targets.
How do PCS members, like yourself, feel about workfare?
We can see that while many jobseekers do require skills and employment experience, forced (or coerced) free labour will not solve the unemployment crisis.
Many advisers feel forced into making referrals to MWA and Work Experience; we don't want to be benefit bullies, we want to help people who are in a very difficult and vulnerable position.
We can also see that the Work Programme is ineffective, and the most vulnerable - for example those with learning disabilities or health problems - will face the biggest difficulties under that regime.
What can the PCS do to organise to make sure workfare is scrapped?
We can make sure that we are not pressured into breaching benefit legislation, and ensure claimants are aware of their rights. As fellow workers, we need to be publicly on the side of claimants.
Trade union members generally can work with campaign groups such as Boycott Workfare and Youth Fight for Jobs to show solidarity with claimants. We also support YFJ's demand for job creation. And PCS is pushing for further strike action against attacks on pensions to make sure workers aren't forced to work longer which has a knock on effect on vacancies.
In The Socialist 29 February 2012:
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