Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 4

Workfare Extends State Power

When the High and Appeal Courts upheld the challenge to performing mandatory workfare by the geology graduate, who objected to having to work in Poundland, and a young chap, who had been sanctioned for refusing it, the Condem government responded by rushing through emergency legislation making the refusal to perform workfare punishable by sanctions. The procedure in which the legislation was rushed through parliament was supposed to be use only in national emergencies. The legislation further contravened accepted notions of justice, in that it acted retrospectively. That is, it punished actions committed before the laws against them had been passed, an idea that strikes at the very notion of justice enshrined across the world in human rights laws. The Labour party, which should have opposed this motion, didn’t. They abstained, and members of the Shadow Cabinet were told that if they voted against the motion, they would have to resign. This demonstrates just how deeply workfare had become embedded as the official ideology of the state and the main parties.

Welfare-to-Work as Corporate Scam

The private companies administering workfare, such as A4E and Ingeus, have profited immensely from this new, growth industry in unfree labour. They are paid £13,500 for every person they manage to put in a long term job. If the job is only short-term, then they receive only half that amount. There is thus considerable pressure for them to choose only those most likely to obtain long term employment, and thus discriminate against vulnerable minorities, including the disabled. The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, complained that more of the people being referred to these companies were those with disabilities, who had been judged ‘fit for work’ according to the tests imposed for the Employment and Support Allowance awarded to the disabled to help them maintain their independence.

The workfare companies also have wide powers in deciding which ‘work placements’ to put people on, and what counts as ‘community benefit’. The DWP permits them to place workers in private companies if this is considered to benefit those firms’ local communities. For a long time the DWP has refused to publish the information on the allocation of workfare labourers to private firms. The government flatly refused to reveal the identities of the participating firms on the grounds that if they did so, the scheme would fail due to public pressure forcing them to drop out. A list of the firms involved has recently been released after a series of Freedom Of Information Act requests. The two largest workfare contractors also refused to comment, when they were asked if they were forcing the workers contracted to them to work for private companies.

Additionally, many of the private companies administering the scheme are run by, or have links to, politicians, which is symptomatic of the general corporate corruption of parliament and the revolving door between corporations, MPs and senior civil servants. Tomorrow’s People, the charity that became notorious for stranding the workfare labourers it had employed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee under London Bridge, where they were forced to sleep, was run by a Conservative peer.

Conclusion: End Workfare Forced Labour

Workfare is thus highly exploitative, and should be banned. It is the thin edge of a wedge leading to the increasing use of force against the poor and unemployed. One staff member from the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux described the situation to Standing thus

The boundaries of the acceptable are being pushed further in the direction of unfree labour. We’ve been here before – breaking stones in return for food during the Irish famine, and similar schemes in 16th & 17th century England, the difference being that technology means peoples’ activity can be monitored more and informal economy lifelines are being pushed further underground. I was talking with a colleague who has picked up growth of prostitution as one means of survival. I don’t know what it would take to break us (society, whatever that means) out of apathy to make protests against what we’re doing to ourselves.

Standing also makes a very apt point, directed at those members of the Left, who refuse to take a stand on it, fearing that it would damage their parties’ chances of winning elections. He states

It is a moralistic policy that should be passionately opposed by every liberal and progressive. If doing so puts political success at risk, so be it. Values matter.

This looks like a dig at Blairite New Labour, which has consistently abstained on the workfare issue instead of firmly opposing it. The Blairites based New Labour’s electoral success on appealing to swing voters, and not challenging Tory policy, except on the grounds that they could administer it more efficiently and were more concerned with social justice. The latter view is particularly specious, as in many cases New Labour went much further in its austerity and privatisation programmes than the Tories. It’s a concern that still motivates the Blairites in their repeated campaigns against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s not an excuse for failing to tackle this new form of forced labour, a system that is slowly edging towards real slavery.

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4 Responses to “Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 4”

  1. joanna Says:

    Hi Beast, What I don’t understand, is why didn’t everyone, who went on workfare go on the internet , there are many protest groups and it is so easy to go online anonymously!

    Talking about sanctioning, can you imagine the outcry if prisoners were refused food, if they refused to work?


    I heard of a case at British Heart Foundation, where people on Job seekers were working alongside offenders doing community payback, only the differences are: The offenders are Never sanctioned, they don’t do as many hours all at once and the limit they can be sentenced to is 300 hours, as opposed to 740 for unemployed.

    Why isn’t anyone kicking up more of a fuss about this? I don’t feel like I have the right to fight this battle, because fortunately I have not had to suffer workfare, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel for others, because I know what it feels like to be desperately hungry, it Is the worst pain in life, much worse than toothache!!!

    There Must be a lawyer, somewhere in this country who could take this on as a test case? If they won it would snowball, then the government would really suffer!!!

    • beastrabban Says:

      It’s a good question why more people don’t kick up more of a fuss about it. I think part of the answer must be that the people, who are forced into the programme feel too ground down and isolated. They don’t kick up a fuss, because they don’t think there’s anything really they can do about it, or that anyone else will back them. And it may not occur to them that there are protest groups against workfare. You don’t hear much about it on the news, and the BBC has been particularly careful not to give any coverage to anti-government protests. You’re right about anonymity on the internet, but some people might also be deterred by the thought that somehow, the Jobcentre’ll know about them, and they’ll lose their benefits.

      You are, however, right about some lawyers trying to challenge the system. Standing mentions how two victims of the workfare system legally challenged the government. One was a young woman, who was a geology graduate. She was told to do her workfare in Poundland. She refused, on the grounds that she already had a placement at a museum, and if she had to work in Poundland, then she would lose that placement, which was obviously the first step towards a solid career. The other person was a young man, who was sanctioned because he flatly refused to do it. The High and Appeal Courts upheld their claims against the government. Ian Duncan Smith threw a wobbly, and started grumbling about people, who thought they were too good to work, and the ‘something for nothing culture’. And the government then rushed through legislation in two days to close the legal loophole, which had allowed these two to win, using legislation that actually governs national emergencies. This legislation acted retrospectively, that is, it made illegal actions before it was passed. This is illegal in international law, because it’s manifestly unjust.

      So you see what we’re up against. So long as it doesn’t affect the rich and comfortable, but just the poor and unemployed, frankly the establishment won’t care, and will do whatever they can to stop it.

  2. joanna Says:

    In comment to the last part of your article (excellent as always, you have taught me so much, in the last few years, than I have ever learnt during my life so far! Thank you!!)

    But the point I want to make, and I realise this is partly off topic, but it ties in a little.

    I was having a discussion months ago about how much I despised Esther Rancid, because she could have prevented the abuse of so many children and vulnerable people, if only she had spoken out, when she knew what evil savile was doing, but she chose to protect her fame, that makes her as Evil as he was.

    She may have suffered professionally, by speaking out, but at least she could kept her integrity, instead she let down the whole nation.
    Was it worth it?

    • beastrabban Says:

      You’ve just asked the question that has exercised historians, psychologists and moral philosophers for a very long time on that one, Jo. People have been asking why more people don’t speak out and don’t act to condemn and prevent atrocities since at least the horrors of the Nazi era. Sorry to bear out Godwin’s Law again, that sooner or later an internet discussion will automatically get round to Hitler and the Third Reich, but this is the classic example of the problem. Very many Germans were resolutely opposed to the Nazis, but only a very courageous few actually fought against them, and suffered terribly for doing so. The argument goes that if more Germans had had the courage of their convictions, Hitler could have been stopped.

      It’s the same with Rancid and Jimmy Savile. And she wasn’t alone. There were very many other broadcasters, TV managers, and medical professionals, who knew exactly what kind of monster he was. But they did nothing. Part of the problem, I think, is that people do feel isolated. They feel if they break ranks, no-one else will back them, and they will suffer. In Savile’s case, he was bringing in massive amounts of money for charity, and the charity administrators were told that if he was exposed, that money would cease. So many of them just thought of the money and the good that would do, and said nothing. Also, many of the victims were afraid they wouldn’t be believed. Janet Street-Porter, when asked why she didn’t do anything about him on Question Time, responded by telling her interlocutor how she had been sexually abused as a child by a close friend of the family. I can’t remember who it was exactly, but it was someone close and in authority. She tried telling her mother and other people, but they simply refused to believe her. And Street-Porter said that was quite common. I think she’s probably right, although it’s now taken very seriously by people in education after so many scandals about abusive schoolteachers and headmasters. And the authorities closed ranks about the abuse. I read somewhere – and this might be wrong, but it was footnoted – that when Savile was abusing women in Broadmoor, a group of the warders/ orderlies wrote to Edwina Curry to inform her what he was doing. Savile responded by claiming they were committing benefit fraud of some kind, or fiddling their expenses. Curry ignored the orderlies’ allegations, and was very enthusiastic about Savile’s, writing ‘attaboy!’ in her diary.

      Savile also used to threaten people by claiming that he was connected to the IRA – he wasn’t. And from what I read in Private Eye, he and his driver weren’t above threatening people with guns. There was a piece in the Eye, which reprinted an article by Victor Lewis-Smith in another paper. Lewis-Smith had been in a café in Savile’s home town when Savile turned up surrounded by a group of young girls, and vanished upstairs with them. According to Lewis-Smith, the driver then appeared at his table, and said something to the effect of ‘You ain’t see this, right?’, and opened his coat to reveal a gun.

      Savile was just too big a celebrity, and too much of a money-spinner for the Beeb and charities, and too well-connected for his critics and enemies to be able to move against him. There are photos, after all, of him knocking around with Maggie Thatcher. And so people like Rancid, who should have done something about him, didn’t.

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