End Workfare Now: Part 3

Workfare Is Unjust

Workfare unfairly penalises the unemployed. For example, in 2011 the ConDem government made the conditions imposed on benefit claimants and the penalties for avoidance under the Labour government’s New Deal even more stringent. Those performing workfare were required to work for up to thirty hours a week for 28 days. The work performed was to be that which benefited the community. Taken as wages, this meant that claimants were working at a rate of £2.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage. If they turned the job down, or didn’t complete the course of mandatory labour, they had their benefits sanctioned for three months. This was increased to six if they repeated the ‘transgression’. This is unjust, because no-one else in society is expected to work for the minimum wage except convicts in prison.

It’s also unjust in that it makes the economically insecure even more so, and takes away the way long-accepted social right to refuse to work. At the same time, it gives power over the unemployed to the state’s bureaucrats and the private outsourcing companies. Also, forced labour is offensive against human dignity and does not lead to increased personal development.

Workfare Stops People Looking for Jobs

Spending thirty hours a week on workfare actually cuts down on the available time the unemployed are able to spend looking for work. P.A. Gregg, in their book Job Guarantee: Evidence and Design (Bristol: Bristol University Centre for Market and Public Organisation 2009) actually found that because of this, workfare actually stopped people from getting jobs.

Lowering Incomes over Life

Workfare is also unjust, as instead of giving people the ability to acquire a career, or jobs leading to one, it may instead lower their long-term income by keeping them in a series of low-paid, temporary work. People should have the right to decide for themselves which jobs to take and what they should do when it affects their long term prospects. If the state instead forces them to take a certain course, then it should also be required to compensate them if the course demanded is the wrong one.

Workfare Keeps Wages Low

By forcing people to take low-paid jobs, and making this a threat to force other workers also to take jobs that pay less than they would otherwise take, workfare leads to lower wages. The Labour Party in the UK declared that it was in favour of a ‘national living wage’ above the minimum. However, it then contradicted this intention by stating that those performing workfare would do so at the minimum wage. The Labour party may have meant this to stop those on workfare competing with those in paid employment, though MPs like Liam Byrne have shown themselves to be every bit as spiteful and punitive in their treatment of the unemployed as the Tories. In any case, this policy still puts on pressure to force wages downwards.

For there to be a genuine living wage, politicians should increase and strengthen the ability of the unemployed to bargain for higher wages. It is only when workers really have an effective ability to bargain that employers are either forced to pay a living wage, or decide that the job is unnecessary and the potential productivity too low. Standing concludes from this that ‘The reality is that the utilitarian mindset does not care about the precariat’.

Workfare Labour Replaces Genuine Workers

If the jobs performed under workfare were genuine and productive, it would be unfair to workers in those jobs, and to the short-term unemployed, as the government-subsidized labourers supplied under workfare would replace existing workers, or stop them hiring other unemployed people. In 2011 Tesco collaborated with the Jobcentres to create 3,000 unpaid placements for those on workfare, who would work for the company for four weeks. Homebase and Asda were
also keen to use such unpaid labour. As was Poundland, which also announced that it was taking on benefit claimants, though it denied that this would affect their existing recruiting activity. Whatever those companies said, clearly their use of cheap workfare labour was replacing paid workers and stopping the unemployed from getting permanent jobs with those companies.

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.

Bibliography

Alexander Berkman, ‘Lazy Men and Dirty Work’, in George Woodcock, ed., The Anarchist Reader (Fontana Press: 1986) 334-338.

Alex DeJonge, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Fontana/Collins 1986) 270-2.

‘Miss World and Mrs Mao’ in Clive James, The Crystal Bucket (Picador: 1982) 232-4.

Guy Standing, A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (London: Bloomsbury 2014) 262-79.

‘Labour Service (Reicharbeitsdienst – RAD)’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1988) 213.

‘Unemployment’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London

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4 Responses to “End Workfare Now: Part 3”

  1. Jeffrey Davies Says:

    the only peoples to make monies from this are the tories the backhanders flying their way from this crooked scheme

    • joanna Says:

      I agree and the Blairites simply used it as a way to be more electable, though it made them look two faced, not exactly a positive result by any means.

  2. joanna Says:

    Hi Beast I read your articles with interest, (I am feeling a little more positive today)!

    Society has got Exactly what it bought into, but the results are worse than they expected. There should not be joy in this realisation though, because the negative effects include everyone! Former job centre staff have been forced to realise that their standing in society, holds only as long as they stay healthy and don’t have catastrophes happen, which we all know are indiscriminate.

    As soon as they have lived through their savings or redundancy payments then they too become “workfare Stock”. Only for many of them it is too late and they also find that their complaints fall on deaf ears, like their clients, they are no longer special or in anyway respected!

    For all their high end education, the Tories and Blairites certainly did not learn from history! William Wilberforce was a Tory, who made his name Abolishing slavery, which can’t have been popular or cheap because slavery was in effect free labour. But the Tories, as a whole have revealed that they have Never disagreed with slavery, they just could never make it respectable or profitable, until now!! Now they have Idiots and sub-humans like Iain Duncan-Smith to convince their rich sheep, that the unemployed and disabled are criminals to be punished, therefore they can use propaganda to do the rest.

    I know about discrimination, I was brought up (dragged up) “in care” In the 70’s and 80’s Local Authority Care (LAC) was also used by the courts to sentence juvenile offenders, Secure Units were supposed to be used in the most extreme cases, as a result I was seen as a young offender even though I have never broken the law, I was therefore placed in a boarding school for children with behavioural problems, these circumstances cruelly affected any chance I had at gaining employment, because when filling in application forms, you had to put down the schools you attended. Even though I was sent back to a mainstream school the damage had been done.

    Through the years the only way I was Almost accepted through voluntary work, Between 2005 to 2010 I worked voluntary as a mentor for offenders with Probation. Now that is not possible, during the last 7 years I have been turned away by 15 different charity shops, because they have enough people sent to them by the DWP.
    As a result my mental health has worsened, causing me to feel unworthy of even living, I feel like I have no prospects and no future.

    Workfare has many many far-reaching consequences, it isn’t just about lowering wages, which is bad enough, but it socially and emotionally cripples people, who want nothing more than to a part of society!! Workfare also strangles potential and kills dreams that that could come true if given the chance!!!

    • Beastrabban Says:

      Hi Jo, thanks for the lengthy reply. I’m glad you’re feeling a little more positive today. I’m sorry your background in Local Authority Care has prevented you from getting a job, and that thanks to workfare you have been denied an opportunity to do the voluntary work you found so rewarding. You’ve mentioned this before, and I’m sure you aren’t the only one. As for William Wilberforce, as you pointed out before, while he did a massive amount of good in campaigning against the slave trade, he was also indifferent to the suffering of the ‘factory slaves’ in England, as his enemies pointed out at the time.

      I think many Tories are genuine when they see themselves as being against slavery, but their employment legislation is certainly very authoritarian and they have absolutely nothing against the use of forced and unfree labour against the unemployed.

      I’m sure you’re not the only person, whose chances of getting a proper job have been harmed by workfare. There are probably tens of thousands of others like you, at least, if only we knew. Please don’t despair, though. You don’t know what will happen in the future, and as dark as the present is, you’re still a very worthwhile person. So don’t let these monsters grind you down.

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