The Government’s Workfare Schemes: 10 Facts


PIL acts for a number of individuals, including Cait Reilly, who are challenging the Government’s “Back to Work” schemes in the High Court. Intensive press coverage and the Government’s attempts to salvage this programme from its current crisis have led to a skewing of the facts. The following may therefore be helpful.

1. Our clients do not object to work or to work experience. Cait Reilly was doing voluntary work experience in a museum when she was sent to Poundland. Our clients, like the vast majority of jobseekers, are desperate to find paid work of any description, including stacking shelves. The term “job snobs” is therefore a misleading and offensive buzz word being used by the Government to discredit Britain’s 2.6 million unemployed. What our clients say they need is support from the Government to make the most of their skills and plug their skills gaps, in order to ensure that they not only enter the job market, but stay there.

2. The Government is not “paying them… through benefits” to work, as the Deputy Prime Minister has claimed today. Jobseekers allowance ranges from £53.45 to £67.50 per week. It is paid for one specific (and obvious) purpose – to support people whilst they seek employment. It is not remuneration for work, and even if it were it would mean that people on Back to Work schemes would be getting paid as little as £1.78 per hour, often whilst working for some of our biggest retailers. Many of those retailers are now realising that such a scenario is unacceptable and have either pulled out of the schemes or demanded that the Government thinks again.

3. People are not being given a choice. Ministers claim that work under these schemes is not forced but voluntary. This is not correct. The Community Action Programme, Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity Scheme (the clue is in the name) are mandatory, and jobseekers will lose their jobseeker’s allowance if they do not participate. The Government says the sector-based work academy and work experience schemes are voluntarily, but Cait Reilly was told in no uncertain terms that her participation was “mandatory”.

4. The schemes do not work. Ministers claim the schemes help people into employment. Yet, the international research the Government commissioned before introducing them gave it two very clear answers:

“There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers”; and

“Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.”

5. The schemes do not target benefits scroungers or “the something for nothing generation”: the Government’s internal guidance makes clear that such people who are taking advantage of the system are not eligible for the schemes. They must receive the appropriate sanction of removal of their jobseeker’s allowance as they are not “jobseeking”.

6. These legal challenges are not simply about “human rights”. What our clients object to is 1) the forced or compulsory nature of the work required, and 2) that Parliament has been by-passed by the Government in creating these schemes. They argue that this breaches basic democratic and legal requirements.

7. The Government schemes do not amount to slave labour, as some campaigners have suggested. The ILO’s Forced Labour Convention of 1930 defines slavery as connoting “ownership” over an individual. What our clients are arguing is that the Government schemes are “forced or compulsory” labour. This too is prohibited under UK civil and criminal law.

8. These schemes are not all aimed at the long-term unemployed. For example, the sector-based work academy can apply to any jobseeker, even if he or she has only been unemployed for one day.

9. Press attention has focused on the sector-based work academy, but that is only one of a plethora of complex schemes, many of which are much worse. The sector-based work academy involves 6-8 weeks of unpaid work. Other schemes involve six months, and there appears to be nothing to stop those six-month periods from being renewed. One of our clients was told that his Community Action Programme placement would last six months “to begin with”.

10. The Government’s sums do not add up. The Employment Minister has stated that “half” or “something like half” of those on work experience have received permanent jobs. He has not advanced any evidence to support this, and Tesco has offered only 300 jobs having taken on 1400 unpaid workers.

For more facts, please contact:
Phil Shiner on 07715 485 248

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