27 March 2014

Workfare costs jobs?

Mention "Workfare" to DWP/JCP and you're likely to be told that they don't do it. However some of their schemes match this Wikipedia article quite closely. Simply put, Workfare is where benefit claimants have to work in order to continue to receive benefits. The JCP "Mandatory Work Activity" scheme is one example as well as some of the options in the benign-sounding "Help to Work"

There are many arguments about the desirability of Workfare but one strand is that claimants work for their benefit and are effectively paid less than £3 per hour when the minimum wage is £6.31/hour. This leads to allegations that employers are getting cheap labour and are sacking ordinary workers and using Workfare participants in their place.

If it's true, it's scandalous - a scheme that's supposed to help the unemployed is actually causing more unemployment.

Now, JCP are aware of this issue and typically their guidance says things like:
Placements must be additional to any existing or expected vacancies. You must ensure that employers are not taking advantage of MWA as a source of labour at the expense of employing workers in the open labour market.
This is fine but I wondered how and if JCP ensure that no one is losing their job this way? My first FOI request didn't fare too well. Not only did I use the "W" word, I asked for information covering several years, all schemes and  wanted guidance, monitoring, research, audit schemes, etc. So they invoked section 12 of the Act and said the work would cost over £600 so they could decline to comply.

More interestingly, they went on to suggest that if I fixed that problem by asking for a narrower category of information, they might invoke Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act. This exemption relates to the commercial interests of the Department for Work and Pensions and any other company or organisation delivering services on their behalf .

Now, this exemption is often deployed in answer to questions about Workfare (example) because 
we have become aware of various campaigns aimed at harming the commercial interests of companies involved in delivering the Work Programme as well as a potentially undermining Government policy.
Anyway, I asked for clarification on the 43(2) issue and was told:
that it was felt that some of the information falling within the scope of your original request may be exempt under section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act. Though this can not be confirmed unless the information is collated and a public interest test is conducted.
Emboldened, I submitted another request asking for a narrower set of information and we'll see what that brings. The answer is due on April 1st!

PS(02 Apr 14) : The answer was very disapointing. There was some waffle abou the "strict guidelines that ensure advantage is not taken in the use of MWA as a source of labour at the expense of employing workers in an open labour market.". However the reseach into compliance with the guidelines was not supplied. It looks like they've done no research and so don't hold any information. The FOI Act allows, nay requires them to say so if it's the case. I've submitted a reveiw request that I hope will resolve the issue one way or another

For the final(?) chapter, see here

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