You may well have missed the somewhat depressing news that the DWP are going to pilot Work for Your Benefit sanctions in both Greater Manchester and across the counties of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.
This will affect the projected 2% of Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who are unable to find work after 2 years of support and interventions through the Job Centre Plus and Flexible New Deal. However, Job Centre Plus advisors can refer people on JSA to do 6 weeks of Work for Your Benefit at any point from the start of their claim.
Work for Your Benefit will make people on JSA work for 30 hours a week (where possible placements will be of benefit to the community) in return for their benefits. They also have to undertake up to 10 hours a week of supported work search activity. The DWP are currently asking for organisations to express an interest in running the pilots.
We have had grave concerns about this initiative since it was first suggested by the Conservative Party and then included in the Government’s Green Paper on Welfare Reform. Here’s why:
The Recession and Rising Unemployment
- It’s dangerous to associate community work in the public mind with ‘scroungers’ being punished, particularly during a time of rising unemployment. Community work is a great opportunity – part of the carrot, not one of the sticks. Getting people engaged in their communities is a crucial element in tackling worklessness and poverty, by maximising the opportunities that exist for part time, sessional and irregular work in deprived communities.
- With rising unemployment and increased competition for all jobs, it is likely to be those that are furthest from the labour market and most excluded for socio-economic reasons that will still be unemployed at the end of 2 years. Intervention in a community setting for this demographic should be supportive and enabling, not punitive.
The DWP’s own research shows that ‘workfare’ doesn’t work
- Their research into the effectiveness of workfare programmes in the US, Canada and Australia found that overall the Work for Your Benefit approach is not effective.
- Work for Your Benefit is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to entering the labour market
- Welfare recipients with multiple barriers often find it difficult to meet obligations to take part in unpaid work. This can lead to sanctions and, in the most extreme cases, the complete withdrawal of benefits that leaves some individuals with no work and no income.
- Some states in the US have scaled down large-scale, universal workfare programmes in preference for ‘softer’ and more flexible models that offer greater support to those with the most barriers to work. This includes a greater reliance on subsidised jobs that pay wages rather than benefits to participants.
- Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than Work for Your Benefit programmes.
- Workfare is not only inefficient; it is unfair too, because it exploits the unemployed people forced to take part. If a job is worth doing it is worth being paid the rate for that job. Unemployed people on workfare schemes would be paid less than half the national minimum wage.
Government doesn’t understand the Community Sector Labour Market
- The labour market in poor communities creates predominantly part time, sessional and irregular jobs that reflects a national shift away from a 35 hour week towards a labour market that is more dynamic. Many of these are ideal ‘entry level’ jobs that could be a first step into work for the long term unemployed.
- The Work for Your Benefit pilots do not recognise the nature of the community sector labour market. It will be problematic to generate enough full time community work for people to do in their own community to sustain full time activity.
- Transporting people out of their community to work in other communities displaces local ownership of work that is undertaken to improve a community. Local ownership is of crucial importance to the effectiveness and sustainability of community work.
- Additional transport time on top of full time activity will be very problematic for many people, particularly those who are single parents. Experience in the US, recounted by Alison Benjamin in The Guardian, illustrates how dangerous this can be, as the impact on children can be damaging, particularly when there is no rise in income associated with the parent’s absence.
We believe that the Community Allowance should be piloted as an alternative to Work for Your Benefit for people on JSA as part of an ‘enhanced stage 3 option’. We know hundreds of community organisations across the UK that would jump at the chance to work with Job Centre Plus on this, creating thousands of new paid jobs in the process.