‘Making profits from the the unemployed is reprehensible’


Frank, a member of Islington Poverty Action Group, tells Corporate Watch the government’s workfare schemes are “reprehensible” and explains how people can refuse to comply with the programme.

Making unpaid work in shops and supermarkets compulsory for the unemployed sounds very similar to Community Work (now called Community Payback), normally reserved for offenders as punishment. The idea that companies like Primark, Tesco and Asda will make profits from the unpaid labour of the unemployed is reprehensible.

I would suggest that anyone expected to do an unpaid work placement should say they will not undertake any work that contributes to the profits of a company and will only work in the voluntary sector when such work is actually voluntary. Such non-compliance is a matter of personal conscience and political belief, which engages Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Many campaigners are now advocating various ways to frustrate implementation of the government’s Work Programme and the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, such as not signing any data sharing forms to prevent personal data being shared with potential employers, work placement companies or training providers.

In a time of global austerity it is worrying that the Department of Work and Pensions is continuing to farm out unemployment support services to these “providers” – profit making companies such as A4E – who in turn advertise and sell unpaid labour to other profit making companies.

However, one core weakness that campaigners and the unemployed need to exploit to the hilt, is that these companies are now only paid when the unemployed person mandated to them gets a paid job and employers verify this. For the providers to receive these payments they require written consent from the jobseeker to contact the employers. Such consent can be declined by not signing the standard data sharing form or withdrawing consent at any time. Consent is always voluntary and declining such will not affect any benefit entitlement, but it can prevent these parasitic providers getting paid. That sounds like the best sanction ever devised.

People want real jobs that pay a living wage, not schemes that ignore austerity and do not recognise that 5 million people, including 2.4 million claiming out of work benefits, are pursuing just 500,000 jobs. The government ignores regional and local differences and the long term historical deprivation that no unpaid work stacking shelves will ever resolve.