CORRECTION 16 March 2013: This article was first published under the title ‘One in five claimants have benefits cut on mandatory workfare scheme’. However, since publication, the DWP has contacted us to say the original statistics they sent us under the Freedom of Information act were wrong (see their reasons here). We have changed the statistics where relevant in the article below. You can download the new disclosure here.
Have you had your benefits sanctioned on the Mandatory Work Activity scheme and want to share your story? Get in touch at 02074260005 or contact[at]corporatewatch.org.
The Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) programme has received less attention than the government’s other welfare-to-work schemes, perhaps because the unpaid, four-week placements that claimants are sent to are described as being for “community benefit”, which often, but not always, means working for not-for-profit organisations, mostly charity shops. But while there is little evidence that MWA helps the people referred to it, statistics obtained by Corporate Watch through a series of Freedom of Information requests suggest it is the most punitive workfare programme of the lot:
Of the 84,000 claimants referred to the Mandatory Work Activity programme between November 2011 and October 2012, almost 9,000 claims* – approximately one in ten – were cut, or ‘sanctioned’, for between three to six months.
Seetec, Rehab Jobfit, Atos, JHP Group, ESG, Ingeus and Interserve Working Futures, the back-to-work ‘provider’ companies contracted to run MWA in different regions across the country, sent even more – almost 38,000 claims – to be considered for sanctioning. This was 45% of the number of people referred to them.
Only 31,000 people actually started an MWA placement – just over one third of the total sent on the programme.
Corporate Watch also obtained figures for the Work Experience scheme, which sent 18-24 year olds to work unpaid at major retailers under threat of losing their benefits until a national campaign forced the government to drop the sanctions. Far fewer people – less than 1% of all those referred – had their benefits cut through that scheme (though there is evidence that people who refuse to do a placement under Work Experience are now being sent for an MWA placement instead). Mandatory Work Activity was not part of the Court of Appeal’s ruling last month that the ‘voluntary’ workfare schemes, including the Work Experience programme, were illegal because parliament had not been given enough detail. So why so many sanctions?
When Chris Grayling, then employment minister, announced MWA was being extended in June last year, he said those claimants who did not “play by the rules” would have their benefits cut. “People need to be aware that for those who are fit enough to work it is simply not an option to sit on benefits and do nothing”, he said.
Corporate Watch asked the DWP to disclose the reasons why people had been sanctioned but were told it would be too expensive to compile the information.
We also asked each of the provider companies why they were sending so many claims to be considered for sanctioning. Seetec, Ingeus and Rehab JobFit all said they are required to refer anyone who doesn’t turn up for a placement. They stressed they cannot decide whether somebody’s benefits should be cut and that it is “decision-makers” at the DWP that have this power. The others did not reply. A spokesperson for the DWP said the providers are only paid their per-person fee after someone has started a placement (so there is no incentive to sanction and thereby avoid having to organise a placement).
So is it only claimants who don’t turn up or “play by the rules” that are getting sanctioned? Or are the government and providers finding even more reasons to cut people’s benefits than in other welfare schemes (see here and here, for example)?
If you’ve been sanctioned – or referred for a sanction – through the Mandatory Work Activity scheme and want to share what happened please get in touch at contact[at]corporatewatch.org or 02074260005. We won’t disclose any information without your consent.
The Boycott Workfare campaign has called a week of action against workfare from 18-24 March. See here for more details.
* The disclosed sanction figures refer to the total amount of sanctions applied, rather than the number of people sanctioned (so the same person could have been sanctioned more than once).