Conservative Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith has responded to a court ruling that it was illegal for his department to tell unemployed people it was compulsory for them to work unpaid for private companies or lose their unemployment benefit, when the law parliament passed only allowed for voluntary unpaid placements, by making dishonest personal attacks on one of the people who brought the case (1).
Smith says people who think they are “too good to stack shelves” are wrong and that their attitude is “unacceptable”. Cait Reilly never objected to stacking shelves though – she objected to doing it for no pay for a company that was profiting from her unpaid labour, especially as this would mean the firm would hire less paid staff (2).
She objected to the government helping big companies avoid paying the minimum wage (and in fact avoid paying one penny for the work done for “workfare” workers). (Department of Work and Pensisons guidelines for Workfare ‘Providers’ warn that offering a job at the end of a Workfare placement could breach the National Minimum Wage law. (3))
She objected to being told that if she didn’t complete the unpaid placement, she would lose her unemployment benefit.
A decent government minister wouldn’t lie to the unemployed and tell them that workfare placements were compulsory when the law passed by parliament only allowed voluntary placements. Nor would they force them to stop unpaid work they enjoyed for a museum, a public asset, for unpaid work for the profit of a company.
Duncan Smith also pretends there will be a paid job at the end of workfare. For most people there isn’t. Research on workfare in other countries commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions in 2008 concluded that ‘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.’ (4).
As the Boycott Workfare blog points out, the claim made by Duncan Smith and the Department of Work and Pensions that half of people who do workfare are no longer on benefits after 13 weeks, does not show half of them are getting jobs (5).
Smith’s choice of 13 weeks as the relevant time-frame is also interesting given that his department brought in a ‘sanction’ against unemployment benefit recipients for “non-compliance” (including even missing an appointment) of cutting off their benefits for 13 weeks (This is one of the most minor 'sanctions' - higher ones include no benefits for 3 years) (6).
So how many of the people who aren’t on unemployment benefit after the 13 weeks have got a paid job Mr Smith? ; and how many had their benefits cut off even though they don’t have a job yet? ; and how many of those were for being late or missing unpaid work or an appointment with a DWP official on just one day?
Figures released by Tesco last year showed only 21% of those who were put on workfare placements with them got a paid job at the end of it (300 out of the first 1,400 (7) – (8).
You can judge the general level of honesty on this subject from the government from the fact that they are fiddling the unemployment statistics by counting people on unpaid workfare placements as “employed” in “new jobs” (9).
Smith, true to form, is being utterly dishonest. He’s also a hypocrite. When he was in opposition he toured the country in teary eyed meetings with the poor, the disabled and the unemployed and charities working with them, promising them that when he got into government he would help them rather than punish them.
After less than three years in government Smith as Welfare minister has approved not only a 21st century version of the 19th century workhouse through unpaid “workfare” placements like Cat Reilly’s; but also letting French IT company ATOS get commissions on the number of disabled people they take benefits from on the basis of the say of doctors ATOS is employing and who often refuse to even look at their medical records or their GP’s opinion (10).
(The leadership of the Labour party actually initiated this scheme and gave ATOS this contract in 2008 in a shameful betrayal of vulnerable people and their supposedly democratic socialist ideals, though the Conservatives have made it even harsher than it was under Labour by changing the terms of the contract (11) – (12))
Smith is also rumoured to be currently trying to scrap the appeal process against ATOS rulings, because 40% of people stripped of their benefits by ATOS have had them restored on appeal to tribunals (though ATOS keeps its commission payments for removing someone from disability benefit even if their ruling is found to be wrong on appeal) (13) – (14).
Smith has also approved caps on housing benefit, along with an insane “bedroom tax” which takes away the housing benefit of anyone living in a flat or other property with more than one room in it and the government thinks one of them could be converted into a bedroom (15).
But, warm-hearted, compassionate men that they are, he and Lib Dem Treasury minister Danny Alexander have now let it be known that they will oppose any further welfare cuts (16). That’s nice of them. How about reversing all the ones you’re making? Then there might be anyone who gave a flying fuck. Currently it’s a bit like Hitler pledging not to invade any more countries now he’s done France, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Austria and Greece.
I know whose behaviour I think is unacceptable – and it’s not Cat Reilly’s, it’s yours Mr Smith. You would not make an acceptable local councillor never mind an acceptable government minister.
What You Can Do
Go to the Boycott Workfare website to find ways you can help end Workfare in the UK
(there will also be a week of action against Workfare on 18th to 24th March)
If you’re in Scotland, sign this petition to the Scottish government to ban the bedroom tax
Wherever you are in the UK, sign this petition to scrap the bedroom tax
Join the Peoples’ Assembly Against Austerity – a non-party group to oppose austerity and welfare and public service cuts which members of any party and of no party can join
(1) = Independent 13 Feb 2013 ‘Poundland ruling: Back-to-work schemes in disarray as no-pay placements judged unlawful’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/poundland-ruling-backtowork-schemes-in-disarray-as-nopay-placements-judged-unlawful-8491398.html
(2) = Independent On Sunday 17 Feb 2013 ‘Nobody is 'too good' to work as a shelf-stacker, says Iain Duncan Smith’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nobody-is-too-good-to-work-as-a-shelfstacker-says-iain-duncan-smith-8498374.html
(3) = Department of Work and Pensions – Work Programme Provider Guidance - Chapter 3c – work experience on a voluntary basis and community benefit work placement,
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wp-pg-chapter-3c.pdf ; ‘Even if they are not paid by the employer, participants will qualify for the NMW (National Minimum Wage) if they are regarded as employees of the employer AND are participating in a trial period of work with that employer, in which the employer has agreed to offer a job to the participant if they successfully complete the trial, in cases where the trial is in excess of six weeks… “Employment” has a wide meaning, and participants are likely to be regarded as employees if they agree voluntarily to take up the placement with a particular employer.…The NMW is very unlikely to apply to participants mandated to participate in unpaid work experience or an unpaid community benefit work placement through the Work Programme, or to Participants who volunteer to take part in an unpaid placement of either type which is not a work trial exceeding 6 weeks.’
(4) = Department for Work and Pensions Research Report No 533 ‘A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia’,
http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2007-2008/rrep533.pdf (see page 5 , paragraph 7)
(5) = Telegraph 21 Feb 2012 ‘Iain Duncan Smith: it's better to be a shelf stacker than a 'job snob'’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9095050/Iain-Duncan-Smith-its-better-to-be-a-shelf-stacker-than-a-job-snob.html ; 5th paragraph, 1st sentence, ‘The Government says half of those who join the scheme have either found work or stopped claiming benefits after 13 weeks.’
(6) = Telegraph 03 Jul 2012 ‘Lazy jobseekers to lose benefits for up to three years’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9370402/George-Osbornes-plans-to-use-billions-of-pounds-from-British-pension-funds-cash-to-pay-for-roads-fail-to-get-going.html ; 4th sentence ‘The new sanctions regime, which come into force this Autumn. will see a claimant losing their benefit for 13 weeks for a first failure to comply with the rules.’
(7) = Guardian 10 Feb 2012 ‘Unions call on UK high street giants to halt unpaid work schemes’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/feb/10/unions-shops-unpaid-work-schemes ; ‘Tesco said that over the last four months around 1,400 people had worked for free for a month as part of work experience in its stores, and since the scheme began 300 jobseekers had gained a job with the company.’
(8) = Daily Mirror Blogs 16 Feb 2012 ‘Outrage over Tesco's £1.50 per hour "job offer"’,
http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2012/02/post-2.html (see ‘Tesco’s Statement’ at bottom of the page on that link)
(9) = Guardian 15 Jan 2013 ‘Statistics cast doubt on coalition's '500,000 new jobs' claim’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jan/15/statistics-doubt-coalition-500000-jobs
(10) = guardian.co.uk 31 Jul 2012 ‘Sick and disabled people are being pushed off benefits at any cost’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/31/disabled-people-benefits-panorama
(11) = New Statesman 23 Jan 2013 ‘The Shadow State: The "dehumanising, degrading" treatment of disabled people’, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/shadow-state-dehumanising-degrading-treatment-disabled (see especially 2nd paragraph and 9th paragraph)
(12) = BBC News 17 Aug 2012 ‘Watchdog finds weaknesses in benefits system’,
(13) = New Statesman 23 Jan 2013 ‘The Shadow State: The "dehumanising, degrading" treatment of disabled people’, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/shadow-state-dehumanising-degrading-treatment-disabled ; 11th paragraph, 2nd to 3rd sentences ‘On average 40 per cent of challenged decisions are overturned at tribunal – one in ten of the total assessed. It has cost £60m thus far to assess the appeals. Some 1,300 people have died after being placed in the “work-related activity group” for those expected to start preparing for an eventual return - 2,200 died before the assessment process was completed.’
(14) = Channel 4 News 08 Feb 2013 ‘Disability testing system causes ‘misery and hardship’’, http://www.channel4.com/news/disability-testing-system-causes-misery-and-hardship , ‘But the public accounts committee report though, lays much of the blame at the door ot the Department for Work and Pensions. It says the DWP relies too heavily on the decisions taken by Atos assessors. And how good are those decisions? Well , according to the committee, 38 per cent of the department's decisions were overturned in appeals...In the meantime Atos Healthcare were paid more than £112m to carry out 738,000 assessments between 2011 and 2012. The PAC report adding: "It (the department) has failed to withold payment for poor performance."’
(15) = Independent on Sunday 17 Feb 2013 ‘'We won't put up with this': Residents facing brunt of 'bedroom tax' will refuse to pay’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/we-wont-put-up-with-this-residents-facing-brunt-of-bedroom-tax-will-refuse-to-pay-8498691.html
(16) = Guardian 15 Feb 2013 ‘Senior ministers to oppose more welfare cuts’,
The Conservatives’ theory is that people don’t work because they’re lazy. The reality is that even on the government’s own (fiddled) figures there are 5 people unemployed for every job vacancy available. And the real ratio is much higher because of all the fiddling of the unemployment figures. For instance people on temporary, unpaid “workfare” placements are counted as employed and in “new jobs”.
The Conservatives’ theory is that most people on disability benefit could actually work easily and are being prevented from getting jobs and getting on in life by receiving benefits and believing they can’t work (with the unspoken assumption again that there would be enough jobs for all of them even if this was true). Look at the Paralympic athletes they say, that proves that it’s all in the mind – glass half empty or glass half full perspectives. Unfortunately this is all bollocks. Many people are genuinely disabled and simply cannot work – and what’s more many of those who have become disabled worked and paid taxes for decades before becoming disabled due to illnesses or ageing.
The Conservatives’ theory is that the welfare state is creating dependency and a drain on the economy. The reality is that it is vital to a civilised society which doesn’t want to leave many of it’s people to die of hunger, cold or treatable diseases and illnesses, which is why it was created, in infancy and weak form in the late 19th to early 20th centuries and in it’s full form since the end of World War Two. Charities cannot do what welfare states and national health services do – we know that because there were lots of charities before there was a welfare state and they never came close to reducing poverty for the majority.
The welfare state is not a drain on the economy either. For instance unemployment benefit during recessions helps to limit a downwards spiral of falling wages and more people made unemployed, followed by people spending less money on buying goods and services (because many of them now have less), followed by firms sacking more employees and cutting pay for the rest as they can’t sell as many goods or services.
The Conservatives are trying to bring us back to the 19th century and many of the Liberal Democrats are supporting them and basically agree with them. Worse still much of the leadership of the Labour party largely share their ideology and only differ in how quickly they want to dismantle the welfare state and privatise the NHS by the back door.
Much of the leadership of the Liberal Democrats and the Blairite wing of the Labour party seem to differ only in wanting to do this more gradually.