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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Workfare schemes ruled unlawful

I was on the BBC ‘Call Kaye’ programme this morning to discuss the Court of Appeal ruling that the UK Government’s “Back to Work” schemes are unlawful and the regulations must be quashed. The ruling is a big setback for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who have driven the controversial reforms.

Predictably the Tax ‘Dodgers’ Alliance also turned up to tell us that this was a wonderful scheme in the interests of taxpayers and the unemployed. As a business funded organisation the provision of free labour was obviously just a bonus!

Well it isn’t a wonderful scheme and these are the main reasons why:

• In the broadest sense of the phrase this is forced labour. The Community Action Programme, Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity Scheme (the clue is in the name) are mandatory schemes and jobseekers will lose their jobseeker’s allowance if they do not participate.

• Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) is paid to support people whilst they seek employment. It is not payment for work, not least because the hourly rate would be as little as £1.78 per hour.

• The UK government’s own international research shows it doesn’t work when unemployment is so high. Youth unemployment in Scotland has doubled. Their study said, “Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.” There is also no evidence that these placements turn into significant real jobs.

• In practice it’s simply job substitution, often for large profitable retailers. Better employers have pulled out because they don’t want to be associated with it. Glazing firm CR Smith are quoted in today’s Herald, "If we are to give people, and particularly young people, a meaningful work experience, it should be through a proper paid job. The sense of reward that comes, in part, from being paid for your efforts is fundamentally important to anyone's motivation to strive to do more." Very well put.

• Substituting forced free labour for waged workers damages the economy.

• The schemes do not simply apply to the long term unemployed, so the argument that it gives the unemployed some sort of focus doesn’t apply. People who rightly feel they are being exploited are not being motivated. And by the way, the scheme doesn’t apply to ‘benefit scroungers’ because they are debarred from these schemes as they are not seeking work.

So let’s get the facts right. Full credit to Public Interest Lawyers for supporting the pursuers in this case. And to the callers on this morning’s programme, who told us of their own experiences of being exploited on these schemes.

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