Does the DWP’s Latest Welfare Scheme Protect the Rights of the Individual?
August 1, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
The DWP’s Community Action Programme (CAP), targeted at building bridges for the long-term unemployed, has just finished its pilot phase.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) latest welfare-based scheme, the ‘Community Action Programme’ (CAP) has recently completed its initial pilot stage, which, if extended to more areas in the UK, will mean that individuals who have been in long-term unemployment (for over three years) will face a six month unpaid work placement if they wish to retain their entitlement to benefits.
This latest government-led scheme is to operate alongside the already-in-place ‘Work Programme’. This scheme has faced heavy criticism and attracted frequent media coverage over the last few months from a variety of both individuals and organisations for the way it has operated. One of the more extreme cases which highlights this issue was the alleged poor treatment of unpaid job-seekers by an outsourced security firm during the Queen’s diamond jubilee weekend.
It was reported in the Guardian that unpaid job-seekers were drafted in from cities around the UK to steward the river pageant, who then had to camp under London Bridge the night before working up to a 14 hour shift to ensure proceedings ran smoothly. These revelations led Lord John Prescott to accuse the coalition government of ‘exploitation’ of workers.
This no doubt raises questions about whether or not the Work Programme fully protects the fundamental rights of the individual. In his letter to the home secretary, Lord Prescott said: “If the allegations are true, it is totally unacceptable that young unemployed people were bussed into London from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth and forced to sleep out in the cold overnight before stewarding a major event with no payment.”
Whether or not we will see a repeat of these problems during the CAP is yet to be fully seen as the pilot phase has only just been completed.
A recent case involving Jamieson Wilson has gone to a judicial review to decide whether the unpaid work placements which are being assigned to the long-term unemployed are in breach of human rights. The ongoing case is being argued by the claimants that the work schemes, covered by CAP, are a form of ‘forced labour’. Mr Wilson, a 41-year-old who trained as a mechanical engineer, allegedly had his entitlement to benefits revoked because he refused to take part in the scheme. This suggests that the threats made by the government prior to the pilot phase of the CAP are very real.
Many would agree with Mr Wilson that such action by the government is an impediment on human rights. A potential judicial review and criticism from an influential thinktank could slow the progress of the CAP over fears that it could prove to be both costly and high-risk if fully extended to the rest of the UK.
The Work Programme has been in place for just over a year now; and there are those who are just as vocal in support of its aims and objectives as those who have criticised its workings. One of the main objectives of the CAP is to tackle the rising level of those in unemployment, with particular focus on those who have been in the cycle for a long period.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that: “Long-term unemployment can lead to marginalisation from the labour market through depreciation of skills and a loss of motivation.” It is clear that the government wants to redress this issue, which many see becoming more of a problem if unemployment levels cannot be reduced by schemes such as CAP and the Work Programme.
The DWP claim that the Work Programme has been mostly successful since its introduction. MP Chris Grayling, the minister for employment, gave a speech at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London for the anniversary of the introduction of the Work Programme.
Speaking about the programme, MP Grayling stated: “Time and again I have met people who have either made it back into the workplace, often against their expectation, or those whose lives have been turned round and are starting to believe again.”
Talking about an individual who had benefited from the efforts of the programme, he continued: “Within 8 weeks, Stephen [Stubbs] secured the first two interviews of his job hunt. The first was unsuccessful, but the second resulted in a job with the Student Loans Company.” Mr Grayling explained that Mr Stubbs had attributed his success to the training and support he had been given as part of the programme.
The DWP has also come under pressure from thinktanks such as the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion. Chief executive Dave Simmonds believes that the latest government measure will be an “expensive failure”. Mr Simmonds also stated: “We have to be careful about a one size fits all solution for the very long-term unemployed by requiring them to work for their benefits.” This view has been advanced to more of an extent by the group Boycott Workfare, who are a UK-wide grassroots campaign group opposed to unpaid work placement schemes for the long-term unemployed.
It is clear that there is a gulf in opinion with regards to both the CAP and the Work Programme; and this goes for companies in the UK too. Businesses such as Holland & Barrett and Burger King have recently withdrawn from the DWP scheme.
Regarding Holland & Barrett, Jim McLaughlin, a member of Boycott Workfare, stated: “Holland & Barrett were using unpaid workers on a massive scale. Even its employees were complaining that paid work was being replaced … People are doing real work, so they should be getting real pay.”
It would seem that recent events such as these have placed the government on the back foot, with protests such as the Workfare Week of Action seemingly influencing companies around the UK. It could be said that this is a significant step for groups such as Boycott Workfare, seeing as UK-wide businesses and organisations provide the core of these government policies.
On the other hand, former Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose believes that the current controversy surrounding the Work Programme is unfounded and “baffling”. Talking to Sky News, he stated: “We’re offering young people the opportunity to really understand what the workplace is about,” adding: “It’s about getting people into the routine of working … making sure they know what its like to have a properly constructed work programme.”
With the Community Action Programme in its early stages, it is difficult to predict whether the government and the DWP will face the same problems that previous welfare schemes such as the Work Programme have created, in regard to both the companies taking part in the scheme and the job-seekers who have been part of it.
It would seem that there have been success stories where individuals have benefited from the Work Programme and the CAP; however the CAP is already being shrouded in controversy with regards to its moral and financial effect in the UK. Perhaps the government and the DWP will need to think carefully about the long-term effects before rolling out the CAP as part of a UK-wide welfare scheme.
By Stephen Jennings
[Image courtesy of GeoBlogs]