THE Tory coalition yesterday launched their latest scheme to drive unemployed people off benefits.
The scheme, cynically entitled ‘Help to Work’, targets ‘long-term unemployed’ people with a barrage of new rules.
The scheme requires that unemployed people have to visit a Job Centre every single day of the week, undertake ‘training’, or work for six months, 30 hours a week, without getting paid a penny, in what has been described as ‘worse than a community service sentence’.
Any refusal to comply will result in job seekers facing sanctions. Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) will be suspended for four weeks for their first refusal, then 13 weeks for a second refusal, after which job seekers face being driven off benefits altogether.
Examples of typical jobs unemployed people will have to undertake for free are: cleaning war memorials, looking after animals at city farms, working in cafes run by volunteers, restoring river and canal banks and sorting second-hand clothes for charities.
However, many charities including Oxfam and the YMCA are refusing to take part in the scheme. More then 45 charities and voluntary organisations have signed up to the ‘keep volunteering voluntary agreement’, which means they agree not participate in any government workfare schemes.
Daniel O’Driscoll, Head of Volunteering at Oxfam said: ‘These schemes involve forced volunteering, which is not only an oxymoron, but undermines people’s belief in the enormous value of genuine voluntary work.
‘Oxfam does not offer placements for participants in the mandatory work activity, or compulsory elements of “work for your benefits” schemes. These schemes impact unfairly on the support people receive, and so are incompatible with our goal of reducing poverty in the UK.’
Joe Irvin, chief executive of the umbrella body the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action, added: ‘Volunteering must be voluntary. That is why we oppose any requirement for people who are unemployed to carry out compulsory unpaid “voluntary” work in return for their benefits.’
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: ‘This scheme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour and there is no evidence that these workfare programmes get people into paid work in the long-term.
‘We are against this scheme wherever ministers want to implement it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector. The government sees cash-starved charities as “a soft target” for such an obscene scheme, so we are asking charity bosses to say “no” to taking part in this programme. It is outrageous that the government is trying to stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits docked.’
Civil servants union PCS, which represents job centre workers, said: ‘We do not believe these stricter rules have anything to do with helping people back to work, they are simply about increasing the number of punitive measures and driving people off benefits.
‘We have received no guarantees of any extra staff or resources and, without this, it will be impossible to provide the help and support that the long-term unemployed desperately need and deserve.’
Joanna Long, of campaign group Boycott Workfare, which opposes forced unpaid work for people on benefits said: ‘It’s failed to garner support even from the charities that are already involved in its other workfare schemes because even they won’t touch something so punitive as a six-month community service sentence.’