Saturday, 18 February 2012

Back on the chain gang: the WRAG and #workfare

There's been a lot of indignation on the internet this week.It was partly down to an error by Tesco, who advertised a "work experience" job as if it was a normal vacancy, but paying only Jobseeker's Allowance plus expenses. I have no doubt that their advertising mistake was genuine, but it highlighted the practice of big companies increasing their already huge profits by using taxpayer-funded labour.

This type of social welfare system is known as workfare. Under the system that previously operated in the UK, receiving benefits was conditional on things like searching for work and being available for work. Under workfare, you are expected to undertake training, work experience or community work. If you do not complete these satisfactorily, your benefits are reduced.

Workfare became a political headline-grabber in the UK about a month ago, after geology graduate Cait Reilly refused to take up a placement at Poundland, because it was unpaid: she argues that young people need jobs, not fake "work experience" schemes.

Now, the latest. The Guardian has received documents revealing secret DWP plans. If you're on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), it's been decided that you might be able to work at some time in the future. The documents reveal that those in the WRAG, too, may be placed on workfare, even though it's acknowledged that at that point in time they are not fit for work. For some of us, fitness to work may be years or decades away, while others of us will never be fit for work.

So, will we be forced out to work when we're not fit? Forced back to the chain gang?

Well, many issues have been raised about the policy since the Guardian's story. Here are a few thoughts of my own.I'll talk about "I", though I've not been transferred onto ESA yet.

  • Suppose I agree to take part in a workfare scheme. What happens if (when) I'm not well enough to go? What happens if I arrive late, or have to leave early, due to my disability? Or have a medical appointment? After all, the DWP have acknowledged I'm sick and/or disabled by putting me in the WRAG in the first place.
  • My doctors may have said it would be dangerous to my health to work. Where do I stand? (Or, more probably, sit)
  • According to the Guardian documents, the "host employers" have to make "reasonable adjustments", as with the Disability Discrimination Act. Is this really likely if I'm only there for a few weeks? Funding under Access to Work is no longer available, having been withdrawn by this government.
  • The Health & Safety at Work Act is still in force, and protects me, all other employees, and any members of the public visiting the workplace. Could be expensive for the "host employer" if anything goes wrong.
  • The Employers' Liability Act also applies. As long as I'm certified as "not fit for work" by my doctor, I will not be covered by an employer's insurance.
At the time of writing, several large companies have dropped out of the workfare scheme for people on JSA, including Waterstones, Sainsbury's, TK Maxx, and Matalan. Hopefully workfare for people in the WRAG will be quietly dropped before the government shows itself up yet again.


  1. Great stuff, and with a orange wooly jumper i would wear 22 holed dr martins lol

  2. I think alot of this is scare tatics, if you have a disability or illness that stops you from working and you feel that going in the WRAG group could mean unlimited working for free then some people may be pressued into going on JSA which after all has a lower obligations when it comes to working, and bonus its about £30 a week less to each person. I can see how those with more invisable illness and metal health whos Job Centre adviser can't see or understand are going to feel they might as well go for JSA to try and manage their conditions.