It’s like the NHS privatisation all over again.This time, the Department for Work and Pensions is refusing to publish the names of charities and businesses where unemployed people – in their tens of thousands – are being forced to work for no pay, for periods of four weeks at a time.
Readers with long memories will recall that, earlier in the year, the Department of Health refused to honour a ruling by the Information Commissioner that it should publish a risk assessment on the effects of the then-Health and Social Care Bill.
The argument was that publication would discourage the civil servants who write these reports from including the more controversial likely effects from future risk assessments on other subjects. The reason that the public accepts as true is that the scale of the changes, the waste of public money in achieving them, and the amount of profit to be made by private ‘healthcare’ companies from UK citizens’ misery would be unacceptable to the British people if they knew about it.
Some details leaked out anyway and, now we are experiencing those effects, we are able to see just how accurate those predictions were (and in many cases, how far short of the mark they fell).
Both the requirement that the DoH publish its risk assessment and the demand that the DWP publish its list of businesses and charities involved in ‘Workfare’ follow Freedom of Information requests made to the government.
So much for open government. It seems that such requests are a waste of time when the government in power is determined to operate in secrecy.
Note that the government’s line on organisations taking part in Workfare is now that they “tend to be charitable organisations”. Previously we were led to believe they were all organisations that provide “social benefit”. It seems, once again, this government has lied to us (and not very well). How many profit-making businesses are involved, then, and what are their names?
The real problem with this one is that the ConDem Coalition seems to be childishly ignoring the facts of the matter, which are (i) Workfare doesn’t work, and (ii) Workfare is unpopular in the extreme.
The government’s own research shows that the scheme does not help unemployed people to get a job. Once they have finished their four weeks of work – for whichever unnameable company or, God forgive them, charity – they get thrown back onto Jobseekers’ Allowance and somebody else is picked up to work for nothing. Workfare has no effect on getting people off benefits in the long term.
In fact, the effect of Workfare on the economy is harmful. I commented yesterday on figures showing that, after Job Centre Plus staff started putting people into jobs instead of any of the government’s several work placement programmes, unemployment has dropped and productivity has gone up. I think this may be a temporary blip, with more jobs available because of special events over the summer like the Olympics, but the statistics are revealing.
The government has ploughed on, with changes in the rules a fortnight ago which mean that unemployed people who refuse to take the unpaid placements can have their JSA benefit stripped from them for up to three years.
Note (again) that one of the reasons Cait Reilly lost her court case against the government over Workfare was that the DWP claimed incessantly that the scheme was voluntary and she had the opportunity not to take it up. I wonder what would happen if someone like her took the scheme to court now?
Whatever happens next, it seems the names of the organisations taking part in Workfare (or Mandatory Work Activity, to give it its current official title) will continue to be secret. The reason? The DWP has said the programme would “collapse” if the names were made public, due to the likelihood of protests against the organisations involved.
Doesn’t that give anyone in the DWP a clue?
These schemes are totally unsuccessful and utterly unpopular with the British public.
So why persist?
I think it’s an ideological programme. The government is complaining that the benefits bill is too high and needs to be shrunk, but no employer in his or her right mind would think of paying the full amount for an employee when they can get them on Workfare instead, and have the taxpayer foot the bill.
Workfare is therefore a way of ensuring that the current lack of full-time jobs continues into the future – thereby allowing the government to use it – and the consequent, high benefits bill – as justification for its welfare benefit cuts.