Why do we tolerate ‘slavery’ schemes that rely on secrecy?

Cait Reilly took the government to court after she was forced to stop volunteering at a local museum – with a view to getting a job as a curator – and go to work in Poundland for nothing. The government said the scheme was voluntary but – and the clue’s in the title, ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ – this is not accurate. Those on the scheme now could be stripped of their benefit for three years if they refuse to take part, so one wonders what would happen if Ms Reilly or someone like her tried a similar court action today.

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.


9 thoughts on “Why do we tolerate ‘slavery’ schemes that rely on secrecy?

    1. Mike Sivier

      I have to say, Dave, that your comment is really fascinating because it is the exact opposite of all we have been led to believe (admittedly, by the UK press, which is getting an increasingly bad reputation for itself).
      Check this out, from http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/brendanoneill2/100175144/working-poundland-is-not-slavery-this-high-court-ruling-is-a-smack-in-the-chops-of-todays-self-pitying-youth/ :
      ‘Cait Reilly claimed the scheme violated her rights under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude” and “no one shall be forced to perform forced or compulsory labour”. But Mr Justice Foskett, who, unlike Ms Reilly, appears to have read some history books, said it was mad to compare being made to work in Poundland in return for weekly benefits to “slavery or forced labour”.’
      Isn’t that implying that she lost?
      The headline was: ‘Working in Poundland is not slavery. This High Court ruling is a smack in the chops for today’s self-pitying youth’
      The author, one Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked, went on: ‘This is a wise decision. And it is a smackdown not only of Ms Reilly’s enslavement fantasies (she seriously seemed to believe that being asked to put cheap goods on shelves is the modern-day equivalent of being dumped on La Amistad), but also of the culture of self-pity that has rising numbers of young people in its vice-like grip.’
      If she actually got a ruling from the judge that the scheme violated her rights under Article 4, then this article is completely the wrong way round! And it isn’t the only one!

    2. Thomas G Clark

      That is absolutely amazing Dave. I read an article in the Guardian that drew a similar conclusion to the Telegraph, that Caitlin was basically a lazy whiner that had had her case thrown out by the court.

      How on earth are the press allowed to get away with reporting things completely backwards like that? The link you provided shows that the judge clearly stated that her Mandatory Work placement breached ECHR4.2 – “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”

  1. Gary

    Work fair …. Work farce !!!! ,,,,, yet another example of multi millionaires being in charge of the welfare of the poor …

  2. Sue Bowyer

    I agree with this article, but would point out that NHS privatisation is only happening in England. In the rest of the UK the NHS in it’s current form will continue

    1. Mike Sivier

      Sue, I live in Wales, and my partner has been ill for a very long time. We often – if not regularly – have to cross the border for specialist treatment that is not available where we live, and I don’t think for one moment that we are alone in that.
      NHS privatisation in England affects more people than live in England.

  3. Mike Sivier

    According to ‘Respect for the Unemployed and Benefit Claimants’ on Facebook, the following companies have all taken advantage of unemployed people on the Workfare scheme. It’s a long list so here goes:
    99p stores
    Alpha Stream – Kent

    BHS – British Home Stores
    Burger King
    Age Concern
    Alton Towers
    Asian Star Community Radio LTD
    Bookers Wholesale
    Carillion – Kent
    British Heart Foundation
    Capability Scotland
    Cancer Research
    Chessington World of Adventures
    DB Accident Repair – Kent
    DC Cleaning Sussex
    Diamond Glass Medway – Kent
    Dorothy Perkins
    Envirostream – Kent
    Finsbury Park Business Forum
    F&S Interiors – Kent
    Go Response – Kent
    Haringey Council
    Helen & Douglas House Hospice – Maidenhead
    Holiday Inn
    Holland & Barrett
    Gorgie City Farm
    Greggs the bakers
    JA Glover – Kent
    Jessup Electrical Wholesale Ltd – Kent
    JJ Vickers & Sons Ltd – Kent
    Kennedy Scott
    Kent Flooring Supplies – Kent
    Kent Space – Kent
    Legoland Parks
    London Eye
    Madame Tussauds
    Marie Curie
    Mayhem Paintball – Kent
    Medway Council
    Medway Tyres – Kent
    Miss Selfridge
    Mr Gleam – Sussex
    Newham Council
    Newhaven Community Development
    Oxfam GB
    Olympic Glass – Kent
    Omnico Plastics Ltd – Kent
    Payless – Kent
    Pizza Hut
    Plumbase – Kent
    Process Plant Services Ltd – Kent
    Regency Guillotine – Kent
    Richmond Fellowship
    Rock Circus
    Romney Resource Kent
    Royal Mail
    RNR Performance Cars – Kent
    Saffron Acres Project
    Salvation Army
    Sealife Centres
    Scout Enterprises
    Servest – Kent, London
    SHOC Slough Homeless
    Signs & Imaging Ltd – Kent
    Slough Library
    Slough Furniture Project
    Southern Membranes Ltd – Kent
    Southern Metal Services – Kent
    southern Roofing & Building Supplies – Kent
    Stephens Fresh Food – Kent
    Swan Lifeline – Windsor
    THORPE PARK Official
    The Range – Sussex
    Town and Country Cleaners Kent
    Warwick Castle
    Westvic Enamellers – Kent
    Whittingtons Silk Flower & Plant Centre – Kent, and

Comments are closed.