Workfare Watch

Workfare Watch

The government’s Work Programme – Workfare – is mired in controversy. Since its inception last year it has faced protests. More recently, as information about the effectiveness of the Work Programme begins to be released, it has become clear that it is not fair, and not working.

This page will collate all the information that we find about the Work Programme. If you have information or stories to add please send them to


November 10th

DWP Work Programme Statistical release

This document contains official statistics produced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on referrals and attachments to the Work Programme which were released on 7th November 2012. Official Statistics on outcomes will be released on 27th November 2012.


November 9th

Government blocks publication of names of ‘workfare’ employers

The Department of Work and Pensions is refusing to publish the names of charities and businesses where tens of thousands of unemployed people are being made to work without pay for four weeks at a time.
In a battle with the information commissioner, the DWP has said that the government’s mandatory work programme would “collapse” if the names were made public due to the likelihood of protests against the organisations involved.

October 24th


Channel 4 Factcheck: A4E data suggests Work Programme isn’t working

Channel 4 News’s social affairs editor Jackie Long has now obtained performance figures compiled by the second biggest Work Programme provider, A4E, after the first full year. It’s not perfect but it’s the best data we have seen so far on how the flagship policy is panning out.


August 19th

ConDem Workfare Programme closes another charity that actually helped unemployed people

Vocation Quest, the Devizes organisation set up to get unemployed people back into work, has closed as a result of the Government’s Work Programme.

Founder and chief executive Sue Jordan said that the organisation had had its day and was not in tune with the Coalition’s ethos of ‘work or else’.


August 6th

Judgment delivered on Government’s “Back to Work” schemes – Stripping of Benefits Unlawful

Today in a mixed judgment, the High Court held that the Regulations under which the Government has created many of its flagship “Back to Work” schemes are lawful but that the decision of the Department of Work and Pensions (the DWP) to strip our client of his benefits for six months for refusing to undertake compulsory work was unlawful.

In a decision that has potentially far-reaching consequences the Judge held that the decision to strip our client of his benefits for six months was unlawful because the DWP failed, as required by law, to provide information to him about the consequences of not participating in the scheme. Mr Wilson received the DWP’s standard form letters requiring his attendance on the Community Action Programme. These letters, which have been sent out to thousands of other people mandating their attendance on such schemes, failed to comply with the basic notice requirements that would allow the DWP to lawfully impose benefit sanctions.

Over the last year, across the country, tens of thousands of people have been stripped of their benefits and must now be entitled to reimbursement by the DWP.


August 3rd

Trades Councils call to boycott workfare

The annual conference of Trades Union Councils voted unanimously to boycott workfare schemes. Trades Councils are the lay local wing of the Trades Union Congress. They are made up of affiliated unions on a town, city and county basis.

July 31st

How a million jobseekers may face unpaid workfare – the numbers
Our estimates are based on the Government’s published forecasts of Work Programme starts. These are available for 2011 here and for 2012 to 2016 here – in total, 2.1 million Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are forecast to enter the Work Programme over the five years to 2011 to 2016.–numbers


July 29th

Million jobless may face six months’ unpaid work or have benefits stopped

Almost one million people will be forced to work unpaid for six months if a new government work scheme is extended across the country, a thinktank has said.

Under the Department for Work and Pensions community action programme (Cap), which has completed a pilot stage and whose rollout is expected to be announced this autumn, people on jobseeker’s allowance for longer than three years must work for six months unpaid or have their benefits stripped from them.


Firm established by two Tory donors made millions from work schemes
A City firm set up by two Conservative party donors who have close contact with ministers has profited from multimillion pound employment schemes established by the coalition government, the Guardian has established.

Sovereign Capital, set up in 2001 by John Nash and Ryan Robson and three others, has for eight years owned the Employment and Skills Group (ESG), a training company with £73m worth of government contracts. Last Monday, ESG was sold to an investment bank for an undisclosed sum.


July 23rd

RMT statement on Workfare Schemes

At the June statutory meeting of the C of E the following was agreed:

“That this union opposes workfare as we want proper jobs with negotiated rates of pay and conditions for the work and we stand for proper apprenticeships.

We instruct all representatives of this union not to get involved in any workfare schemes where benefits are attached to this work.

However, work experience is okay to get involved in so long as it doesn’t affect establishments and it’s for a maximum of three weeks and agreed with this union.

Any proposed agreements entered into must go in front of GGC or Shipping Committee.”


July 19th

Anna’s charity was bid candy for the Work Programme. Now it’s bankrupt

In the many tiers of the Work Programme in Sutton, A4e holds the prime contract, while G4S has the other part of Surrey. Eco-Actif is the sort of “bid candy” charity big companies use to win their prime contracts: the charity sector was shocked at winning only two of the 40 main contracts but only large commercial companies could raise the up-front investment funds. A4e puts up the money and passes the work down to 3SC, a social enterprise, which hands the work on to a panoply of smaller charities. But nobody knows how much A4e creams off the top. Eco-Actif thinks it may be 50%; 3SC (which only takes 12% for itself) reckons A4e might take 30% – but it’s a commercial secret. Meanwhile, those doing the actual work are paid little until they have placed people in jobs for six months.

After a meeting with David Cameron before the election, Eco-Actif staff were enthusiastic believers in his “big society”. No longer. Anna says there is no way a small charity can both survive financially and offer a good service: “The whole of the Work Programme is cherry-picking. We were a small charity signing a contract with a giant A4e and their lawyers. Chris Grayling just says it’s ‘More fool you’ to charities who signed bad contracts.”


July 15th

Welfare to work scheme co-ordinating firm goes bankrupt

The government’s controversial welfare to work initiative has suffered another blow after it emerged that a social enterprise firm hired to get the long-term jobless into employment has gone into liquidation, claiming banks refused to lend it money to stay afloat because they considered the work programme to be too financially risky.

Eco Actif, a community interest company based in Sutton, Surrey, closed suddenly on Friday morning. It provided employment support for around 500 people in the south-east of London, operating as a subcontractor in a regional supply chain headed by the welfare to work company A4e.


Labour attacks work programme ‘chaos’ after forecasts revised

The government’s flagship employment scheme is facing an “almighty mess”, Labour has said, after a revision of official forecasts showed 1 million fewer people would be eligible.

In the latest blow to the work programme, in which companies are paid by results to find work for the long-term unemployed, the government has almost halved the number of people expected to use the scheme. There are now fears that people hired to find work for the unemployed could in turn lose their jobs.


July 9th

Factcheck: Is the Work Programme worse than nothing?

The Department of Work and Pensions publication covers the first cohort of 28,600 unemployed people who joined the Work Programme when it kicked off in June last year.

It says 48 per cent of them had a break in their benefit claim at some point during their time on the programme. Some 24 per cent had a continuous break in benefits claims of 13 weeks. And 14 per cent had a continous break of 26 weeks.

The watchdog said DWP had told them it would have expected 28 per cent of jobseekers to find a job without help from the Work Programme. That’s an average that cuts across various groups of jobseekers of different ages and characteristics over the lifetime of the programme.

So when we learn today that only 24 per cent of the first Work Programmers have come off benefits for at least three months, that puts things in an unflattering perspective.


July 6th

Major blow for government after Holland & Barrett pull out

Holland & Barrett who have been using workfare on a huge scale (1100 placements a year amongst a workforce of 3500) have said that “the 60 people currently undertaking the work experience scheme will be the last to complete the eight week placement. After this time Holland & Barrett will not participate further in that scheme.”


July 3rd

This cruel welfare system is steadily crushing lives – where is the anger?

If you want a sobering flavour of where Britain is heading, set aside banking, the Leveson inquiry, our relationship with Europe and whatever else – and consider a Guardian story by Patrick Butler that appeared last week. It was about food banks, the charitable set-ups that supply emergency parcels to people who have fallen between society’s cracks. FareShare, a charity that sits at the heart of all this, says it is experiencing “ridiculous growth” in demand, and expects that trend to continue for at least five years; over the last 12 months, it claims to have sent out 8.6m meals.


July 1st

Revealed: the punishing reality of the coalition’s welfare reforms

139,000 sanctions were handed out to Jobseeker’s Allowance* claimants in 2009 but this more than tripled to 508,000 in 2011, the coalition’s first full calendar year in government.** There was little change in the number of people signing on in this period, meaning a much higher proportion of people have had their benefits cut.*** In February 2011 for example, 1.44 million people were claiming JSA compared to 1.42 million in 2009. 51,000 sanctions were imposed in the former month, compared to 9,000 in the latter.

Many of these sanctions are initially suggested, or ‘referred’, to the Department of Work and Pensions by the private companies the government has sub-contracted to run many of its welfare schemes, such as the flagship Work Programme, for people who have been signing on for a year or more. DWP statistics, obtained by a Corporate Watch freedom of information request (download the disclosure here), show companies such as Serco, Seetec, Working Links and A4E have been even more eager to sanction people than the government.


June 30th

David Cameron’s back-to-work firms want benefits cut more often

Private firms awarded multimillion-pound contracts to run the Work Programme have advised that there should be many more cases where claimants have their benefits stripped as punishment for failing to seek work.

As part of its crackdown on welfare dependency, David Cameron’s government has more than tripled the number of punishments enforced against failing jobseekers across all its schemes. The number of cases has risen from 139,000 benefit cuts under Labour in 2009 to more than 500,000 in 2011. Yet documents obtained by the research group Corporate Watch reveal how private firms on payment-by-result contracts have suggested that a much greater number of punishments should have been meted out to people on the Work Programme, a key part of the coalition’s drive to “get Britain working”.


June 28th

Workfare’s ‘state sponsored slavery’ condemned as Unite announces boycott

The country’s biggest union, Unite, has announced a total boycott of workfare, the government’s work experience programme for young people aged 16-24 years of age.

Unite is the first union to announce that it will boycott the programme.


June 26th

Legal Challenge to “Back to work schemes”

Today we are asking the High Court to quash the regulations[1][1] under which the Government has made many of its “back to work” schemes. We represent two clients who have been subject to very different schemes. Cait Reilly, will speak about her experiences shortly.


June 29th

Jobcentre bosses warn of suicide risk among benefit claimants

Senior jobcentre executives have warned staff of the risk of benefit claimants attempting suicide as controversial changes to sickness benefits are being pushed through.

The warning, contained in an internal email sent to staff by three senior managers of the government-run jobcentres, warns staff that ill-handling of benefit changes for vulnerable claimants could have “profound results” and highlights the case of one suicide attempt this year.


June 6th

Tory peer at the heart of Jubilee workfare scandal

The 30 unemployed people made to sleep rough under London Bridge before stewarding the Jubilee pageant unpaid were supplied to security firm Close Protection UK via a workfare provider run by Tory life-peer Baroness Stedman-Scott. The Baroness, who was given a life peerage in 2010, is the Chief Executive of Tomorrow’s People. The organisation is a registered charity engaged in bidding for government contracts to supply unpaid work placements.


Workfare – the lessons from the USA

On the DWP website there is a fascinating report from 2008 entitled “A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia”

The report draws a number of conclusions. The most notable of which are:


  • There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.
  • Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.
  • Welfare recipients with multiple barriers often find it difficult to meet obligations to take part in unpaid work. This can lead to sanctions and, in the most extreme cases, the complete withdrawal of benefits that leaves some individuals with no work and no income.

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