Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Government work scheme described as 'worse than useless' in helping people back into work!

The government denies that its 'Mandatory Work Activity' (MWA) programme, amounts to forced labour even though it's mandatory and does force the unemployed to undertake 30 hours of unpaid work each week for up to four weeks at a time, if they want to retain their Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA).

Although research carried out by the government, indicates that the MWA  fails to help the unemployed to get back into work after completing the scheme and seems to do little to get the long-term unemployed back into work, it is nevertheless being hailed by government officials as a huge success in getting people to sign off the dole.

Figures recently released by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), show that two-thirds of benefit claimants referred to the MWA programme fail to turn up for their placement because they either take a job or stop claiming state benefits. The report says that since the scheme started last May (2011), more than 90,000 claimants have been referred to MWA by Jobcentre staff. Of the 33,000 who began work placements, the remaining 57,000 found some work while others ceased claiming benefits. Anyone who is referred to the scheme and does not complete an unpaid work placement, is liable to have their benefits stopped. The DWP have confirmed that 6,000 people were stripped of their benefits for refusing to participate in the scheme.

Although critics say the scheme is forced labour, government officials say that it helps the unemployed to "develop personal discipline and other habits required for employment." Under the rules, any unemployed person judged by jobcentre staff to lack personal skills required to find and keep a job, must do unpaid work placements in return for their benefits.

Despite the government's own research findings into the efficacy of MWA, Mark Hoban, the Employment Minister who published the figures for MWA, said that the figures confirmed that the MWA scheme was "helping to push people off benefits and into work." He added:

"Some people will go to great lengths to avoid having to get a job, but sitting at home on benefits doing nothing is not an option for those who are fit and capable of work..."

While MWA might be having some effect in driving people off the dole - who don't like undertaking unpaid forced labour - it is less clear whether these people are going into paid employment. At a time when Britain is in a double-dip recession and there is little economic growth and nationally, there are 34 people applying for each vacancy it takes more than a pristine CV to get a job. In some regions, there are many more people chasing each vacancy. In October, when Jaguar Land Rover advertised 1,100 jobs at its plant in Birmingham, over 20,000 people applied.

The latest figures released by the DWP into the government's 'Work Programme', the 'worse than useless' job scheme which has helped just 1 in 25 back into work since starting in June last year, show how mainly private contractors, are failing to hit their target of getting 5.5% back into work. Although the government says that they would expect at least 5% of people to get back into work without any sort of government help, none of the 18 Work Programme contractors managed to hit their target of getting 5.5% of the 878,000 people referred to the scheme into a job lasting 6 months during the 14 months that the Work Programme was in operation. The Work Programme did in fact get less than 3.5% of people into work which was  mainly short-term, part-time roles, at a cost according to the BBC 2 Newsnight programme, of £14,000 per job and not £2,100, as suggested by the government. Since the programme commenced in June last year, the government have spent in the region of £412 million on a scheme which has helped fewer people into work than would have got back into work, without any government intervention.

The government say that it is too early (14 months), to judge the Work Progamme on job outcome and 'sustainment payment alone' because the programme helps people into work for 2 years or more. But there is evidence that the official figures put out by the DWP are misleading and far worse than suggested. Had the evaluation been done in the regular way from June 2011 to May 2012, instead of June 2011 and July 2012, the figure would have dropped even lower to 2.5%.

Need less to say, it's not only by the use of statistics that government's seek to mislead the public. Disinformation and the 'scrounger' agenda have been used by the government to make the public more amenable to £18bn of cuts in welfare benefits which has been taken up and reported by some journalists, to create a stigma attached to claiming state benefits. The Chancellor George Osborne does not refer to the unemployed but the 'idlers' who are "sleeping off a life on benefits" and there is no mention of the millions of people who are desperately looking for a full-time job. On previous occasions, Osborne has claimed that some families are taking £100,000 a year in housing benefit when in fact this only applied to five families in Britain. His announcement that no one would get more state benefits than the £26,000 median wage, represented less than 1% of people on benefits who were living in high cost temporary accommodation in London. Yet this kind of strategy, which tries to portray people on benefits as living the high life at the taxpayers expense, as successfully hidden the plunge in living standards for million of others through housing benefit cuts. Today, only one-in-eight people claiming  housing benefit are not in work.

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