The Work Programme – Unpaid Slave Labour?

John Latham from Qdos

The Government’s plans to help the long term and disadvantaged members of Britain’s unemployed to gain work experience leading to permanent employment via The Work Programme have recently foundered in the wake of public mistrust of the system. Many high profile employers providing opportunities under the scheme have withdrawn their involvement to protect the reputation and image of their business in light of the outcry over the underlying basis of the scheme.

The Work Programme is designed and put forward as a scheme to help individuals to prepare for, find and stay in work and for existing part time employees, to help them to increase their hours to full time levels. It is delivered for Jobcentre Plus by specialist organisations, known as  providers who are fundamentally required to give the support needed to help those participating to find and stay in work, This includes the provision by the providers of work experience and training and further support, tailored to individual needs and circumstances.

Involvement in the Work Programme can last up to two years. Job Centre Plus may require an individual in receipt of either Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to take part in the Work Programme. For JSA recipients, this will apply after being in receipt of the benefit for nine months (if aged 18 to 24) or 12 months (if 25 or over)

Individuals may however apply to join the Work Programme earlier or alternatively they can volunteer to join even if they are not required to do so. A decision on entry to the scheme is however based upon individual needs and circumstances.

The Government’s own description of the aims of the scheme are laudable in principle. It intends that the scheme:

Provides tailored support for claimants who need more help to undertake active and effective jobseeking. Participants receive support to overcome barriers that prevent them from finding and staying in work. It is delivered by DWP contracted service providers who have been given complete autonomy to decide how best to support participants while meeting their minimum service delivery standards.

The Government is committed to fighting poverty; supporting the most vulnerable and helping people break the cycle of benefit dependency. …..

The Work Programme also ensures value for money for the taxpayer by basing payments largely on results, and paying service providers from the benefits saved from getting people into work. It is very much a partnership between Government and providers from across the public, private and third sectors.

The Work Programme is now under closer scrutiny than ever from those critical of its underlying purpose and ethical basis. It will be interesting to see whether or not it survives in its present form or whether more existing providers review their position over the coming weeks

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