"I would have quit this job months ago, but I'd be sanctioned by the Jobcentre". That's what one friend told me after working unpaid overtime every evening that week, on low pay that barely covered bills and rent. It's a dilemma faced by everyone working in unsafe or illegal conditions. If you are fired then you have to get by for 5 weeks with no income while you wait for Universal Credit. If you quit, you risk being sanctioned and left for months with no money coming in at all. This is a system designed to punish workers for leaving, designed to keep us quiet and accept unfair or even illegal demands at work, while the rich rake in the profits. If we want to make better lives for ourselves then we should all make a stand against the benefits system, or it will undermine every attempt to organise our workmates.
On 2nd December, those driving forced labour for unemployed people on the government's workfare schemes are getting together for their annual conference at Senate House, Malet Street, London.
ERSA, the trade body for the 'welfare to work' industry, have called their conference "Challenge and change in an evolving landscape". Those attending include Esther McVey (Minister for Employment); Stephen Timms (Shadow Minister for Employment); The Department for Work and Pensions Director of Social Justice; Chairs, Heads and Directors from workfare profiteers A4E, Avanta, Seetec, G4S, Pinnacle People, Groundwork UK, Tomorrow's People; the lead researcher from Ian Duncan Smith's thinktank, the Centre for Social Justice; and the Chief Executive of the Tax Payer's Alliance. All under one roof.
On Saturday, the Lib Dems' party conference was in Brighton. Following a protest march, there were simultaneous mass pickets of firms using workfare across Brighton. Rather than simply 'having our say' and being ignored by politicians, the idea was to disrupt a high profile coalition policy - the forced, unpaid work schemes known as workfare.
With around six jobseekers to every vacancy it may seem strange that the government is paying private companies to compete with jobseekers to take those jobs, but that is exactly what the Work Programme is about.
Leaked documents show that one of the contracted workfare providers, A4E, suggests daily priorities for its branches should include: reviewing job centre vacancies, newspaper listing, subscribing to job alerts and, of course ‘telesales calls’ (which is to say offering their services to the businesses that are recruiting).
These were and continue to be the tasks assigned to unemployed people as conditions for receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) - with a requirement that activity records are kept and sanctions dished out for failure to satisfy the criteria set out in their jobseekers’ agreement.
Know your rights!
Some brief advice on the process of appealing a failed Work Capability Assessment (WCA), as well as some signposting to relevant advice bodies who may be able to assist you.
When you first receive the results of your ATOS WCA and it is a fail, the first thing that many do, as they are panicked and desperate, as they have had their money stopped, is to panic and phone the Job Centre Plus and ask about signing on for Jobseekers Allowance, which is what they want you to do, but there is an alternative and that is by asking for a reconsideration and/or appeal.
How to request reconsideration/appeal
Workfare is a growing problem, as demonstrated by recent stories of a number of supermarkets had volunteered to be providers for the scheme and that young people were providing 30 hours a week of unpaid labour. This presents a problem both for the claimants trapped by this scheme, essentially as slave labour, and for the providers' workforce who are being undercut by those doing their job at practically no cost. Equally worrying is that, despite the growing anger over government attacks and emergence of anti-cuts groups across the country, nothing is being done to challenge this.