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Osborne’s plans to criminalise unemployed people - and more on US workfare

The first part of this post is a crosspost From Boycott Workfare. Then there is added information on US workfare and testimonies from us at the end of the post:

Campaigners have condemned George Osborne’s announcement that more unemployed people will be forced to work without a wage or face losing their only source of income as a further criminalisation of the unemployed.

The maximum community sentence that a judge can hand out is for 300 hours, but claimants on six-month workfare schemes are already being forced to work without pay for 780 hours. The four-week Mandatory Work Activity scheme is already the equivalent of a medium level community service order that a person might receive if they were found guilty of drink driving or assault.

When a similar scheme was introduced in the US, thousands of jobs in the Parks Department were lost in New York alone – to be replaced with forced unpaid workers. Similar case studies have emerged in the UK, where workfare placements are already taking place in hospitals, council offices, charities and businesses.

Campaigners accuse Osborne of rehashing existing schemes, which DWP research has repeatedly found to fail in helping people find work. The pilot of the scheme announced today was found to have no effect on helping people find employment. 71% of people sanctioned on the scheme reported going without food; half went into debt. The requirement for daily visits to the Job Centre for people leaving the Work Programme is already in place for many people – though Osborne’s announcement is rebranding the current ‘Hit Squad’ and ‘Mandatory Intervention Regime’ as ‘Help to Work’.

This latest workfare scheme may become unworkable as charities and voluntary organisations refuse to take part. Tens of large charities have already quit workfare schemes: Oxfam stated that the schemes were incompatible with its goal of reducing poverty in the UK. The government is currently appealing the Information Commissioner’s decision that it must reveal the names of the organisations involved. If it loses, charities involved in sanctioning unemployed people will face further public pressure to withdraw.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Joanna Long, member of Boycott Workfare said:

“Community workfare schemes literally treat the unemployed as criminals – with far harsher sentences than if they had committed a crime. Osborne’s announcement is a PR rehash of schemes that are already failing to help people find work on a massive scale. It’s bad news for people who will be forced to work at far below the minimum wage – and it’s terrible news for the people whose jobs they will be replacing. This is about cutting the safety net for unemployed people, and handing something for nothing to charities, companies and councils which should be paying wages and taxes.”

From False Economy:

In the past few years, we have done a lot of work into the failure of workfare schemes in the US. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which established modern workfare in America was extraordinarily punitive. With the act came time-limits for benefit eligibility, strict workfare requirements and heavy sanctions for non-attenders. It also excluded immigrants who had been in the country for under five years. Those changes meant that people in need were easily deterred and often pushed into poverty. You can read more details of that here.

In this article, we talked to American workfare expert John Krinsky about the failure rates of US workfare schemes and the spikes in homelessness and foodbank use that were seen after New York city "reformed" welfare and introduced a punitive workfare scheme. The article also talks about the way that the city tried to replace paid public sector jobs with unpaid workfare jobs: "Several years into the city's workfare programme, District Council 37, a union which represented municipal employees, took Giuliani to court, saying that his workfare programme “had illegally replaced nearly 2000 unionised clerical workers with unpaid welfare recipients in three agencies.” We're already documenting the downgrading and fragmenting of public sector workforces here.

In this article, two New York women talk about their time on workfare and how workfare never led to the ongoing, paid employment that they hoped it would.

And you can read stories here and here with people who have been unemployed for the long term and who explains some of the problems and challenges that they face.

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