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From PCS DWP Group: Work Experience Update 20/03/2012

Posted by pcsdwpsheffield in Uncategorized.
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Please see below regarding PCS’ position on Workfare.

15 March 2012

The current government’s employment programmes in general and work experience placements in particular have rightly been the subject of wider interest in recent weeks.

PCS has received a lot of useful feedback from members in Jobcentres resulting in this circular which is intended to supplement previous advice to branches and members contained in BB/163/11. It is important that it is brought to the attention of members working in Jobcentres particularly in Adviser/Deputy Adviser job roles.

Workfare

PCS has a clear policy in opposition to “workfare” which is a generic description of programmes developed in the USA and elsewhere which require unpaid work as a condition of receiving state benefits. Our views have influenced the policy of the TUC in this area and we are well positioned to give a lead on this issue as our members have been involved with the design and delivery of government labour market programmes over many years.

The starting point of the current government policy, albeit one entirely unsupported by research evidence, is that people who are unemployed are not only responsible for their position but have in some way made choices which have brought it about. The sharp downturn in the labour market has made this policy even more controversial and in recent weeks has resulted in opposition to unpaid work on a scale which the government did not expect and is struggling to contain.

It is useful to recall that when, as a Labour Special Adviser current Conservative DWP Minister, Lord Freud, advocated large scale privatised programmes involving unpaid work the case was based on there being 1 million vacancies and 800,000 jobseekers. The proportion is now 400,000 vacancies and 1.6 million jobseekers. The government is therefore stuck with programmes which are already failing and is increasingly reliant solely on the withdrawal of benefit through the increased use of benefit sanctions to try to contain a problematic increase in DWP the Annually Managed Expenditure (AME) which in plain terms is the bill the state pays for even the current inadequate welfare system. PCS calls for an alternative policy based on investment in jobs and growth.

Our opposition to “workfare” is based on the following plain facts:

  • It is open to exploitation by employers
  • It displaces paid jobs adding to unemployment
  • It can be used to weaken collective bargaining
  • It undermines the National Minimum Wage.

Work Experience

Work experience is not a new feature of employment programmes and there are safeguards which can be put in place to protect the rights of claimants. These include limits on the length of placements and numbers entering as well as control of what tasks can be undertaken. PCS believes that whilst work experience can be of benefit to some jobseekers it should be entirely voluntary and that the current programmes generally lack proper regulation and oversight by recognised trade unions. Subject to the rules on availability voluntary work was an option for jobseekers, and not just those under 25, before Work Experience was introduced. Unpaid labour for vastly profitable companies is exploitation and no answer to the staggeringly high levels of youth unemployment. PCS has already raised these issues at the TUC and ensured that there are safeguards against the exploitation of young people on work experience placements hosted by DWP. These are detailed in BB/115/11. PCS welcomes the fact that protest and public opinion has had a positive impact and rejects attempts by Ministers to demonise their critics as “job snobs”.

Mandatory Programmes

The controversy over referrals which are non-mandatory at the point of entry suggests that the issue will become even more sharply focussed as mandatory referrals increase in scale. PCS is interested in feedback on:

  • Mandatory Work Activity which is mandatory at the point of entry but where referral first requires the adviser to decide that a jobseeker has “little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work” suggesting that volumes will be low;
  • Community Activity Programme which resembles pure “workfare” as it is basically forced labour for those who complete the Work Programme. Whilst all current programmes may arouse opposition this is the one with little or no UK precedent and likely to be the most controversial.

‘Non targets’ and profiles

PCS has received reports that advisers are being pressured into making programme referrals both for Work Experience and other non-mandatory programmes and for mandatory programmes like Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) through the use of site or sometimes individual ‘profiles’ despite DWP management stating that there are no targets in this area. We have also been made aware of ‘DMA Action Plans’, or comparative performance discussions on DMA referrals despite Ministers stating last year that there are no DMA benchmarks and that it was not appropriate to set individual performance targets or benchmarks for this area of work. It is clear that in practice a target culture still exists and that this can be abused leading to the risk of inappropriate and unfair referrals. Members are advised to raise any concerns of this nature with their PCS rep. Reps and branches are asked to challenge any clear abuses and if necessary to escalate them for resolution at District, OSN, or National level.

Ethical decision making

Members working in Jobcentres are very experienced at making decisions based on the rules. PCS advice is to work strictly to the rules as published in official guidance. Pressure to go beyond the rules to get quick results for political convenience is not acceptable. Recent examples include:

  • Blanket bans on documenting the Permitted Period where the claimant has a usual occupation (or insistence that an HEO must authorise the agreement);
  • Imposition of a 90 minute rather than 60 minute travel to work area from day one of the claim;
  • Insistence that the customer must be willing to work for the National Minimum Wage from day one of the claim irrespective of the claimant’s work history or job goals;
  • Pressure to insist on written evidence of jobsearch where verbal evidence can be accepted;
  • Discouraging tailoring the Job Seekers Agreement minimum ‘steps to take’ to demonstrate Actively Seeking Employment to individual circumstances.

‘Freedom and Flexibilities’ may be the latest buzz words but it is not in the gift of District or local managers to change the JSA regs. PCS believes it is essential that inappropriate targets do not result in misdirection of jobseekers which damages the reputation of the Department and can lead to the denial of the rights of the public we serve. This is difficult territory and members are advised to consult the relevant official guidance if in doubt about action suggested to them under local initiatives. It is not unknown for some of these to disappear when challenged. If a doubt remains unresolved it can be escalated through the union channel via your PCS Branch.

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