Although the controversial workfare scheme has been in effect in the UK for two years, there has been a (perhaps not so) surprisingly small amount of coverage of its implementation. In fact, there are many people who do not know how it works or believe it is no longer enforced (hence our workfare facts post yesterday).
As the week of workfare action gets underway, we see how the media has treated the scheme.
Workfare was first introduced in November 2011 by the coalition government. In the first few months, there was a lathering of coverage as the scheme met its first criticism and people came forward to say they had been unfairly enrolled, without knowing that they stood to lose their benefits should they choose to opt out after starting and some thought it was mandatory. Some evidence surfaced and the media duly covered the outrage and criticism, and some high street stores even backed out of the scheme due to public pressure.
The government eventually caved and Chris Grayling said that sanctions would no longer be imposed on workfare schemes so that they would be voluntary.
However, since that first burst of media coverage, many outlets have stayed somewhat quiet despite continued protest and trial over the scheme. In fact, there has been further evidence to suggest that the scheme remains involuntary, with some claimants referred to the Mandatory Work Activity programme should they refuse the voluntary scheme. Yet, reporting of this in mainstream media and tabloids has all but gone.
This is a common trait of certain media – and it serves the government well. A burst of coverage and massage of outrage at the revelation of government scandal with no follow up or conclusion. You could compare it to the great furore of the MPs expenses scandal, covered by all media for months until MPs were forced to hand back their unjust claims on the public purse. Stories of expenses claimed on second homes, duck ponds, dry cleaning bills and more all surfaced one after the other as more MPs were named and shamed.
Yet, much less media attention was given to the secret deal through which MPs were refunded their claims in 2011.
What a waste.
In the time since workfare was introduced, there have been numerous protests up and down the country outside the stores and building of organisations who have signed up to the scheme, and yet it is a struggle to know this from the news. And that hasn’t gone un-noticed by some….
This protest took place in 2012 on Oxford Street against several organisations using workfare:
These are some of the comments below the video:
Even more worryingly, earlier this year the government lost at a Court of Appeal, which ruled that government regulations of back to work schemes were “unlawful and must be quashed.” This meant that those sanctioned through workfare under these regulations were entitled to claim back the money they lost because of unfair decisions.
In a truly shocking display of power and disregard for those claimants and the ruling, the government retroactively changed the law so that they had not broken it. This meant that the law was manipulated, to free the government from unlawfulness and the order to pay back £130m in unjust sanctions.
The DWP said:
“If the Department cannot make these retrospective changes, then further reductions in benefits might be required in order to find the money to repay the sanctions”
The DWP managed to avoid paying back the sanctions by arguing that to find that money they would have to inflict deeper cuts in welfare – widening the punishment to thousands of people.
Even the BBC seemed to ignore this.
But the lack of coverage on some of the most important milestones of this scheme does not mean that the public has been won over by government.
This is shown by Chris Grayling and the DWP’s constant name changing of the same scheme to avoid the association. One alias is the ‘Work Experience programme’ which the minister seemed to be confused about himself in this interview with Radio 4’s Today show.
The newest name? “Traineeships.” These are targeted to set up our nation’s young with a decent dose of free labour before they enter a pre-work life. Due to be introduced in August, Traineeships will offer companies 5 months of free labour from candidates who will then hope to secure an apprenticeship, which is also paid below minimum wage as the apprentice learns. The scheme obviously seeks to benefit companies, and provide longer periods of free labour from the poorest in society.
And of course, it wasn’t going to be long before companies took their own initiative to abuse the vulnerable and out of work with their own versions of the scheme. Marks & Spencer boasted last week that 2% of their labour force was unpaid. Unless the scheme is stopped, others will follow suit and normalise this practice that erases the price of a hard day’s work.
To help stop this scheme, join in the Week of Workfare action 6-14th July.