A future Labour Government would consider handing lucrative Work Programme contracts, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, to smaller businesses and charities in a bid to cut back on the number of large providers involved in controversial back-to-work schemes.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves MP said that she plans to “challenge the status quo” of Government commissioned Work Programme contracts by opening up the scheme to smaller providers.
Back-to-work services could be devolved and decentralised away from Whitehall, by allowing local governments and social enterprises to develop and outsource schemes better tailored to the meet the needs and requirements of locally unemployed people.
Ms Reeves told the Financial Times that new providers may be required to pay their employee’s a living wage if they wish to bid for contracts. She said that existing providers should be worried by her plans but acknowledged that they come with potential “cost implications” for a future Labour Government.
Some of Britain’s largest charities recently announced that they were to boycott a similar scheme to the Work Programme. Hundreds of charities and 13 councils signed a pledge to boycott Community Work Placements, which form part of a new Help To Work Programme, where the long-term unemployed are required to meet with a Jobcentre adviser every day, attend training or commit to six-months voluntary work in their local area. Failure to comply could result in benefit claimants having their payments docked or stopped completely for a pre-determined length of time, otherwise known as a ‘benefit sanction’.
Opponents of back-to-work schemes, like the Work Programme and Community Work Placements, say they amount to a form of forced labour because of an ever-existing threat of sanction for non-compliance, as well as gifting employers with free labour enabling them to escape hiring paid workers and keep wage costs down.
Unemployed people taking part in these schemes claim their benefits have sometimes been cut for ridiculous and over-zealous reason, such as failing to turn up to a placement because of being in hospital or delays to local bus services, as well as other reasons.
Labour will have to go much further if they are to satisfy opponents of these schemes, who say they would accept no less than complete abolition of all “slave labour” programmes, and the end of private company involvement in social security benefits and the welfare state.