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Wednesday, June 13, 2012 

Mandatory humiliation activity.

So now we know. The government's workfare programme, known as mandatory work activity, has nothing whatsoever to do with getting the long-term unemployed back into work. Counter-intuitive as this sounds, this is exactly what the research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions has found (PDF). The study, which compared the outcomes between 3,000 of those put onto MWA and 125,000 on Jobseeker's Allowance who were not referred during the first three months the scheme was running, and was peer reviewed by The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, reached predictable conclusions: that only 55% of those referred onto the scheme actually started it, with 29% dropping their claim, while 17% temporarily lost their benefits for refusing to take part.

Far from this being evidence that "up to a third" of the jobless are in fact working, as has been briefed to the Sun, if anything it suggests the opposite: that the sick and disabled are being forced into working for their benefit, having wrongly been declared fit for work. As Jonathan Portes, director of the NIESR writes, after 13 weeks the impact on claiming had disappeared; instead, those referred were 3 percentage points more likely to be claiming Employment and Support Allowance rather than JSA. Either that, or the experience of being forced to work for up to 30 hours for a meagre £71 on JSA is so dispiriting and humiliating for some that their previously unsympathetic advisers at the jobcentre, as all are referred onto the scheme from there, have decided en masse that their "clients" aren't ready for work after all.

Any minister prepared to change their policy based upon evidence would have taken a look at these results, and either cancelled the scheme or announced a major overhaul of it. After all, it isn't just failing; it's actually costing the department more money because of the increase in those claiming ESA, which pays out more than JSA. Far from doing this, Chris Grayling has actually announced an increase in the number of places available by 9,000, meaning that a further 9,000 unfortunate people will on the pain of losing their benefit be forced to work for companies such as Close Protection UK, as those stewarding the jubilee were. Even if we give Grayling the benefit of the doubt and accept that the lack of impact is down to "teething problems" with the scheme, such as some gaming the system by signing off and then back on to avoid MWA, this doesn't excuse him from refusing to commission further research which would ascertain whether this is really the case.

Mandatory work activity clearly isn't then about preparing the long term unemployed for work by giving them the chance to experience it again, or at the very least it isn't for the vast majority. It's rather punishment for some of the most vulnerable in society, who haven't been able to find a job because there simply aren't any, or indeed, because as we've seen, certain companies are taking such advantage of the various work experience schemes set up by the DWP that they've cut back on the hours of their permanent staff. It helps that cracking down on "scroungers" is so overwhelmingly popular, the benefits cap of £26,000 apparently the coalition's most supported policy, but it doesn't begin to excuse Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith's extreme heartlessness and refusal to accept what's staring them in the face, even when it's potentially costing their department money. Humiliating the desperate to the point of sickness is now officially the business of the government.

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Been told that I have to apply for 35 jobs a week now on work programme. Dunno how you're meant to find the time to apply for 35 jobs when you're working 30 hours a week unpaid.

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