This open letter is in response to the inflammatory and unfounded remarks made by the Employment Minister Chris Grayling MP, as well as others, in relation to anti-workfare campaigners and protesters.
We strongly object to the remarks made by Mr Grayling and other commentators, which attempted to label ALL those who oppose the Governments Workfare scheme’s as ‘far left extremists‘ and ‘militant’ members of the SWP (Socialist Workers Party).
Before we go into the crux of this letter we would first like to address the Governments ‘workfare’ scheme itself.
The Work Experience scheme, also known as Welfare To Work, is nothing more than an ill-conceived and badly disguised attempt to thwart the National Minimum Wage Regulations by mandating people on benefits to work for free. At the same time this provides free labour for employers and big business so they can avoid having to employ paid workers.
Workfare is a scheme which offers no real evidence of in work training, job security or a wage that replaces, or becomes part of, the basic rate paid to Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants. A thinly veiled attempt to create an underclass of free, cheap labour for a labour market already flooded with unemployed people trying to find work.
These schemes have already created cause for concern regarding there affect on overtime on both temporary and permanent jobs, as well seeing workfare placements reducing the number of both permanent and temporary employment opportunities available to unemployed people seeking work.
A potential issue around equality between work experience participants and permanent staff is apparent. Work Experience participants are required to work in their placement for up to 30 hours per week, and so overtime paid to permanent staff has the very real probability of being reduced,.. or worse removed completely.
Research commissioned by the previous Labour Government in 2008 found that;
“There is little evidence to suggest that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.”
“Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes.”
Evidence that the coalition Government appear to have completely disregarded.
The research also found that ‘workfare was least effective in weak labour markets’, which I am sure everyone reading this would agree is the current situation faced by the UK Government and by those seeking work.
Workfare is a proven failure in countries highlighted in the commissioned report. The fact that the coalition government are adopting workfare is against the advice of researchers, and implies they are either naively unaware of the problems involved in returning the unemployed to work, or perhaps more sinister, influenced by big business with invested interest in continuing the workfare programmes.
Some claimants on sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are being told that they will have to claim Job-seekers Allowance whilst appealing a decision to stop payments of ESA, and this in turn will make those people available for workfare. Particularly if those people were previously in the support group of ESA which does not require claimants to partake in work related activity. This draws attention to ill-performing work capability assessments ( WCA), but something we will not go further in the course of this letter as it has already been heavily reported. Some of these vulnerable people may have been wrongfully denied ESA and may be seriously sick or severely disabled. If recent figures are anything to go by,… where around 40% of people appealing a decision to stop or suspend ESA are having the decision overturned, then making sick and disabled people available for work experience schemes is something we should all bedeeply concerned about.
But the crux of this letter is to object to the language that ministers, the press, and wider media are using to describe those of us who are against workfare. They insist upon cruel, inaccurate and defamatory language to discredit the bulk of anti-workfare campaigners. Vile slurs against campaigners are a blatant attempt to hide the negative attention the Government’s controversial workfare schemes have attracted, and should not be used OR encouraged.
The vast majority and those helping in raising awareness of the exploitation of those taking part in workfare schemes ARE NOT ‘far-left extremists‘ or ‘militant campaigners‘ and are certainly not ‘Job Snobs‘!
Those are but a few examples of the language being used.
Despite what some commentators have said we are not against the idea of allowing those who wish to take part in work experience schemes the opportunity to do so. We do however, believe that such programmes should not be to the benefit of big business and greedy employers. It should, at least reward those taking part with a paid wage as a proportion of what they already receive though state benefit. This may in fact give them greater incentive to seek permanent employment, and provide them with a sense of pride in what they have done because they are making an honest income. A position that researchers of the aforementioned report also support.
We are firm believers that it is a individual’s responsibility, and right, to question their government when they see something being done that they do not approve of. Campaigners should be free to do so without the potential of becoming targets of a desperate government that is more interested in vilifying campaigners than addressing the concerns that we and others are attempting to raise. This lack of protection for campaigners invoking our right to protest, and the media frenzy caused as a result of slanderous remarks, has proven that the Conservative led government are complicit in the vilification of anti-workfare campaigners.
Furthermore, when these tendentious remarks come from those in a position of power and influence it becomes more than just a political issue but also one of a defamation of character. A deliberate and blatant attempt to turn the public and workfare providers against those who are well within their right to campaign and protest by labelling us as something we are not!
We are simply trying to raise awareness of an issue with the UK Government and the public whilst standing up for something we believe in.
I ask readers this:
“If workfare is a fair, and just way of helping unemployed people back into work why does the government and others feel the need to discredit campaigners by resorting to underhand tactics?”
For this reason, and to give those responsible the opportunity for redress, we rightfully request an apology from all those who have vilified and falsely portrayed the majority of campaigners and protesters. Those responsible for these defamatory remarks are also invited to acknowledge that the majority of campaigners against the work experience schemes (workfare) are NOT ‘communists’, ‘left-wing militants’, ‘members of the Socialist Workers Party’ (SWP) or as also claimed, attempting to destroy the prospects of those seeking employment.
Those responsible for the language used against campaigners know who they are,.. and so do we!