Last year after a huge public response to workfare, the government removed some of the sanctions from ‘Work Experience’, which is one of numerous workfare schemes. However, the idea that since then the Work Experience scheme has been purely voluntary is at best wrong, and perhaps deliberately misleading.
Bullying and pressure from the Job Centre often coerces us into supposedly “voluntary” actions. We are rarely told that we have a right to choose whether to attend. Now that sanctions can escalate to three years, getting it wrong is not a risk many of us can afford to take.
Soon after the changes last year, the Guardian exposed that people who refused Work Experience were being sent on Mandatory Work Activity for standing up for their rights. Work Experience is only “voluntary” until you refuse.
Since the start of this year, the government has now explicitly stated this contradiction in their guidance:
“Where a claimant is unwilling to address a lack of recent work experience … they [Advisory Teams] should consider if a referral to MWA is appropriate for the individual claimant.”
It is no longer possible to pretend people are freely volunteering to do workfare. Refusal to take part in these “voluntary schemes” can now officially result in 4 weeks’ workfare with, at minimum, a 3 month sanction if we refuse or drop out. Tesco’s, Debenhams, British Heart Foundation, Poundland and the rest can no longer try and deny they are involved in workfare.
* In fact we have had multiple reports of Mandatory Work Activity placements in Barnardo’s stores since that date, and they were clearly heavily involved before as well. Furthermore, Barnardo’s helped flag-wave for workfare when they supported Chris Grayling to relaunch the Youth Contract (most of which is workfare) last April.