This network includes SF's unemployed members, retirees, students, stay-home parents and unpaid workers (including those on workfare schemes). We can be contacted at solfedunwaged [AT] - some of our leaflets are available in the column to the right.

"The Secretary of State may select a claimant for participation in a scheme"

The title of this post is the sole criterion set down in the new workfare regulations regarding whom and under what conditions a person might be required to undertake one of the Government’s forced labour schemes (with the exception of MWA). Gone is the much vaunted ‘voluntary’ aspect that was used to defend the schemes for the last year; now, if you are a claimant it is now completely arbitrary whether you're forced to chose between wageless employement or the loss of your benefits. 'The benefits system has entered the State of Exception.'

These are schemes that are specifically aimed at providing free labour to parts of the private sector whose profits are hit by crisis. 

Workfare sanctions extended from today

The governement has today significantly increased the sanctions for non-compliance with the benefits regime, including the controversial unpaid, forced work 'workfare' schemes. Under a 'three strikes' policy, benefits will be stopped for three months, six months, and then three years for failing to meet a series of conditions, many of which relate to workfare. According to a notiification letter given to all JSA claimants, this includes:

The Youth Contract: Rescuing the Work Programme

The Youth Contact was launched at the beginning of April amidst much fanfare and empty talk about helping young unemployed people, whose numbers now stand at record levels. The initiative includes not only the expansion of workfare but also the much anticipated means by which the government will seek to salvage its flagship employment scheme, The Work Programme, from the consequences of its unsustainable funding model.

Don't forget the Work Programme

Workfare is a catch-all term that refers to a range of state sponsored wage-less work schemes. Recent withdrawals by high-street firms that had been involved in  the Jobcentre’s nominally voluntary ‘work experience’ scheme has put politicians on the defensive forcing them to emphasise the (dubious) voluntary nature of the scheme. However the same defence cannot be made of the coalition’s flagship Work Programme, a compulsory scheme with a ‘mandatory work related activity’ component. But aside from the recent controversies surrounding workfare provider A4E relatively little has been said with regard to the Work Programme, which forces jobseekers as well as many sick and disabled Employment Support Allowance claimants into mandatory unpaid work through a number of private companies.

The Community Action Programme - replacing jobs with unpaid labour

A new compulsory work scheme for the long-term unemployed was announced by the government in November 2011. The Community Action Programme (CAP) is currently being trialled (or ‘trailblazed’, in the government’s terminology) in four regions with the intention to implement the scheme nationally in 2013.

The CAP will be organised through private companies and in many ways resembles the Work Programme but with a greater focus on community work. Participation in the scheme is mandatory – refusal to take part will result in loss of benefits. Placements last six months at 30 hours a week of work with an additional 10 hours of job search under the supervision of the provider (source).

Disciplining the workforce: Mandatory Work Activity

Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) is one of the Government’s five unpaid labour schemes in which unemployed people may be required to participate or lose their benefits. According to Chris Grayling Mandatory Work Activity “is something where people have no choice but to participate, otherwise their benefits will stop until they do”

MWA is not voluntary and people of any age can be mandated to take part, even if they have been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for a short time (source). Job seekers are referred to the scheme at the discretion of a Jobcentre Plus advisor and placements are organised through private companies who arrange for the participant to work 30 hours per week for four weeks for no wage.

The workings of the Work Programme

With around six jobseekers to every vacancy it may seem strange that the government is paying private companies to compete with jobseekers to take those jobs, but that is exactly what the Work Programme is about.

Leaked documents show that one of the contracted workfare providers, A4E, suggests daily priorities for its branches should include: reviewing job centre vacancies, newspaper listing, subscribing to job alerts and, of course ‘telesales calls’ (which is to say offering their services to the businesses that are recruiting).


These were and continue to be the tasks assigned to unemployed people as conditions for receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) - with a requirement that activity records are kept and sanctions dished out for failure to satisfy the criteria set out in their jobseekers’ agreement.

Know Your Rights: Redundancy

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have predicted that 725,000 public sector jobs and up to 900,000 private sector jobs will go in the next five years, as a result of spending cuts and the VAT increase. While some will go through retirement and natural wastage, a lot more workers will be facing redundancy. Here is a brief guide to the law around it.

Redundancy happens when an employer ceases to carry on its business, or stops or diminishes some part of its business. The law covers England, Scotland and Wales, with different legislation in Northern Ireland, though its provisions are similar.

For a worker to be made redundant, their dismissal has to be attributable to the reduction in employees. It doesn’t need to be motivated by a company in difficulties, any reorganisation that results in fewer staff will be a redundancy.

The logic of workfare

Workfare means unemployed people being forced to do unpaid work for their benefits. Tens of thousands of people are being forced into unpaid work, household name firms are profiting from free labour and disabled people face unlimited unpaid work or cuts in benefit. Workfare began under Labour with the New Deal in 1998, which became the Flexible New Deal in 2009. It is now being expanded by the Conservative-Liberal government under a number of different schemes including: ‘Work Experience’, ‘Mandatory Work Activity’, ‘the Community Action Programme’, ‘Sector Based Work Academies’, and ‘the Work Programme’.

What to do if you 'fail' your work capability assessment

Know your rights!

Some brief advice on the process of appealing a failed Work Capability Assessment (WCA), as well as some signposting to relevant advice bodies who may be able to assist you.

When you first receive the results of your ATOS WCA and it is a fail, the first thing that many do, as they are panicked and desperate, as they have had their money stopped, is to panic and phone the Job Centre Plus and ask about signing on for Jobseekers Allowance, which is what they want you to do, but there is an alternative and that is by asking for a reconsideration and/or appeal.

How to request reconsideration/appeal

Students to Sparks: Join Us!

We’ve seen cuts to education, leading to the destruction of EMA, tripled uni fees, mass redundancies and course closures. We’re now witnessing – if we fail to stand up and beat it – the virtual privatisation of education. But the government’s austerity measures are not just attacking education – pensioners, the unemployed, workers in all industries in both public and private sector are all facing massive cuts – leaving no-one spared!

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Our leaflets

Abolish workfare - the Solidarity Federation's guide to the government's unpaid work schemes
Workfare is a term used to describe a range of schemes in which people are forced to work without wages in order to receive their benefits. (pdf), (pdf)
Know your rights: failing a Work Capability Assessment
What to do if you 'fail' your work capability assessment
The Stuff Your New Deal Office doesn't want you to know
Download as a pdf here.
Claimants - today is a strike day (UWN J30 leaflet)
Download the pdf here.