Fri, 02/03/2012 - 18:30

Factsheet: 5 kinds of workfare

Currently there are currently five workfare schemes in use in the UK, below we explain them


  • The Work Programme: Coalition’s flagship workfare scheme which replaced Labour’s Flexible New Deal in summer 2011. Claimants are referred to private companies who can organise mandatory unpaid work placements for as long as six months. Refusal means loss of benefits.
  • Mandatory Work Activity: The Job Centre can order claimants to work up to 30hrs a week for a period of four weeks without pay. Refusal to comply means loss of benefits.
  • Community Action Programme: Currently being trialled in some regions and due to be rolled out nationally in 2013. Similar to the Work Programme but claims to focus more on community service work; these roles will replace many of the low-level public sector jobs that are currently being cut by councils. Refusal means loss of benefits.
  • Work Experience: This scheme, alongside Sector Based Work Academies (below) are what the government want you to think the term ‘workfare’ means, because are the least offensive of the workfare schemes. They tend to describe it as voluntary work experience for 18-24 year olds organised through the jobcentre. 

    The degree to which the scheme is genuinely voluntary is disputed as there are countless reports of lies and intimidation to get jobseekers to participate and after one week the scheme becomes mandatory. Although recently, to save face, the government, has emphasised the voluntary aspect and stated that sanctions would no longer be used against people who refuse to participate.
  • Sector-Based Work Academies: Similar to work experience but this scheme incorporates a training element alongside unpaid work placements; available through the jobcentre in conjunction with businesses and training providers. Like work experience the scheme is nominally voluntary, however once a claimant accepts a place the scheme becomes mandatory and withdrawal may result in loss of benefits.

In addition to workfare proper, there are also other ways in which the minimum wage is being undercut. A major one of these is the spread of supposed 'apprenticeships'. Increasingly, entry-level admin jobs are being advertised as apprenticeships, which means they can pay £100 per week (higher than £67/week jobseekers allowance for workfare, but lower than minimum wage). Previously these were normal, paid jobs, but now firms can get cheap labour by rebranding entry-level jobs as apprenticeships and giving a low-level NVQ in admin (which is doesn't help find work, as higher-level admin jobs require experience not NVQs).

See also our article on the Youth Contract, the means by which the government intends to expand workfare and which it hopes will revive its faltering Work Programme.

In addition to the articles on this site we have produced a 16 page guide to workfare, which you can download here.