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).
At present two companies are involved in ‘tailblazing’ the programme: Ingeus in the East Midlands region who are also a Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) provider; and ATOS in the East of England who are an IT company with the contract for forcing people off disability benefits (source).
Does the claimant benefit?
According to the Government, the Community Action Programme is aimed at people who have already completed two years on the Work Programme and who have failed to find long term work. In the present climate the number of people who graduate to the CAP is likely to increase as the availability of jobs is low. ‘Trailblazing’ of the programme began at around the same time that the Work Programme was initiated so the government's claim is not true for those who taking part in the trials.
Possibly referring to the DWP’s own scathing report which found that workfare schemes reduced the likelihood of an unemployed person finding work, one member of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) commented “rather than find a single sustainable job, it was more commonplace for the very long-term unemployed who were subjected to these kinds of measures to embark upon a succession of low-paid, short-term, and sometimes part-time jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment” (source).
It seems that the best an unemployed person can expect from any of the workfare schemes is a life of insecurity, coercion, exploitation and vilification.
Does ‘society’ benefit?
The announcement of the Community Action Programme came at a time when many councils, government departments and public services are being forced to cut jobs and provision due to budget constraints imposed by the government. The focus of the programme on providing ‘direct or indirect benefit to the community’ means that is likely intended to mitigate some of the effects of these cuts through provision of unpaid labour to replace many of the low-level public sector jobs that are being axed.
The long term effects of this will to diminish the hope that eventual economic recovery will be accompanied by the return of many of public and third sector jobs as they can now be performed by wageless unemployed staff. Guidance suggests the beneficiaries of the free labour on offer should include local authorities, government agencies, charities and social enterprises (that is to say profit-motivated private companies like the providers themselves - source). Furthermore, in answers to questions from the SSAC a representative from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said that it was likely that the scheme would include ‘retail placements’ which suggests that the definition of what the government considers to be a community benefit includes for-profit high street businesses (source).
Once again the providers themselves are set to be the major beneficiaries of the programme. The present guidance closely resembles that of the Work Programme: the government will pay the provider a 'Start Fee' when the claimant is first referred to them; a 'Completion Fee' once a set period of time has elapsed (or the claimant has died) and a 'Sustainment Job Outcome Fee' conditional upon the ‘client’ remaining off benefits for a period of time following their time on the programme (source). The final pay schemes won’t be clear until the CAP is rolled out nationally later in the year and if Mandatory Work Activity is any indication the precise fees may remain confidential. But is likely to cost millions, regardless of results.
The Community Action Programme is just one of five workfare schemes currently in operation; all these schemes are an attack on the pay and conditions of workers and on the lives and freedom of those who find themselves out of work.