A flagship government employment policy is facing further delays following a boycott by over 300 voluntary organisations. The “Help to Work” scheme will force long-term unemployed people to work full-time for six months for no pay, or face losing their benefits.
Today (2 June) is the deadline by which the placements are required by contract to be up and running. But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is now telling journalists the placements will begin later in the month.
There is speculation that the DWP is struggling to find charities, faith groups or local authorities to host the placements.
Hundreds of voluntary groups have signed the “Keep Volunteering Voluntary” statement to say they will boycott the scheme. They include household name such as Christian Aid, Oxfam, Crisis, Shelter and Scope.
The widespread opposition to the scheme appears to be taking its toll, as an initial launch date of 28 April was replaced by “late May”. Recent DWP comments and evidence on the ground suggest that there has been a further delay, beyond the contractual deadline of 2 June.
Keep Volunteering Voluntary points out that even during the pilot scheme, the DWP failed to find placements for 37 per cent of participants.
Some have speculated that the timetable has also been delayed because the government needed to wait until G4S was no longer barred from bidding before it could be awarded the lion's share of the contracts.
News of the delay was described as “more evidence that this punitive, botched and poor thought-out scheme is heading for the rubbish bin of history” by Andy Benson of the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA), a group which co-founded Keep Volunteering Voluntary.
Benson added, “Hundreds of voluntary groups have now said they will have nothing to do with it and the number is rising by the day. The government should immediately call a halt to this programme and save wasting £237million of taxpayers' money”.
The organisations backing Keep Volunteering Voluntary point to the impact of benefit sanctions on food poverty and homelessness and believe mandatory work undermines the value of freely given volunteering.
Signatories to the statement include a number of faith-based groups, such as Christian Aid, the Student Christian Movement, Church Action on Poverty, Faiths 4 Change and the Ekklesia thinktank.
In addition, over fifteen local authorities have also pledged not to take part, many through signing up to a pledge launched by Unite the Union's new pledge.
Charity participation in workfare schemes will be further jeopardised if the DWP loses its appeal at the Upper Tier Information Tribunal on 12 June and is forced to reveal the list of organisations hosting placements.
To sign the Keep Volunteering Voluntary Statement, visit http://www.keepvolunteeringvoluntary.net.