What is workfare?

Workfare is the name given to government schemes where unemployed and disabled people are required to work in return for their Social Security payments, i.e. Employment Support Allowance, Job Seeker’s Allowance, etc.

The running of workfare schemes is outsourced to a range of public, private and voluntary sector providers, who sub-contract parts of their schemes to charities and community groups. Unemployed and disabled people referred to these schemes are required to carry out unpaid work in return for their benefits.

Once a claimant has joined a scheme they can be ‘sanctioned’ - have their benefits withdrawn - or be referred to a compulsory scheme where they can be sanctioned, for failing to participate in it. Organisations running placements are responsible for reporting on claimants’ performance during their placements to Jobcentre Plus, which may result in sanctioning. There are three current Workfare schemes that charities and voluntary sector groups should be concerned about.

Work and Health Programme, is a mandatory programme aimed at disabled and unemployed claimants. It incorporates components of the failed Community Work Placement scheme. (See below) The scheme is enforced via sanctions.

The Youth Obligation’ consists of a three month placement enforced via sanctions in a public sector organisation or a registered charity.

Universal Credit – although not a workfare scheme itself, Universal Credit contains the prescriptive use of workfare. This is important as Universal Credit will eventually be applied to over 8 Million people.

The damage to a charity/voluntary group’s credibility by its potential involvement in any form of Workfare cannot be overstated. The unpopularity of Workfare with the public is perhaps best demonstrated in the failure of the cancelled workfare schemes listed below.

Failed Workfare Schemes:

The Help to Work scheme was introduced in April 2014, and is the most recent of the government’s workfare schemes. It was intended to apply to around 200,000 long-term JSA claimants a year – Status: This scheme was cancelled.  

Community Work Placements: While some claimants on Help to Work were required to visit Jobcentre Plus every day or attend mandatory training, around 60,000 claimants a year were expected to be sent on six months, 30 hours a week Community Work Placements.  Status: Scheme cancelled.

Mandatory Work Activity, was a mandatory and sanctioned scheme for people claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA) aged 18 or over. Claimants must work unpaid for up to 30 hours a week over a four week period or face losing their benefits. Status: Scheme cancelled. 

The Work Programme: The governments unpopular flagship Workfare scheme which failed to deliver at a cost of £2:8 Billion to the taxpayer: Cancelled.