{jcomments on}5 May 2011

A new ‘forced labour’ scheme which may affect sick and disabled claimants who are refused employment and support  allowance was rolled out across the country at the end of April.  The sanctions for those who fail to take part are amongst the most draconian ever introduced into the benefits system.

Mandatory work activity (MWA) is aimed at those jobseekers allowance claimants who, in the judgement of the DWP “have little recent experience of employment. This group has little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work.”

Whilst it is claimed that this scheme is only aimed at those who make no genuine effort to gain employment, the fear is that the net will be set much more widely and that people with mental health conditions, learning difficulties or even conditions like ME/CFS may find themselves being forced onto MWA.

Claimants forced onto MWA will have to work for a maximum of 30 hours a week for four weeks.  They will receive no extra payments in return for their work, not even help with childcare costs. There is no limit to the number of times a claimant can be forced to participate in the scheme.

Anyone who fails, without good cause, to take part in an MWA placement when ordered to do so faces having their JSA stopped for 13 weeks for a first offence and 26 weeks for a second offence.  Even if they re-engage with MWA, the sanction will not be lifted and the best they can hope for during the sanction period is hardship payments.

It is not yet known what work claimants will be forced to do on MWA, except that the government say it will ‘deliver  a contribution to the local community’, which sounds ominously like picking up litter, removing graffiti and clearing wasteland.  It is also not known which charities or other agencies are willing to provide the placements onto which claimants will be forced.

The organisations who are running the scheme, however, are known.  They have been named as:

South East   JHP Group

South West   Rehab Group

London   Seetec

East of England   Seetec

East Midlands   Ingeus

West Midlands   ESG

North West   JHP Group

Yorks & Humber   BEST

North East   Ingeus

Scotland   JHP Group

Wales   Rehab Group

It is also not known how many claimants will be forced onto MWA.   The DWP had a fund of £8 million for a minimum of 10,000 placements on the scheme, working out at £800 per place.  But bidders had to say how many more places they could provide for the same budget, in order to win contracts.  It is believed that the successful bidders were prepared to offer double or even quadruple the number of places for the same price – so just £400 or £200 per placement.

Payment is based on a 100% start fee, however, so that even if someone drops out of the scheme after just one day, the provider still gets the full payment.

Benefits and Work would be very interested to hear from anyone who knows of a charity or other organisation which has agreed to provide work placements for MWA.

You can download the regulations from this link

You can download guidance to decision makers from this link




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