Sunday 30 November 2008

Writing off workfare:For a Green New Deal, not the Flexible New Deal

Green Party of England and Wales (Response to consultation on welfare reform, ‘No-one written off’.) By Alan Wheatley and Anne Gray October 2008

Executive Summary

A – The Green Paper (‘No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility – hereinafter referred to as ‘the Green Paper’) adopts a ‘workfarist’ approach that makes benefit conditions tougher. An ‘incentives’ approach would make it easier for the very poor to work and contribute to the economy. The Green Party believes that this could be provided by a ‘Citizens’ Income’ or ‘basic income’ for all adults, analogous to child benefit, combining unwaged benefits and tax credits to provide a minimum income guarantee for all regardless of employment status.

B – The Green Paper’s approach has been overtaken by events. Supply side economics cannot work where there is a collapse of the demand for labour.

C – A lasting increase in the employment rate requires an improvement of skills and/or an increase in demand for labour, possibly achieved by reducing working hours overall.

D – The Green Party is opposed to the use of private for-profit companies which will be brought in to deliver work capability testing as well as to deliver workfare and training programmes.

E – Hardship will be suffered by people with health problems who are moved from IB to JSA, if they cannot cope with the complex and exacting requirements of the JSA regime.

F – Many disabled people will lose money by moving onto JSA, when they are already deprived of an adequate living standard.

G – The ‘work for benefit’ proposal is punitive in nature and does not help participants to get work


The Green Party has for many years advocated a Citizens Income “payable to every citizen as a basic right,” a benefit which would combine the functions of out-of-work benefits and tax credits, given unconditionally to everyone without means testing (Green Party ‘Policy and Manifesto for a Sustainable Society’). This would abolish the dilemma faced by many people on JSA or Incapacity Benefit – that if they take a low paid job, they would hardly be better off after counting the loss of benefits that follows moving into work. The basic income approach is the antithesis of workfare and of a strict benefit sanctions regime. The Green Party sees the solution to unemployment as one of removing disincentives to work, rather than bullying people into work. The more money the state spends on tax credits to subsidise an abusive low wage economy plus the expense of back-to-work programmes and administration of complex means tests and benefit eligibility assessments, the stronger becomes the argument that a universal basic income is an affordable alternative.

By contrast to the current government shift towards workfare, this summer (July 2008) the Green Party launched a report with the New Economics Foundation entitled the Green New Deal ( This report uses the term ‘New Deal’ in reference to Roosevelt’s original programme of the 1930s. The Green New Deal calls for a large-scale job creation programme oriented towards activities to combat climate change, such as renewable power generation, home insulation etc. In the current economic crisis which has since developed, a major intervention of this kind would be far more relevant to the growing unemployment trend than the proposals of the Green Paper. (The ecological aspects of our Green New Deal proposals have since been seized upon by the Government in its press releases. However we want implementing home insulation, etc. to be a vehicle for creating real jobs at reasonable pay. We object to ‘ green’ work – or any work however socially useful - being used as an area of workfare activity with workers receiving merely benefits).

We consider that the 29 questions posed in the consultation

l focus mainly on administrative detail
l assume that the reader in large part agrees with the government
l regard the claimant's 'welfare dependency' as something to be addressed by processing them rather than addressing their individual requirements.

We prefer to structure our response around a more searching and profound opposition to the basic arguments of the Green Paper.

A – The Green Paper adopts a ‘workfarist’ approach that makes benefit conditions tougher. An ‘incentives’ approach would make it easier for the very poor to work and contribute to the economy.

Very considerable sums of public money are being spent on benefit administration, including means testing and monitoring of eligibility or conformity with Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) regulations, as well as on payments to private providers of New Deal services. The question must be posed whether these funds could not more usefully be spent on expanding the number of jobs in socially important sectors where jobseekers could work – such as home insulation, installation of solar power equipment, child care, elder care, youth and community services and so on.

Moreover, there is no response to the problem that benefit rules are very hostile to jobseekers who can only manage part-time work because of their disabilities or family commitments. (Parents of disabled children are particularly oppressed, especially when the Government does not adequately fund integration of disabled children into mainstream education. Overlarge class sizes and a league-tabled school funding system lead to burgeoning exclusions.)

Under plans to move many claimants from incapacity benefit to JSA, the harshness and disincentive effect of these rules will become increasingly serious in its impact. The 'allowable earnings entitlement' for JSA claimants has remained at £5 since 1988, a sum which is now less than the national minimum wage for a single hour’s work. Further, now that the national minimum wage has increased to £5.73 per hour, Incapacity Benefit claimants on 'Permitted Work Placements' – with an allowable earnings entitlement of £20 per week -- have had their hours cut to 3½ per week, hardly sufficient to provide a platform for a transition into meaningful employment. The UK’s benefits system is particularly hostile to those who can only obtain part-time work or find very short-term jobs, since the rules are designed to prevent almost any earnings whilst claiming. By contrast in France, Germany and Belgium there are much higher ‘disregarded’ income limits so that a claimant can take a part-time job alongside benefit, or work for a short time without relinquishing their benefit claim. Under that type of system, the incentive structure is much better than in the UK system for someone with high housing costs and a fear of losing housing benefit/mortgage support, or someone whose work opportunity does not have sufficient weekly hours to make them eligible for working tax credits.

The administrative ‘hassle’ faced by those who enter employment only to find that they must claim JSA again some weeks later constitutes a significant disincentive to taking any job which is likely to be short term, or which may not ‘work out’ for people who, because of disability or health issues, are uncertain of what tasks or weekly schedule they can manage. The poor quality of service in processing claims, on which we say more later, provides an additional argument for moving closer to a French/German system.

For many years the basic income proposal has remained on the radical margin of welfare benefits debates. However, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, in its seventh report of July 2007 (see ) advocated a Single Working Age Benefit (SWAB) The SWAB would provide an income for anyone who was legitimately resident in the UK and is both willing and able to work (or was exempted from the latter criterion because of illness, disability or caring responsibilities The SWAB would continue as an in-work benefit, and would be reclaimed through the tax system at a Government-agreed Marginal Deduction Rate (MDR) as wages rose until it was exhausted (the MDR taking into account current rates of income tax and national insurance contributions). The SWAB would therefore replace tax credits and all benefits withdrawal rates. It would avoid the need for people moving in and out of employment to notify changes. People already in work would be able to claim the SWAB. The system would abolish means-testing at the point of application for a benefit. Additions for carers and people with disabilities would be paid, and a SWAB claim would automatically trigger Housing and Council Tax Benefits.

The SWAB proposal is very similar to a Basic Income although unlike a ‘pure’ Basic Income proposal it would retain seeking-employment and incapacity tests (and delivery of welfare to work programmes by ‘contractors’ which as stated elsewhere, we do not endorse). Being formed from a combination of out-of-work and in-work benefits the SWAB proposal would eliminate all the administrative costs associated with people’s movement between JSA/Employment Support Allowance and tax credits. Almost by definition, it could provide no greater disincentive to work for present claimants of JSA or tax credits than their present benefit levels However, it would provide a much greater incentive to work for those currently caught in ‘benefit traps’ associated with the uncertainty and difficulty of moving from out-of-work benefits to in-work benefits. Much of the ‘informal economy’ would be legalised and people with no work would have a clear incentive to take some even if they could only find a little, with obvious benefits to them and to the economy. Whilst Basic Income proposals are often criticised for being expensive, the SWAB proposal is clearly based on combining existing benefits and tax credits without increasing their respective budgets, and offers considerable capacity for administrative cost savings as well. It is most surprising that the Green Paper makes no reference to this recent and most interesting proposal by a Parliamentary Committee.

B – The Green Paper’s approach has been overtaken by events. Supply side economics cannot work where there is a collapse of the demand for labour.

To toughen the benefits regime at a time when unemployment is rising rapidly because of the financial crisis will be seen by many citizens as a form of collective punishment of the unemployed. If the government can afford such huge sums to support the failing banking system, the question must be posed why it cannot adopt a similarly ‘Keynesian’ approach to the lack of work for jobseekers. Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, MEP, has joined with the New Economics Foundation and others to promote the concept of a ‘Green New Deal’ which would use a major investment of public funds to create jobs in activities to combat climate change.

C – A lasting increase in the employment rate requires an improvement of skills and/or an increase in demand for labour, possibly achieved by reducing working hours overall.
Where integration into work is achieved by pressure and threat of sanctions, it is likely to be fragile and ‘recidivism’ will be common.

Under the Green Paper’s proposals, sanctions under JSA will be made tougher, with automatic benefit sanctions for people failing to attend a mandatory interview without good cause and a possible requirement for drug users to join treatment programmes as a condition of claiming benefit. Whilst sanctions and frequent interviews have a deterrent effect against remaining on benefits, there is a risk that the tougher the regime, the more people will take a job which they cannot sustain (either because they need more training, or because the vacancy itself is of very low quality. We are also concerned that such interviews may not be DDA compliant in terms of, say, claimants’ access requirements under DDA and privacy needs). A Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, 'Insecure at Work' ( points out that half of the men and a third of the women making a new claim for JSA were last claiming the benefit less than six months ago. These figures are not a feature of a particular stage of the trade cycle; they have remained fairly constant for at least ten years.

Those individuals who will stay in work tend to do so either because they change, or the labour market changes. Opportunities for a real increase in jobseekers’ skills and capacities could be achieved by ‘job rotation’ schemes of the kind developed by the Danish government in the mid 1990s, where existing employees take study leave or family leave, and the resulting vacancy is filled by an unemployed person with the help of state subsidy and training support. By reducing average annual working hours, schemes of this kind can spread a given volume of labour demand amongst more would-be employees.

We are also concerned that the JobCentre Plus model of paid work together with the tax credit system is geared toward a person being clearly ‘in work’ (and not dependent on JSA/ESA) or ‘out of work’. Such tiny amounts of disregarded work income, and the substantial administrative hurdles which face someone who signs off benefit to take a very short term job and then signs on again, are inimical to developing a gradually increasing portfolio of ‘bits and pieces’ of paid work, often available through first volunteering and then moving into a wage or self-employment for a few hours a week over a period of time. This pattern is sometimes the most promising route for very-long-term claimants who want to volunteer, in particular for some personality types (Tieger & Barron-Tieger, 2007). French and German benefit systems, which allow much larger ‘disregards’ and a substantial period of grace before benefit is withdrawn after someone moves into work, are more friendly to those who can best manage a gradual and cautious re-socialisation into work. The Green Party’s basic income proposal would also facilitate such a path. A 2006 report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation entitled ‘People in low-paid informal work: “Need not greed”’ see finds that many if not most people who work whilst claiming benefit do so because of sheer poverty, because of the administrative delays in getting benefit reinstated if they ‘sign off’ for a short time, and/or because of the unreasonably low disregarded earnings levels, combined with the poverty trap that comes from the need to give up all JSA or IB entitlements if these earnings limits are exceeded.

D – The Green Party is opposed to the use of private for-profit companies which will be brought in to deliver work capability testing as well as to deliver workfare and training programmes.

We need to keep these programmes on a not-for-profit basis; no company should make profits out of bullying people into unsuitable or exploitative jobs to get a ‘job placement’ payment. There are many examples already available of privatised New Deal and training contractors doing this and manipulating their payment by results rules to maximise income. Whatever system is devised of outcome-related payments, it is liable to be used in a distortive way to maximise profit rather than customer service. Recent pamphlets by the Social Market Foundation and the Policy Exchange have pointed to the dangers in this respect. (see Peter Lilley, and Oliver Hartwich, editors (2008) Paying for Success, (London: Policy Exchange), and available on; and Ian Mulheirn and Verena Menne (2008), Flexible New Deal: Making it Work, Social Market Foundation, London available on )

Gary Vaux (2008) draws attention to insecurity of job provision for existing DWP staff on account of the privatisation of welfare related to Employment & Support Allowance in a Community Care magazine print edition article entitled ‘Private Gain, Public Cost’ :-
“[In] advance of the introduction of Employment & Support Allowance from this October ... Australian multinational group Ingeus through a subsidiary company, WorkDirections UK, won six out of 15 contracts worth more than £85m, to become one of the biggest providers of Pathways to Work. WorkDirections attitude to safeguarding the employment and pension rights of transferred DWP staff are somewhat unclear, although other bidders for the contract (mostly from the charity or voluntary sector) factored in those costs.

William Smith, chief executive of Ingeus Europe, described the charities who had lost out as "whingers". "Frankly it's their own fault," he said. "They should have bloody read the questions and answers documents."

This rather aggressive approach from the predominantly private sector companies that won the Pathways to Work contracts has concerned many voluntary sector organisations, who believed that they would be in a good position to win the contracts to deliver Pathways to Work. To permit a private company to win contracts on a financial basis which penalises existing JobCentre staff, whilst competitors who were generous enough to cover this lost out, makes a mockery of the Green Paper’s reference to a ‘right to bid’. If there is a right to bid for private companies, it must be on a fair and comparable basis. with non-profit providers

The Green Party is also very concerned about the strong role of one or two private companies in advising the government about the development of welfare to work proposals, particularly in relation to the restructuring of incapacity-related benefits. (see Jonathan Rutherford, ) It seems extraordinary that so much attention has been given to the views of a company which is on record as saying that it sees the UK benefits system as one of its major markets for the future; one would expect advice to have been taken from a wider and more balanced range of sources. As Rutherford’s paper shows, the credibility of Unum — formerly Unum Provident - has been badly damaged by having been prosecuted for fraudulent business in the USA.

The use of private contractors also raises issues about choice and the lack of ‘customer’ bargaining power, since the ‘customers’ will be directed to providers and will be prevented by JSA rules from refusing any service however inadequate. According to the Green Paper, the model for how claimants will be assigned to contractors will be on a Jobcentre franchise basis, rather than claimants being seen as customers with choices and being able to determine which provider will be best for them. This will make for complacency among the contracted companies, and will encourage a lack of signposting information for people allotted to their schemes. For example, a company will have no incentive to refer jobseekers to training provision available through FE colleges or the voluntary sector, even where this would be appropriate for them. The Green Paper's favouring of contractors over customers creates a financial incentive for the company to move the jobseeker into a job using its own resources, even if a more stable reintegration into the labour market and at higher pay could be achieved after a few weeks’ or months’ training.

Current standards of training provision must be considered in the light of the gradual reduction in length and depth of training provision for the unemployed over the last 20 years. Whilst in the 1980s, training courses lasting 6-12 months were common, and the notion of 12 months’ training for the under 25s remained in the initial form of the New Deal for Young People, the trend has been towards much shorter courses particularly for older adults. Courses imparting real transferable skills have been severely cut back, whilst much of the surviving training is at a low level and more oriented to job search than to skills improvement.

FE and HE teaching professionals are regulated by the Institute for Learning, schools are regulated by Ofsted, and prisons are monitored by the Prisons Inspectorate. We must pose the question, what regulating or monitoring body does the government have in mind for the providers of Flexible New Deal services and work capacity test providers ?

Quantitative approaches to job applications may be easier to monitor, but are a very superficial means of determining jobseekers’ desire to find paid work. Quantitative monitoring of jobsearch output seems to reflect a notion of job applications are a punitive or deterrent exercise rather than a constructive form of self-marketing. Such monitoring does not constitute supervision or help to improve application quality or the demoralising effect of repeated rejections, and earlier Employment Service research on jobclubs suggested that the quantitative approach has a ‘nuisance value’ for employers because it wastes their time with many low quality applications. Anecdotal information from Green Party sources also suggests that private providers are failing to supply customers with information about training choices. This makes an unhappy contrast with the era of Training & Enterprise Councils, which produced tabulated information of Work Based Learning for Adults courses, to which the good providers added their own advertising flyers.

The dangers of quantitative targets for job applications

Anecdotal evidence supplied to the Green Party indicates that in one large-scale New Deal provider, ‘Client Advisors’ model their ‘soft skills: motivation’ tuition delivery on Government-funded mandatory New Deal upon the board room in the television show, ‘The Apprentice: You’re Fired’ with Sir Alan Sugar. The value of such training delivery when participants are vulnerable adults is questionable. The same Client Advisors also say, “The more jobs you apply for, the better your chances. Ten job applications per [5 hour attendance] day is good.” Such an approach diminishes quality of job-matching and also of research and communication. We have also heard that the access requirements with regard to workspace for people with autism has not been recognised by this provider’s centres.

Private providers of ‘back-to-work’ services appear keen to protect the ‘intellectual property’ which resides in their training and advisory materials. This results in some absurdities, for example it has come to the Green Party’s attention that one provider actually tells its New Deal 'beneficiaries' that they are not allowed to take induction materials off the provider’s premises. Moreover there is no incentive for private providers, paid by results, to provide customers with materials which would help to improve the quality of the job they obtain or their knowledge of their rights, for example on the minimum wage, working time regulations, trade union law or – most crucially – on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It might also be helpful to provide some mentoring of ex-unemployed people during their first few weeks a job, to help them settle and keep it. However, there must be a fear that if this service was delivered by a private company only concerned to obtain ‘outcome payments’ for those who kept their job, this might result in bullying not to leave an exploitative or unsuitable employer.

It is moreover absolutely crucial that contractors should be required to provide trainees with information about their rights during training, and that their compliance with this requirement is adequately monitored. A referral form used by one London provider makes no references to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 'beneficiary' access requirements.

E – Hardship will be suffered by people with health problems who are moved from IB to JSA, if they cannot cope with the complex and exacting requirements of the JSA regime.
In particular this affects people with mental health issues, people with unpredictable work capacity or mobility that comes and goes as their condition varies, people with complex medical issues that may not be fully understood by frontline workers in JobCentre Plus or its privatised substitutes. Such people will be particularly vulnerable to benefit sanctions with disastrous results.

On September 15th 2008, the DWP held a Consultation Forum in London. (see ). During a seminar on the subject of "the next steps for the Work Capability Assessment" (WCA), several participants from a range of disability groups raised concerns about the DWP's record in recognising all disabilities and the rigour of assessment procedures they have formulated in the past, and they further raised concerns about the thoroughness of the new WCA in properly recognising these conditions and the Healthcare professionals who will carry out the WCA on behalf of the DWP. Amongst the disability awareness professionals who raised these concerns were representatives of the following: RSI Action - a national charity for the prevention of RSI conditions, the National Autistic Society, and a group representative of people suffering from ME who raised the issue that those who suffer from ME have a fluctuating condition which can change on a daily basis (a similar trend within those who suffer from Hypoglycaemia). The latter representative also drew attention to whether incomplete awareness of this condition may lead to a lack of sensitivity in the WFHRA process within the WCA (the WFHRA stands for the work-focused health-related assessment).

It is a source of great concern that the proposals to move many claimants from incapacity benefits to JSA will result in a huge administrative overload for JobCentre Plus (JCP) in terms of having to apply complex JSA procedures to a much larger number of people, when the system is already clearly stretched to breaking point and will be stretched further by the current sharp rise in redundancies. Since the announcement in 2005 that DWP had to lose 30,000 staff over three years, on top of other spending cuts in the department, concern has been growing in the social care and welfare rights fields about the deteriorating standards of service provided by JCP. There has been concern about the effect on vulnerable customers, particularly care leavers, those with sensory impairments and people with mental health needs who have greatest difficulty with the JCP’s highly standardised approach to customer service. This is particularly true of new claims, which are generally dealt with by telephone using standardised call-centre scripts (see Neil Bateman, Community Care, 16 November 2006, ). Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and council social services departments have noted a large increase in caseload due to late payment of benefits, errors in claims, and difficulty in accessing the telephone service, particularly for claimants who are deaf or suffer mental health problems. Delays in processing claims appear to be extensive and may be leading to an underestimate of the actual number of people unemployed, in particular those rejoining the claimant count after losing a short-term job.

The Green Paper lays considerable emphasis on identifying and punishing benefit fraud. The administrative cost of this effort is likely to be considerable, and it is curious that no assessment is made of the returns on such ‘investment’ in terms of money saved, relative to other uses of administrative labour or taxpayers’ funds – such as, for example, efforts to combat tax evasion. Whilst combating fraud may appeal to some citizens’ sense of justice, techniques such as Voice Risk Analysis will surely risk considerable injustice for some, for example those with autistic traits or for whom English is not their mother tongue. (See The ‘fraud’ that consists of exceeding the earnings disregard limit by small amounts or for short periods may be best dealt with by redefining the disregard rules to make this legal. We have already argued, under point C, that the disregard limits should be raised substantially and a ‘period of grace’ allowed before benefit is withdrawn completely, to avoid a situation where people are afraid to give up benefits for a short term job in case there is delay in reinstating their allowance when it ends.

The government’s concern with benefit fraud stands in curious contrast to its apparent lack of concern about the record of Unum, whose history in the USA has been noted earlier.

D – Many disabled people will lose money by moving onto JSA, when they are already deprived of an adequate living standard.

The UK’s benefit levels are already low by west European standards. Disabled claimants moving onto JSA will face a loss of income, increased costs of seeking work (fares, clothing etc.) and a lower level of ‘earning disregard’, compared to their situation on Incapacity Benefit. This is likely to cause hardship and debt. There are already many disabled JSA claimants who are disabled and through decades of volunteering while claiming have improved their employability and yet have never been rewarded for doing so.

Some jobseekers have built up their employability by using self-management within self-directed study and supportive voluntary placements. Yet at times of increasing recession, the impact of even a minor disability becomes more debilitating in a highly competitive jobs market. This makes it more important than ever for the benefit system to provide such people with scope for combining a fluctuating portfolio of voluntary and paid work, supported by benefits as necessary.

E – The ‘work for benefit’ proposal is punitive in nature and does not help participants to get work

Workfare drives down wages, because of its deterrent effect; people compete more strongly for available vacancies rather than risk doing it. The resulting fall in wage levels for entry-grade jobs constitutes a form of collective punishment for all those who do them, and reduces work incentives for the shorter-term unemployed because they see a smaller gap between their benefit and their potential wage.

If workfare placements are meaningful experience in jobs that would normally be done for a wage, these placements are likely to displace actual jobs. For example the New York municipal parks department in the 1990s replaced most of its workforce with workfare participants. On the other hand, if the activities involved in workfare placements are far removed from the nature of the real labour market, they are unlikely to be beneficial as work experience.

It would be far better to use workfare funds to create real jobs at normal wages for whatever kind of work is envisaged, through wage subsidies to local authorities, hospitals, educational institutions, or voluntary organisations. The ‘Green New Deal’ paper provides a basis for a plan of this kind which foregrounds the government’s new targets for combating climate change.

The Green Paper proposes that working on a special scheme, for benefits not a wage, will be mandatory for anyone who has been claiming JSA for at least 2 years. This would mean claimants working a full 35-hour week to earn a £60.50 Job Seekers Allowance payment. This equates to £1.70 an hour, less than a third of the minimum wage. Page 44 of the Green Paper, where it outlines this proposal, quotes a report which cites a scheme in Australia where there was a 7% net increase of participants going into jobs compared with non-participants. However, this is quite different to the complete picture provided in the actual report which mentions the Australian experience (DWP Research Report No 533, 2008, ‘A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia’, undertaken for the DWP by the Centre for Regional Economic & Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University by Dr Richard Crisp and Del Roy Fletcher, available at ). Crisp and Fletcher go on to say that the Australian workfare scheme was ineffective in helping participants find sustainable employment, and that the scheme had little impact on the very long term unemployed which in fact grew by 68%!

Other findings of the Crisp and Fletcher report seem to indicate that a work for benefit requirement would not be helpful. For example they say:-

‘There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by Employers…. Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes.’

They also point out that:-
‘Welfare recipients with multiple barriers often find it difficult to meet obligations to take part in unpaid work. This can lead to sanctions and, in the most extreme cases, the complete withdrawal of benefits that leaves some individuals with no work and no income.’

Thus, ‘some states in the US have scaled down large-scale, universal workfare programmes in preference for ‘softer’ and more flexible models that offer greater support to those with the most barriers to work. This includes a greater reliance on subsidised jobs that pay wages rather than benefits to participants.’

A large body of literature on workfare in the USA points to the dangers of serious injustice and hardship for workfare participants who are sanctioned for breaking the rules on compulsory participation (Gray, 2004). Parents at risk of benefit sanctions may leave their children without adequate day care rather than fail to attend their programme, leading to neglect and even injury or death when everyday childcare arrangements break down because, for example, the carer or the child is sick. Drug addicts or people with mental health problems may lose all their income because they are simply unable to cope. Errors and misunderstandings may occur about a person’s fitness for work; for example a workfare participant died of a heart attack on one American scheme in 1997 whilst doing manual work which she probably knew was dangerous for her, but she could not refuse it (Gray, 2004: 165).

How the Green Paper's proposals on lone parents would cause hardship for disabled children

Ms X, a Green Party member in Warwickshire, is a single parent with two adolescent daughters — one with autism. They now live on a boat for financial reasons and British Waterways demand that they move on and indeed keep moving; no permanent residential mooring is available anywhere near the girls' schools. Ms X’s older daughter Y (aged 15) needs extra parental caring and like all people with autism spectrum disorder, she needs continuity and sameness, in particular a stable housing situation. Currently British Waterways have ordered them to move and do not want the family to keep their present mooring while they await rehousing by the council. But at the only alternative mooring, Y would have to wait alone on a busy main road for school transport whilst Ms X takes her younger daughter (13) to school, a 25 minute drive in a rural area with little public transport, whilst at their present mooring there is at least a car park to wait in.

Y was also excluded from classes at her previous (mainstream) school, placing further pressure on her mother. But Y has only twice received temporary overnight fostering, once when she ran away, once so that Ms X could attend to the family’s housing crisis. External care, which requires a suitably skilled person to look after Y on a one to one basis, would be needed if Ms X was obliged to join a workfare programme, and the coordination of care with placement attendance by Ms X might be very complicated to arrange. She should surely not be placed at risk of losing benefits for lack of suitable arrangements for her daughter, when the making of such arrangements is in the hands of others.

A full-time work-for-benefit obligation as proposed in the Green Paper would simply add to the pressures faced by this family without giving them extra income or improving their long-term prospects, which crucially depend on adequate care services and a stable housing situation.

On the other hand a basic income allowance as proposed by the Green Party would provide a breathing space for sufficient parental care whilst guaranteeing the family's subsistence.

Ms X approached our Disability Spokesperson saying that she wanted to speak out about this on behalf of herself and others. She has set up a self-help group for others in a similar situation, yet had no real support from her MP. "Parents of children with disabilities - especially autism - are so bogged down with just trying to live that very often we cannot find the time to get our voices heard," she concludes.

At the root of Y’s exclusion from her previous school seemed to be the lack of autism training for the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator, and the low level of training of the teaching assistants. Thus Y and her mother are also the indirect victims of under-funding of the educational service and high turnover of teaching assistants. Significantly, this is a job often seen as suitable for lone parents. Increased workfare pressures might draw into teaching assistant work people who need more support than the system gives them, or who would not stay in the job very long. It would make things worse rather than better for schools as well as for the jobseekers themselves, who could be pushed into work too soon or in the wrong way

The proposals of the Green Paper are particularly harsh in relation to lone parents. The government’s prior decision to require them to become available for work when the only or youngest child reaches the age of seven is already problematic for some families. The Green Paper fails to acknowledge that parents of disabled children may not be so free to enter the 'workforce' when the child reaches the age of 7 as the parents of non-disabled children. The problem does not end with physical disabilities – children who are slow learners, or suffer from autism or Asperger’s syndrome, all require additional time and energy from their parents and possibly frequent meetings with professionals which may be incompatible with many jobs. These issues extend to families with children who are showing challenging or disruptive behaviour at school, or are in trouble with the criminal justice system, The type of entry-grade jobs which frequently fall to the lot of the ex-unemployed – with inflexible shifts and few favours or privileges given by the employer – are not conducive to meeting parental obligations in complex circumstances. The possibility of a reduced, adapted or delayed work requirement for these parents seems totally absent from the Green Paper’s approach of deterrent and punitive workfare arrangements for all who have been claiming JSA for over two years.
Despite the title of the Green Paper, nowhere is there any mention of reward for claimants/jobseekers. The purpose of the work-for-benefit placements is clearly punitive and deterrent.

The workfare placements prescribed — as with the New Deal programmes that became mandatory on 1 June 2007 — treat claimants as merely input for schemes laid out by others and give no recognition of existing volunteering. It is likely that claimants who are already making an active contribution to society in a way they have chosen, in many cases with a view to remaining ‘in the waiting room’ for a job with a voluntary organisation if and when it obtains funding to pay them, will be required to abandon their voluntary work to attend a workfare placement. Depending on the contractual arrangements with placement providers, there could even be a perverse financial incentive for the provider to force someone to abandon voluntary work in favour of a standard workfare placement.

DWP (2008) Welfare Reform Green Paper 'No one written off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility [accessed 19/10/2008]
DWP Research Report No 533, 2008, A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia, undertaken for the DWP by the Centre for Regional Economic & Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University by Dr Richard Crisp and Del Roy Fletcher, available at

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Green Party Spring Conference (2008) Emergency Motion 119
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Indymedia (2008) ‘Welfare Reforms — Govt found to have misquoted research figures’
Katungi, Dennis, Neal, Emma and Barbour, Aaron (2006) People in low-paid informal work: “Need not greed”, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Lilley, Peter and Hartwich, Oliver, editors (2008) Paying for Success, (London: Policy Exchange) available on,
Mulheirn, I.; and Menne, V. (2008) Flexible New Deal: Making it Work,, (London: Social Market Foundation) available on
Peck, J. (2001) Workfare States (Guildford Press)
Rutherford, J. (2007) New Labour, the market state, and the end of welfare, Soundings
Tieger, P.; Barron-Tieger, B. (2007) Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, Fourth Edn (Boston: Little, Brown & Co.)
Vaux, G. (2008) ‘Private Gain, Public Cost’ in Community Care magazine, 13 March 2008. (See
'Working Lunch', BBC2 TV, broadcast 27/09/2000 contained a special feature inspired by viewers’ feedback regarding Labour annual conference announcement that there would be ‘Green Card’ immigration status for people with special skills coming to Britain. (This included an interview with Alan Wheatley — now Green Party of England & Wales Acting National Disability Spokesperson — and others on how Labour was letting down graduates of UK-government-funded training programmes for jobseekers.)


communuity links said... taking the need out of cash-in-hand work and helping people to formalise their work

smithsan said...

The Green Party has a short statement of our Core Values, and a longer explanation, called the Philosophical Basis, of the underlying thinking and motives behind our policies.