Socialist Worker

Scandal of charities that bully people off benefits

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2304

Disabled protesters blocking a central London street earlier this year (Pic: Smallman )

Disabled protesters blocking a central London street earlier this year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Charities and voluntary organisations that claim to be helping vulnerable people are instead enforcing government plans to throw them off benefits, Socialist Worker can reveal.

Over 270 voluntary organisations signed up to the government’s Work Programme, which pays contractors to bully unemployed people off benefits.

Sometimes this involves “workfare” schemes—herding unemployed workers into mandatory unpaid work at supermarkets, fast food restaurants and even NHS hospitals (see below).

An “employment advisor” at one of the charities spoke to Socialist Worker anonymously about the practice. “It’s disgusting,” they said. “We get letters from people who are really ill asking why their benefits have been taken away.

“I remember one client with severe psychosis. He didn’t know what day of the week it was—but he was about to lose his benefits because he had missed his appointments.”

The charities claim they are providing a service to help vulnerable people into jobs. But the jobs simply aren’t there.

Last week St Mungo’s became the latest charity to pull out of the Work Programme. It hadn’t made the revenue it expected. And it failed to put a single homeless person into work.

“Charities signed up naively,” the advisor told Socialist Worker. “They thought—we already work with vulnerable people, so why shouldn’t we do the same for a contract?”


In practice this has meant charities turning into factories designed to process unemployed claimants. And if claimants can’t jump through the government’s impossible hoops, their benefits can be removed.

“There is so much pressure to get results—either by getting people into work, or by getting their benefits sanctioned,” the advisor said.

Around one in ten of those that the charity recommends to be stripped of their benefits are later found to have been sanctioned wrongly, the advisor added.

Their caseload includes people who are claiming Employment Support Allowance and are not obliged to seek jobs, as they are not considered fit for work.

But the advisors are not trained to tell them this. Nor are they trained to help claimants who miss appointments for health reasons—and then find they have lost their benefits as a result.

The voluntary organisations involved in the Work Programme are subcontractors of private sector training firm Seetec. They include charities that work with disabled people, homeless people, single parents, young people and ex-offenders.

But the Work Programme is in a mess over its use of contractors. One prominent firm, A4e, is mired in fraud allegations and has had a Mandatory Work Activity contract frozen for being 'too great a risk'.

And last week the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee called for payments to Work Programme contractors to be frozen. The advisor welcomed this move, saying, “It’s an obscene system. Let’s hope it falls apart soon.”

The charities

Over 270 charities and voluntary organisations have signed up as subcontractors to the Work Programme. These include:

  • Action for Blind People
  • Age UK
  • Camden Society
  • Disability Allowance
  • Disability Works
  • Gingerbread
  • Mencap
  • Nacro
  • Phoenix Futures
  • Prince’s Trust
  • St Giles Trust
  • Salvation Army

This article was amended on 29 May 2012. In the original, we stated that A4e had been axed from the Work Programme. In fact it has had its contract for Mandatory Work Activity frozen in the South East, but has Work Programme contracts still in place. This has been corrected.

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Article information

Tue 22 May 2012, 17:25 BST
Issue No. 2304
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