Charities being bullied off Work Programme - DWP

Thu, 28/02/2013 - 12:32 -- nick

DWP has claimed that charities are being intimidated into leaving the government's Work Programme by online activists.

This comes in the wake of Sue Ryder, the care and hospice provider, exiting the Programme's Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme on Monday.

It had previously included 1,000 unemployed people among its 'volunteers', but released a statement which said:

"Recent online lobbying using strong and emotive language and making misleading claims about our volunteering practices has presented a risk to our critical work. Equally we need to protect our service users, their families, our supporters and Sue Ryder staff and volunteers from any further distress.

"Therefore, we have taken the decision to withdraw from the DWP's mandatory back-to-work schemes. We do this with a heavy heart as our volunteers, including those on placements, regularly tell us how much they have benefited from their time with us and we are immensely grateful to them for their time and dedication."

Sue Ryder was the third major charity to withdraw from the MWA in February, following animal support organisation PDSA and deafblind charity Sense, which had expressed reservations about the forced nature of the work.

This added to those that left the Programme last year, including Cancer Research, the British Heart Foundation, Scope and Age UK.

The DWP said it was "deeply regrettable that a small number of people have targeted charities and subjected them to intimidation and abuse in an effort to disrupt the operation of this scheme."

It has claimed that more companies are joining MWA than leaving, but the loss of big work experience providers like Sue Ryder is likely to hurt its ability to provide enough one-month placements.

An evaluation of MWA has shown that those providers being paid to set up work placements are struggling to find enough of them.

The report also showed that charities were sometimes using unpaid 'volunteers' as regular staff for their organisations.

UnemployedNet says:

Charities are, by definition, set up to help and support. Those that are still part of the Mandatory Work Activity scheme need to urgently re-evaluate whether it is appropriate for any organisation with social aims to be involved with forced labour.

Charities are part of the voluntary sector, and voluntary activity is at the root of all they do. Mandatory Work Activity is compulsory, and, despite Sue Ryder's claim that "our volunteers, including those on placements, regularly tell us how much they have benefited from their time with us", it is unlikely that being forced into placements that they have not chosen is going to be a positive experience.

At UnemployedNet we believe that making any support for unemployed people compulsory is wrong. Jobseekers need confidence and motivation more than anything else, and removing the ability to make reasoned choices erodes these greatly.

We run a Work Programme campaign which, among other things, asks for it to be made voluntary in the interests not just of the rights of its clients, but also of their ability to maintain confidence and jobseeking momentum.

Sue Ryder's reluctance to withdraw from the programme highlights the fact that specialists can become rather one-eyed about their missions; it is understandable that, faced with the real hardships and needs of those it wants to help, it is concerned about falling government funding and donations during the economic downturn.

It is understandable too that it is tempted to cut corners including in the payment of wages. But charities need to be exemplars of good practice in all areas, whether health and safety, environment, consumer protection, or employment.

Exploiting unpaid labour risks ruining the goodwill a charity has spent years building up, and a charity without goodwill is in real trouble.

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