Companies taking free work placees from government schemes to be named

Mon, 20/05/2013 - 18:09 -- nick

The government must publish the names of those organisations that have provided work placements to unemployed people who were referred through public schemes.

A court has ruled that companies' names can no longer be kept secret at the end of a 15-month Freedom of Information process, which saw the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) fight campaigners including Boycott Workfare.

Unemployed people were, and continue to be, forced to attend work placements sometimes for many weeks at a time through the Work Programme, mandatory work activity and the work experience scheme, on pain of losing their benefits.

This has raised questions, including from UnemployedNet, on how much jobseeking they are able to do at the same time, risking their opportunities to get real paid work.

It has also led to accusations of exploitation, with some jobseekers required to do nothing but cleaning work and provided with no training or the chance to get a job at the company afterwards.

The DWP had suggested that revealing the names of companies would cause serious financial damage to them, but Judge David Marks QC said there was "a paucity of compelling evidence" that this would be the case.

The DWP said it was "very disappointed" at the verdict and would consider appealing, believing that charities providing placements could lose donations while companies could lose customers.

The suggestion that those organising work experience would have to make redundancies as a result of the ruling was backed by Seetec and Ingeus, which both provide this activity under government contracts.

The power of campaigning on the issue was revealed by Clare Elliott, joint head of the Work Programme Divisions, who in evidence said that she believed hundreds of placements had been lost due to negative publicity.

But coverage of forced placements was "no more and no less than standard criticism of ... schemes that ... were controversial in any event", the court found.

"The tribunal is firmly of the view that in these appeals the scales are weighed appreciably in favour of disclosure [of company names]," it continued in its judgement.

In response to the ruling, the DWP said: "Our schemes are helping people back to work but sadly some of those organisations offering jobseekers vital opportunities have been targeted by misguided campaigns. We believe releasing this information in this way will cause placement organisations to be unfairly targeted, harming jobseekers' prospects."

Joanna Long, of Boycott Workfare, speaking to The Guardian, said companies and charities should end their co-operation with the schemes before the list was published: "Workfare has meant less paid work for people across the UK, and exploitation for those forced to work for nothing. When the list of those using workfare is revealed, thousands of people will be reconsidering where they spend their money or make donations; hundreds will plan demonstrations.

"Companies and charities using workfare need to urgently reconsider whether they want to risk further involvement in these failing schemes."

UnemployedNet Says

Work experience can be very useful in the right circumstances, particularly where a jobseeker has no work history and where high-quality training is provided.

To establish the right way to provide it we have written our rules for work placements to help ensure they are not exploitative; please take a look and let us know what you think.

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