A list of more than 500 UK organisations that took part in a controversial work experience scheme has been released after a four and half year long Freedom of information battle with government officials.
As well as many of the major supermarkets and large UK charities, the list names a number of smaller Scottish organisations that hosted social security claimants put on the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme.
Campaigners argue that organisations participating in the MWA Scheme, and other related Department of Work and Pensions “workfare” schemes, are exploiting unpaid labour. This is because participants are forced to work up to 30 hours per week in these schemes in return for social security. If they refuse to participate in the schemes they may be “sanctioned,” and have social security payments withheld.
Trade Unions and campaigners claim the unpaid labour provided to organisations through these schemes lowers wages, worsens conditions and leads to other people being laid off.
The list gives the names of organisations that were participating in the MWA scheme in 2012. MWA was scrapped in 2015, although a related scheme, the Work Programme continues.
Scottish organisations named on the MWA list include:
- South Ayrshire Council
- Glasgow Furniture Initiative
- Govanhill Baths Community Trust
- Dogs Trust Glasgow
- Capability Scotland
- Auchinleck Talbot Football Club.
- Scottish Cancer Support
- Scottish International Relief (now called Mary’s Meals)
We’ve added the full list to our document archive.
A spokesperson for Mary’s Meals said: “To our knowledge, Mary’s Meals has not been part of the ‘workfare’ scheme and would not knowingly choose to be part of it.”
A spokesperson for Govanhill Baths Community Trust said: “We have been named despite always refusing to take part in workfare! This is a serious mistake by DWP.”
Government officials went to extraordinary lengths to avoid releasing the list. They argued it would damage the commercial interests of the organisations taking part. Since 2012 many of the organisations on the list are known to have withdrawn from the scheme.
Campaign group Boycott Workfare have summed up the process on their blog.
They said: “The story is as follows: the DWP refused to release the information in 2012. After the DWP’s internal review decided they were right to refuse, Frank Zola appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office, who told the DWP to release the information. The DWP refused and appealed to the First Tier Tribunal, then to the Upper Tribunal, then to the Court of Appeal. At each stage they were told to release the information, but decided to appeal again. Now finally they have complied with the law.”
Employment support services for the unemployed in Scotland have recently been devolved. Earlier this year The Ferret reported concerns over the commissioning process being put together by the Scottish Government as it seeks to put in place a new scheme that will replace the Work Programme.
A DWP spokesman told The Independent: “Employment programmes help thousands of people every year gain new skills and experience to get into work.”
To date, the government has not released details of how much money was spent on legal fees connected with official attempts to delay publishing the list of MWA providers.
This post was updated on 1/8/2016 to include responses from Mary’s Meals and Govanhill Baths Community Trust.
Also published on Medium.