The government’s controversial ‘workfare’ programme – where jobseekers are forced to work for free in the hope of gaining paid jobs later – is a complete failure and does NOT get people into employment, according to official research published yesterday.

Unfortunately, the news came three hours too late – employment minister Chris Grayling had just announced that he would be pumping in £5m of extra funding to EXPAND the scheme so it could take up to 70,000 referrals a year. (Seriously, who is this joker?).

The study – by the Department of Work and Pensions itself! – showed that the mandatory work programme has been a huge, expensive mistake, the Guardian reported. Critics have called the programme “a complete policy disaster” – but Grayling put the dismal figures down to “teething problems” with rolling out the scheme.

Although being referred by jobcentre managers to mandatory unpaid work for 30 hours a week was good at pushing people off jobseeker’s allowance in the short term, the results after that paint quite a different picture. The 62-page report said:

“The results show that … an MWA [mandatory work activity] referral had no impact on the likelihood of being employed compared to non-referrals.”

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), which was asked by the DWP to peer review the research, said Grayling’s decision to expand the scheme flew in the face of the evidence that showed it was not working.The NIESR’s director Jonathan Portes said:

“This is a complete policy disaster. It is very difficult not to conclude that, whatever your position on the morality of mandatory work programmes like these, the costs of the programme, direct and indirect, are likely to far exceed the benefits.

“The analysis shows that the programme as currently structured is not working. It has no impact on employment; it leads to a small and transitory reduction in benefit receipt and, worst of all, it may even lead to those on the programme moving from jobseeker’s allowance to employment and support allowance.”

“It is highly commendable that the department has undertaken and published this analysis. It would be even better if that hadn’t been accompanied by a policy decision which seems to fly directly in the fact of the evidence. At at time of austerity, it is very difficult to see the justification for spending millions of pounds on a programme which isn’t working.”

But Grayling insisted the findings were not representative of reality:

“This was a scheme our own Jobcentre Plus advisers wanted to introduce. This impact analysis only covers the first three months of the programme a year ago and is already out of date.

“What it shows is we had teething problems in the first three months and, since then, we’ve taken a number of steps to tighten loopholes and are continuing to do so. It’s a relatively new and experimental scheme which is improving all the time.”

For months, Graduate Fog has challenged the flawed assumption that unpaid work leads to paid jobs. Why is the government insisting that they’re right on this, when they’re so clearly wrong? Back in March, we wrote that whether these placements are ‘voluntary’ or ‘mandatory’ makes no difference – unpaid work solves nothing. We have already seen from the scandal of unpaid internships that divorcing pay from work leads nowhere good. While it may seem like a good plan – and may benefit a few in the very short-term – over time it only makes things worse for jobseekers. Unpaid roles replace paid roles, meaning there are fewer paid jobs around – so the goalposts just move further away…

What is your experience of working for free – did it lead you to paid work? How much unpaid work did you have to do before you found a salaried role? Or are you still looking? What is your message to Chris Grayling, who is clearly determined to continue with this work programme regardless of the evidence that it isn’t working?

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