REVEALED: The High Street firms that used benifit claimants for free labour

Government fought in the courts for four years to keep the companies’ identities a secret, saying it would damage their ‘commercial interests’

The Mandatory Work Activity required 120,000 people to work a 30-hour week unpaid to receive their £73 benefit

The names of hundreds of major companies and leading British charities who used a benefits scheme to employ people without paying them have been revealed after the government lost a four-year legal battle to protect their identities.

Well-known high street firms were among more than 500 organisations who used the free labour of welfare claimants, after they were forced to take unpaid work under rules brought in by David Cameron’s Coalition Government.

Their names were revealed after the Court of Appeal ruled against the Department for Work and Pension’s attempt to keep them a secret – at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees.

Read more List of organisations who used benefits claimants as unpaid labour

The list of 534 organisations, which can be read in full here, includes firms such as Tesco, Nando’s, Boots, Superdrug, Morrisons, Asda, Co-op, WHSmith, Poundstretcher, Cash Converter, DHL and a host of other major corporations.

And it also includes charities such as the British Red Cross, Age UK, Cancer Research, Marie Curie, the National Trust, Oxfam, the RSPB, the Salvation Army and Shelter.

Local councils who participated included Essex, Whitby, Leicester, Scarborough, Fenland, Thurrock, Hartlepool and Rochford.

They made use of free labour under the scheme for a six-month period between July 2011 and January 2012.

Campaigers said the list of companies should be shared far and wide and that the schemes did not help people find jobs.

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“Workfare provides free labour for businesses and charities, enforced by the threat of destitution through benefit sanctions, and paid for by the public – including people on workfare. Workfare doesn’t help people find jobs: it’s just an excuse for sanctions,” a spokesperson for the Boycott Workfare group told the Independent.

“The organisations that benefit by exploiting the forced, unpaid work of claimants have been shielded by the DWP’s secrecy for far too long. The DWP have been using this case to deny other requests for similar information.

“Now that the DWP has at last complied with the law and released the information that was requested in 2012, we should be able to get further details about where workfare it is taking place today.

“We encourage everyone who wants to see an end to workfare and punitive welfare policies to use and share this information, and to work together to press all the organisations involved in workfare to pull out immediately, as so many already have. ”

A spokesperson for Tesco – the only organisation out of more than a dozen on the list The Independent tried to contact that have actually provided a comment – said: “Prior to deciding the scheme wasn’t right for us, we had offered to pay those who were doing placements with us.

“As a business we remain committed to providing employment opportunities for the long-term unemployed.”

Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said the scheme demonstrated the Conservative Government’s “skewed view of the world”.

“First they thought it was acceptable to force people into unpaid, poor quality work and couldn’t see why there was an outcry against the scheme,” she told the Mirror.

“To then use public money to try and keep the list of companies taking advantage of this a secret is beyond the pale.”

Under the Mandatory Work Activity, about 120,000 jobseekers had to work for free for 30 hours per week or they would have lost their £73-a-week benefit payment.

The scheme was criticised by the Work and Pensions Select Committee when it was introduced in 2011 and was scrapped by the government in 2015.

However the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to let the names of the companies who participated in the scheme be known.

DWP officials argued that revealing their identities would “hurt their commercial interests” because protesters might boycott them, despite the Information Commissioner ruling just a year into the scheme that the public should have access to the list.

After holding out for four years, the DWP was overruled by three judges at the Court of Appeal by a vote of two to one.

A DWP spokesman said: “Employment programmes help thousands of people every year gain new skills and experience to get into work.”

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The deaths, sanctions and starvation that prove, I Daniel Blake is accurate – despite what some critics say

Iain Duncan Smith said the film depicted the ‘very worst of anything that can ever happen to anybody’, while Toby Young has said that aspects of the Ken Loach film ‘don’t ring true’

A new polemical film by Ken Loach about life on benefits – and a faceless bureaucracy at the heart of the welfare state – has created an emotive debate on whether it accurately portrays life on state support.

I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a 59-year-old joiner who is thrust into a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare, designed to ensure his disability benefit payments and Jobseeker’s Allowance are almost unobtainable. But, for some, the reaction has been uncomfortable.

Iain Duncan Smith has claimed the director has painted an unrealistic picture and treated Jobcentre staff unfairly. The former welfare chief, who presided over £15 billion of cuts to the welfare budget, claimed it focused only on the “very worst of anything that can ever happen to anybody”.

Iain Duncan Smith slams ‘worst case scenario’

Ken Loach film
For commentator Toby Young the majority of the film, with the exception of the first five minutes, are “unremittingly depressing”. He added: “I’m no expert on the welfare system, but several aspect of I, Daniel Blake don’t ring true.

“The two protagonists are a far cry from the scroungers on Channel 4’s Benefits Street, who I accept aren’t representative of all welfare recipients.

The most ridiculous reasons people had their benefits sanctioned

“But Loach has erred in the opposite direction. For a filmmaker who styles himself a ‘social realist’, he has an absurdly romantic view of benefit claimants.”

But for many this film feels more like a documentary and appears to have been meticulously researched. Here The Independent looks back at some real-life stories and circumstances, which could have inspired the director in his work.

Benefit Sanctions

Britain’s former Secretary for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith (Reuters)

In I, Daniel Blake the threat of a sanction appears to be hanging over the characters throughout, wreaking havoc on the characters’ lives. But does this ring true?

While Mr Duncan Smith was at the helm of the welfare department tough new rules – branded “punitive” by some MPs – meant the length and severity of benefit sanctions increased. In the regime, introduced in 2012, the maximum length of sanctions went up from six months to three years.

‘Fit to work’ tests

Jobs (Getty)

I, Daniel Blake portrays the benefit system as cruel and unforgiving. Blake is assessed fit to work despite having a heart attack, meaning he has to actively seek work and go to appointment after appointment at his local job centre. If he misses any of them he gets sanctioned.

This actually happened to David Duncan, who had his jobseeker’s allowance cut in 2013 when he failed to attend his Jobcentre appointment after suffering a major cardiac arrest two days before.

In a U-turn earlier this month, the new work and pensions secretary Damian Green said that chronically sick benefit claimants will no longer be required to prove they are still ill every six months. But for many this policy has wreaked havoc with the lives of vulnerable people like Duncan since it was introduced in 2012.

Food banks

Volunteers and recipients at one of two food banks opened in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham,(Teri Pencilled)

At one point in I, Daniel Blake, one of the women in the film, Katie, appears so hungry she opens a tin of baked beans she receives at a food bank and pours them down her throat. Is it far from reality?

64 per cent of referrals for emergency food between 2013-14 were made by claimants who were experiencing a benefit delay or change

When I visited a Salford food bank in 2015, the local coordinator told me: “A lot of people at the moment are just struggling to make ends meet. We’re here in a moment of crisis,”

“We had a gentleman walk seven miles for three days’ worth of food and then walk seven miles back. Another family who came through the doors couldn’t even afford nappies for their child and were actually using a carrier bag and kitchen paper. Things are tough.”

Ministers and the department for work and pensions have repeatedly refused to accept that welfare cuts are connected to the increased use of food banks in recent years – despite countless reports suggesting so.

The latest, by academics at Oxford University, claims to have found evidence of a “strong, dynamic relationship” between people having their benefits stopped and not having enough money to meet basic needs.

Sanctions ‘can lead to crime and destitution’

Of course Toby Young understands what life is like on benefits

In the film Katie, who is sanctioned by Jobcentre staff, is caught shoplifting in order to buy her children shoes for school – and is forced to turn to prostitution.

Does this “ring true”? It appears so. An internal report, seen by The Independent earlier this year, claimed that benefit sanctions are “devastating” for claimants and can lead to destitution, crime and suicide, as well as throwing up serious barriers to employment. The internal research, commissioned by Salford City Council, suggested that a sudden loss of income by removing benefits could damage mental health, create tensions within family relationships and cause individuals to commit a crime such as shoplifting.

It added that evidence provided by Salford Central food bank, run by the Trussell Trust, shows that 64 per cent of referrals for emergency food between 2013-14 were made by claimants who were experiencing a benefit delay or change, which includes receiving a sanction.

Benefit claimants who have died

David Clapson Gill Thompson believes the sanction took away her brother’s ‘lifeline’ (Gill Thompson)

David Clapson died of diabetic ketoacidosis – caused by an acute lack of insulin – 18 days after his benefits were terminated in July 2013 for missing two appointments.

When his sister Gill Thompson discovered her brother’s body, she found his electricity had been cut off, meaning the fridge where he stored his insulin was no longer working.

With no money for his electricity meter, his family claim he was unable to chill his insulin in the height of summer. He also was found to have no food in his stomach when he died. His body was found a few metres away from a pile of CVs and he had £3.44 in his bank account.

 

Benefits Street star found dead in Stockton road where show was filmed

Benefit sanctions lead to increase in food bank use, study finds

Earlier this year his sister told me his sanction was a “death sentence”. She later protested outside Mr Duncan Smith’s former department with a banner, engraved with the names of 96 people she claims to have died while on a benefit sanction.

“The DWP actions did not help my brother’s situation. I feel that his death could have been prevented. By doing this, I can’t bring my brother back, I’m just hoping that this will save other people,” she added.

“All these people have died, it has to stop now. That’s all we ask for, that’s all I ask for, no more deaths, no more suffering.”

Paul Turner

The 52-year-old dad-of-one, from Erdington, died from ischaemic heart disease after Government assessors had his benefits stopped and ruled he was fit for work.

According to the Birmingham Mail, Mr Turner was claiming around £400 per month incapacity benefit until he was called in for a review at the Midlands disability benefits centre in January 2012. Three weeks later he received a letter stating he was not entitled to the new Employment and Support Allowance – the payment that had replaced Incapacity Benefit.

At the time the department for work and pensions expressed sympathy to Mr Turner’s family “during what is obviously a very difficult time”.

“The work capability assessment is just that – an assessment of what, if any, work a person could undertake. Jobcentre Plus decision makers look at all available information, including any medical evidence, to support their claim.”

With many thanks to: The Independent and Ashley Coburn Political Correspondent for the original story

Get in debt or turn down a job? Universal Credit’s ‘stark choice’

The Universal Credit system leaves too many UK claimants with children facing a stark choice between turning down jobs or getting into debt, MPs warn.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee says the way parents have to pay for childcare up front, then claim it back afterwards is a “barrier to work”.

Committee chairman Frank Field said it was “irresponsible” to put this burden on “struggling, striving parents”.

The government said childcare support is more generous under the new system.

But the committee’s report on the childcare aspect of Universal Credit is further criticism of the already much-criticised benefit.

The welfare payment, which collapsed six benefits into one monthly payment, is being phased in across the UK.

Universal Credit: Is the government’s benefit system working?

The report said: “Parents and carers’ decisions about whether and how much to work are closely tied to being able to access affordable, good quality childcare.

“The Department for Work and Pensions aspires for 200,000 more people to work under Universal Credit than under the system it replaces, and for people already in work to contribute over 100 million additional hours every year.

“Its success or failure in achieving these aims depends largely on working parents. That means that making childcare payments work is critical to the success of Universal Credit.”

But it claims the design of Universal Credit childcare support directly conflicts with the aim of making it easier for claimants to work, or to work more hours.

‘Precarious’

“Universal Credit claimants must pay for childcare up front and claim reimbursement from the department after the childcare has been provided,” the report says.

“This can leave households waiting weeks or even months to be paid back.

“Many of those households will be in precarious financial positions which Universal Credit could exacerbate: if, for example, they have fallen into debt or rent arrears while awaiting Universal Credit payments.

“Too many will face a stark choice: turn down a job offer, or get themselves into debt in order to pay for childcare.”

The system of reimbursement was adopted to cut down on fraud and error, and the government says switching to a system of direct payments to childcare providers would require changes to the benefits payment system.

The committee wants direct payments to be adopted, but in the meantime more should be done to help claimants with up-front costs, it says.

The report said: “Parents and carers’ decisions about whether and how much to work are closely tied to being able to access affordable, good quality childcare

More on this story                  Video Universal credit: Is the government’s benefit system working?

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Universal Credit: Will benefit changes affect you?

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Related Internet links
Department for Work and Pensions
Commons Work and Pensions Committee Universal Credit inquiry

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