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.

Read more
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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

Britain’s Conservative Party has set out plans to escalate the government’s assault on welfare

English: Iain Duncan Smith-London March 2010

Channel Islands Alternative Media Page

UK government set on deeper cuts to welfare

By Julie Hyland

20 July 2013

Earlier this week, Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said unemployed parents should only receive benefit for their first two children, meaning entitlement to child benefit and/or income support and other financial aid could potentially be removed for any children above that number.

Shapps claimed that the plan would place the unemployed on an “equal” footing with working parents. Unemployed parents who decide to have more than two children should “know that welfare is not going to fund that choice,” he said.

He suggested further restricting entitlement to housing benefit by barring all unemployed under-25-year-olds from access to the rent subsidy. Again, Shapps claimed that welfare benefit provided an “incentive” for unemployment. The proposal would affect some 380,000 jobless under-25-year-olds, forcing them to live with parents/friends or face homelessness.

Shapps’s comments came as the government’s cap on the amount of welfare benefits claimed by any household was rolled out across the country.

The scheme, first piloted in four London boroughs—Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley—means that no jobless household can receive more than £26,000 a year in benefit and other entitlements. It is part of a further £11.5 billion of cuts unveiled by the government in June. This comes on top of the £155 billion austerity measures already passed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition since its election in 2010. The government’s Spending Round in June for the first time covered a single financial year—2015/2016. It therefore tied any future government (the general election is due in 2015) to the reduction.

Shapps’s statements were once again justified on the grounds that cutting welfare is motivated by “fairness” to taxpayers, as it ensures that no jobless household will receive more than the national average wage, regardless of its family size or circumstances.

The pilot cap has already caused great hardship. Haringey Council reported that 740 families lost income during the trial, with just 34 people finding employment. The government’s own figures calculated that up to 56,000 families will be hit, losing an average of £93 a week, while in London, some 7,000 households will lose more than £100.

London and the south are especially affected by the cap due to high housing and living costs. Families are being forced out of the capital and into accommodation in northern England where rents are cheaper.

Amid reports that Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has requested additional time to legislate for further changes to welfare for next year’s parliamentary session, the government is said to be intending to reduce the benefit cap still further. Conservative MPs are reportedly demanding it should be cut to £20,000. In addition, the Forty Group of Conservative MPs—so-called because they represent constituencies with the slimmest majorities—is demanding benefits be withdrawn from teenage mothers and a host of other measures.

Teenage single mothers should no longer be automatically entitled to help with their housing costs, or be considered a priority for social housing, they argue. They propose deducting fines for school truancy from the child benefit paid to mothers, while restricting access to “repeat” abortions.

Those most affected by the cap—and the additional measures now being proposed—are children. According to the Children’s Society, children are seven times more likely than adults to face hardship as a result of the measures. Matthew Reed said 140,000 children, compared with 60,000 adults, “will pay the price as parents have less to spend on food, clothing and rent.”

The amount of money supposedly “saved” by such measures is paltry. Teenage single mothers account for just 2 percent of all single parents. Similarly, the benefit cap is estimated to reduce social security spending by just £110 million this year and £185 million in 2014, because the vast majority of people already receive far below the cap. Only in May, Duncan Smith was publicly reprimanded by the UK Statistic Authority for publishing misleading figures as the supposed success of the pilot benefit cap. In an open letter on behalf of the authority, Andrew Dilnot said Duncan Smith’s claims on the numbers finding work was “unsupported by…official statistics.”

The Tories’ moves are clearly punitive. They are aimed at stigmatising and punishing the unemployed, while legitimising a broader offensive against social rights—from welfare to education and health care.

Rolled out under the heading “Rewarding Work”, Duncan Smith once again sought to set “working” families, “paying their taxes”, against the jobless, arguing, “The days of blank cheque benefits and people milking the system are over.”

The measures have the wholehearted support of the media, which routinely demonises the unemployed and promotes propaganda blaming welfare costs for the squeeze on spending, enabling the Conservatives to claim that their plans are in response to “public” pressure.

Not a word is said about the criminal activities of the major banks and financial institutions, which are responsible for the biggest economic crisis in 70 years. Billions have been and continue to be paid out to the banks and super-rich, while the majority of the population are put on rations.

Unemployment is nearly 3 million, including more than 1 million out of work and not claiming benefits. Employment is scarce, with much of that available temporary and low-paid. That is why the majority of those on benefits are the “working poor”, those whose pay is so low they need additional state subsidies to survive. Even this bare minimum—which acts as a subsidy to employers—is now being scrapped as the ruling elite seek to overturn all the social gains made by the working class.

A central role is played by the Labour Party, which is committed to maintaining the coalition’s benefit cuts and introducing more of its own. It has jettisoned its verbal opposition to the benefit cap, arguing that it should be determined three years in advance and have a regional component.

This week, Labour attacked Conservative plans from the right, arguing that they were too soft on welfare. Labour’s Liam Byrne denounced the cap for not being hard enough because it would not affect those with very large families and would do nothing to prevent those “living a life on welfare.”

A single-tier “universal credit” comes into effect later this year, which will streamline existing benefits into one, with the obvious aim of further slashing welfare payments. Labour claims that design flaws will mean that single jobless households with seven or more children will “slip through the cap.”

Meanwhile, the Trussell Trust reported that the numbers of people being referred for food parcels increased in the three months since the government’s welfare measures began by 200 percent. The voluntary food aid network reported that more than half of the 150,000 people referred for emergency food aid between April and June were affected by benefit cuts and delays, and financial problems caused by changes to housing.

“The reality is that there is a clear link between benefit delays or changes and people turning to food banks, and that the situation has got worse in the last three months,” said Executive Chairman Chris Mould.

I COULD LIVE ON £53 A WEEK CLAIMS UK CABINET MINISTER

” If I had to I would ” – Iain Duncan Smith.

Iain Duncan Smith’s minister’s salary is equivalent to about £1,600 a week after tax.

IAIN Duncan Smith yesterday dismissed claims that he was ” slashing ” welfare – and insisted that he could live on £53 a week. The UK’s work and pensions secretary said he was making the system fairer and giving people a chance to ” break free ” of benifits.

Ministers launched a fightback as 660,000 social housing tenents deemed to have a spare room begain to lose an average £14 a week in what critics have dubbed a ” bedroom tax “. It is part of a package of significant welfare and tax changes coming into force this month, which opponents say will hit poor familes and disabled people particularly hard. Changes to council tax benifits will see bills rise for an estimated 2.4 millon households in Britain rise an average £138 a year, with two million paying for the first time, an anti poverty group said. The system was yesterday hand-ed to town halls to operate but with 10 per cent less founding. On Saturday working-age benifits and tax-credits will be cut in real terms with the first of three years of maximum one per cent raises – well below the present rate of inflation. Two days later disabilty living allowence begains to be replaced by the personal independance payment which charites say will remove support from many people in real need. Later in the month trails begain in four London boroughs of a £500-a-week cap on any household’s benifits, and a new universal credit system. Piolt schemes for the flagship scheme have been scaled back amid reports -denied by welfare officials – that IT problems have derailed preparations for its rollout from October.

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Labour claims the impact of the measures and other coalition polices have left the average family almost £900 a year worse off. Market trader David Bennett told BBC Radio 4’s Today programe yesterday morning that he earned around £2,700 last year from working between 50 and 70 hours a week. He said his housing benifit had been cut even though his children stayed with him several days a week and his overall income was about £53 a week. It was not clear why Mr Bennett was not receiving tax credits. Mr Duncan Smith, whose ministerial salary is equivalent to about £1,600 a week after tax, stressed that he did not know Mr Bennett’s individual circumstances. However, asked whether he could live on £53 a week, the former army officer, who married into a wealthy family, replied : ” If I had I would.” During the course of the day more than 21,000 people signed a petition on  the change.org website calling for Mr Duncan Smith to “prove ” he could survive on £53 a week. The text urged him to ” live on his budget for at least one year “. He said the government was only trying to get welfare ” back in order “. ” We inherited a problem where we simply do not have the money to spend on all the things people would like us to do. ” What I am trying to do is get this so we don’t spend money on things that are unfair.” He urged critics to get the issue ” in perspective “.

With many thanks to : James Tapsfield, Irish News.