Tens of thousands of unemployed people have been made to work without pay under threat of having their benefits removed for at least 13 weeks, according to the latest government figures.
The first set of statistics on the government’s mandatory work activity(MWA) programme reveals that from when the scheme started in May 2011 until November, 24,010 jobseekers were referred to work for four weeks unpaid for 30 hours a week.
Under the scheme – the first of its kind in the UK – jobcentre managers have the power to make unemployed people do a month’s work experience at charities, government offices or high-street chains if they feel claimants “fail to demonstrate the focus and discipline necessary to seek out, secure and retain employment opportunities”. If they do not take part, claimants have their benefits removed for 13 weeks. A second failure to take part means benefits are removed for six months.
In a separate scheme, managers can also ask jobseekers to take up unpaid work experience (WE) for eight weeks. However, under this programme, people can refuse to do the work or pull out within the first week without having benefits docked. Figures for the programme reveal that 34,200 jobseekers undertook such placements from January until November 2011.