The following article was wirtten by Martin Holcombe about Birmingham Settlement’s withdrawal from the Welfare to Work Programme, and was originally published in the Birmingham Post on 8th March 2012.
Birmingham Settlement was delighted to hear the news that the Government had re-thought part of its Welfare to Work Programme, and no longer intends to stop benefits for those people on placements who don’t complete the full term.
However, as one of Birmingham’s oldest charities, with debt advice and the welfare of the vulnerable at its heart, we feel there is still a long way to go.
Under the work experience scheme, which is voluntary, young people are placed with an employer for between two and eight weeks.
They receive benefits during this placement, but before the Government did a U-turn they risked losing their Jobseeker’s Allowance for a period of time if they failed to show up after their first week.
While we appreciate and understand the need for a good work ethic, the individual to be placed has very little say in where they end up.
When you consider organisations providing placements are paid for their provision, the potential for negative or inappropriate placements becomes clear.
Our vision is to help people to lead happy fulfilling lives and we don’t see how forcing them into unpaid placements or have their benefits stopped aligns itself with creating opportunity and choice.
Last week charities including Marie Curie, Shelter and Scope announced they were pulling out of the programme and would no longer accept placements, and we at Birmingham Settlement followed suit.
Whilst we are fundamentally supportive of programmes that help people into employment, our concern with the Welfare to Work Programme is the way in which this is done. We acknowledge that a change has been made, but the emphasis still seems to be placed on outputs and financial gain, rather than on the needs of each individual.
This is particularly worrying where vulnerable people are concerned, as they can be incorrectly placed without receiving any of the specialist support they need – which could have a serious long term impact on their confidence to work.
Furthermore pressure is placed on organisations delivering the programme as they move away from work centred around people towards box-ticking and a focus on outputs.
One great example is a work placement we had recently – a young man who was out of work, but volunteering with us. He’d cherry-picked the Settlement because he had a degree in criminal justice, and was interested in our work with offenders.
Obviously he was of huge value to us and we to him, but the sub-contracting agency, who had no in-depth knowledge of his skills, personality and ambitions just saw him as a box to be ticked, and attempted to move him away to work in a supermarket. A great example of how, by ticking boxes, a human being could be taken away from a mutually beneficial environment, and placed somewhere they would be unhappy and unfulfilled – just to reach targets.
So it was with great relief to see the pressure to change the policy, which has come equally from both the public, private and third sector, has had an impact and forced them to re-think the way people are supported into work.
As a final note, I’d like to add that although the Settlement has declined to participate in this scheme, along with a growing list of businesses and charities, we’d like to emphasise that anyone already on a placement with us will be encouraged to continue as a volunteer outside of the programme, and that we are fully-supportive of helping people to get back into work.