A Freedom of Information request asking for a list of organisations and companies who have been used as workfare employers under the Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity schemes in Norfolk has been refused. (1) The DWP claim that:
“In line with the Department’s transparency commitments, we have previously provided information about companies who participate in a number of our programmes that offer work experience, where we can collect this information without disproportionate cost. However, we are now invoking the exemption because it has become clear in recent weeks that there are a minority of people who appear to be seeking to undermine the goodwill of employers who are prepared to offer opportunities to unemployed people by attempting to harm those companies’ commercial interests. ”
Had the Department chosen to answer this request it would no doubt have revealed a whole host of corporate parasites using forced labour at the tax payers expense.
The revelation that people on the Work Programme have been mandated to work at Pizza Hut, ASDA and many more private companies has already been removed from the DWP’s website (2). It seems the Department is refusing to reveal any information which proves Chris Grayling was lying (3) when he said on Radio 4′s Today programme that:
“We will never mandate anyone to work for a big company. They wouldn’t take them if we did.”
Despite being made to squirm (4) on Channel 4 news last night after it was revealed that the Government’s Work Experience is voluntary in name only, Grayling was once again allowed to get away with this exact same lie. Using the last refuge of every desperate shyster Grayling pleaded that he wasn’t lying, he was looking in journalist Cathy Newman’s eyes after all. He then went on to lie his fucking arse off.
Ministers are pretending that the Work Programme, the government’s flagship scheme for harassing the unemployed, doesn’t exist. And even if it does no-one is mandated to workfare. The truth, as it’s almost getting boring to repeat, is that many people on workfare, of all ages, have been forced to work for private companies with no pay for up to six months at a time.
A Freedom of Information request has already been made to the DWP (5) asking exactly how many of the almost 400,000 people on the Work Programme have been mandated to work for free. It now appears quite likely the DWP will refuse to tell us that as well. With the Government going as far as re-writing documents (6) to cover up for their dishonesty it is now impossible to believe anything the ministers say about welfare policy.
In order to maintain the deceit the DWP are claiming it is not in the public interest (7) to reveal the names of businesses profiting from forced labour because it may affect the company’s commercial interests. Another reason given is that it may hamper their ability to carry out the current workfare policy, claiming that telling us the truth about workfare might “inhibit or limit the ability of the Department to obtain the best services to improve people’s chances of securing employment”.
Neither of these are reasons that are in the public’s interest, they are in the interests of private companies and the Government. What the Government means is that if we release this information then some people won’t like it. There may even be protests and questions about why Government ministers lied. And we can’t have that now can we.
In fact their response seems to openly indicate that they don’t want people to find this out in case someone might try and do something about it. This is a tacit admission that this information is very much in the public interest and exactly what the Freedom of Information Act should be used to facilitate. The request has been referred to the Information Commissioner. Their response will tell us a lot about whether we can trust the Freedom of Information act any longer under this Government. We certainly can’t depend on politicians to tell us the truth.
The Seven Principals of Public Life, which form part of the Ministerial Code (8) state that:
“Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to
the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate
to their office.”
As well as:
“Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the
decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their
decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly
Both of these key principals have been clearly breached by Chris Grayling. The Ministerial Code also demands the principle of collective responsibility. This means that all Ministers agree to follow the party line in public, even when they think it’s bollocks in private. This is intended to ensure that all Ministers share the blame when things go wrong and speak with one voice on Government policy . The Code states that: “Ministers should ensure that their statements are consistent with collective Government policy.”
The only person who can launch an investigation into a breach of this code is surprise, surprise, the Prime Minister (thought you lived in a democracy? think again). That he hasn’t suggests that the Government, from the top down, completely endorses Grayling’s lies. In other words, it is Government policy to lie that “We will never mandate anyone to work for a big company.“
When Government are reduced to telling bare-faced lies about their own policies then all mainstream channels of political dissent are redundant. What is the point of lobbying, letter writing and even marching when we can’t even believe the Government are doing what they say they are? When the opposition party (shamefully in name only) and the mainstream press fail to hold the Government to account for their lies the situation becomes even more dire.
All that is left now for those opposed to workfare is direct action. All other forms of political action have been shut down by this Government. Workfare can be made unworkable by making it unprofitable. Already most High Street companies have pulled out and many more are wobbling. It is testament to the arrogance of some charities that they have proved more difficult to crack (9). With enough pressure we can ensure that forced labour, under threat of the poverty and potential homelessness of benefit sanctions, is no longer acceptable in the British workplace.
26 towns and cities are now lined up to take action this Saturday as part of the National Day of Action Against Workfare (10) called by Boycott Workfare. Pressure on the internet shows no sign of dying down and an online protest is also taking place this week on facebook (11).
If companies and charities realise that exploiting unemployed people to benefit from free labour costs them more money than it saves, then Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith can whinge as much as they want, it will matter not at all. The workfare policy is already looking desperately fragile. Just a few more kicks and we will break it for good.