What is workfare?

Workfare is the name given to government schemes where unemployed and disabled people have to work in return for their benefits.

The running of workfare schemes is outsourced to a range of public, private and voluntary sector providers, who sub-contract parts of their schemes to charities and community groups. Unemployed and disabled people referred to these schemes are required to carry out unpaid work in return for their benefits.

The government runs a bewildering range of workfare schemes. While some are voluntary to join, once a claimant has joined a scheme they can be ‘sanctioned’ - have their benefits withdrawn - or be referred to a compulsory scheme where they can be sanctioned, for failing to participate in it. Organisations running placements are responsible for reporting on claimants’ performance during their placements to Jobcentre Plus, which may result in sanctioning. 

Mandatory Work Activity is a mandatory and sanctioned scheme for people claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA) aged 18 or over. Claimants must work unpaid for up to 30 hours a week over a four week period or face losing their benefits. 

Work Experience schemes put claimants aged 16 to 24 on two to eight week work placements, usually in the private sector. While protests have led to claimants on Work Experience schemes no longer being sanctioned directly, claimants havereported being referred to Mandatory Work Activity if they do not ‘volunteer’ for Work Experience. 

Sector Based Work Academies operate in a similar way, but become directly sanctioned once you accept a place.

The Help to Work scheme introduced in April 2014, is the most recent of the government’s workfare schemes. It is intended to apply to around 200,000 long-term JSA claimants a year. 

While some claimants on Help to Work will have to visit Jobcentre Plus every day or attend mandatory training, around 60,000 a year are expected to be sent on six months, 30 hours a week Community Work Placements. Claimants can be referred for sanctions if they fail to participate in the scheme. George Osborne announced in his 2013 Autumn Statement that many young people will be sent on Community Work Placements if they turn down an unpaid Traineeship or Work Experience placement.