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Wednesday June 16th marks the first National Day of Action against the Flexible New Deal called by the No to Welfare Abolition network. All over the country groups who are campaigning against recent welfare reforms will be taking action against the companies who are involved in running welfare-to-work. Here in Brighton we will meet at the Clocktower, outside Boots, at 11am on Wedneday 16th June.

What is the Flexible New Deal?

FND is a compulsory scheme for everyone who has been unemployed for a year. It is the jobsearch part of JobcentrePlus outsourced to private companies who force the unemployed to take any shit job on offer, this includes 1 month of workfare after 6 months on the scheme. Why do they do this? They do it for money. They receive payment when a claimants works for 13 weeks and again if they are in work for 26 weeks. Additionally if they perform well they are also rewarded with an increased share of the future welfare-to-work market.

Who are the companies?

A full list can be found here.  But to name and shame a few: A4E, Serco, Seetec, Working Links, Careers Development Group, Manpower, Remploy, Maximus, Skills Training UK.

A4E are notorious after Channel 4 News investigated them for defrauding the older New Deal scheme. It is companies like this who are the real benefit cheats. It is worth noting that welfare-to-work is a multinational industry. For example, to name but a few, A4E are a British company which also run welfare-to-work programmes in Israel under the name Amin; Maximus are an American company who run welfare-to-work programmes here, in the USA, Australia and yet again Israel. So there is a lot of money out there that these greedy bastards would like to get hold of.

Why oppose it?

Those with a vested interest in the FND claim it helps the unemployed, especially those who lost their jobs as a result of the economic crisis caused by the bankers. However, the  FND doesn’t create any new jobs apart from those positions created by the companies running the scheme! With no new jobs on offer it just feels like harassment to us unemployed and on the scheme, already surviving on meagre benefits with inflation on fuel and food making it difficult to make ends meet. But the effect of the scheme is not just felt by the unemployed forced to jump through hoops for the scarce jobs under threat of losing benefits. One of the main purposes of schemes like the FND is to attack the wages and working conditions of those already in work by making as many people as possible compete for the available jobs and with the latest welfare reforms this now includes the sick and disabled.  The only jobs on offer are the same jobs that anyone can find through JobcentrePlus. It means that for every job a claimant succeeds in getting through the FND another job is taken away from somebody else.

The FND’s workfare component in phase 1 of the scheme is called ‘mandatory work-related activity’ and involves 1 month of working at least 30 hours a week  for the 65 quid JSA. In phase 2 this was to be extended to 6 months for anyone unemployed 2 years in certain areas. While it appears that phase 2 will not run now it remains to be seen whether the ‘work programme’ will continue with this in some form. Workfare means an attack on wages, at the minimum amount of 30 hours it means working for £2.16 when the minimum wages is £5.80. It also means an attack on working conditions as those doing workfare are not protected by normal labour legislation. It could also mean job substitutionism, where workfare will begin to replace normal jobs.  Maximus, A4E, Working Links, Serco, Seetec etc. then are part of an attack on the wages and conditions of those in work. Therefore it is in the interest of everybody, not working or working, to fight against schemes like the FND.

The present situation

The new government may have apparently cancelled FND but it still means that we will be stuck with it until next summer, until they roll out their own scheme, the ‘work programme’. The ‘good’ news for those who live in the areas where phase 2 of the scheme was to be rolled out in October, including the 6 month workfare pilot areas, is the possibility that they will now not have to suffer like we have with FND until the ‘work programme’ kicks in. This does not mean that we should rest on our laurels as all the companies running the FND have been invited to bid to run the ‘work programme’, and while it is not clear what the programme itself will contain it has got to be more of the same or worse. Therefore we need to continue taking action to make it clear to the government and the companies involved in welfare-to-work that we will fight back againts their plans and make it as hard for them as possible to make money from these schemes. We can take heart from the victory that one group of anti-welfare-to-work campaigners in Israel have won their struggle where, through concerted action, the Wisconsin welfare-to-work scheme has been beaten. We can do it here too!

Here in Brighton we will meet at the Clocktower, outside Boots, at 11am on Wedneday 16th June. The Brighton Benefits Campaign also meets every Thursday at 6pm in the Wellington Pub, Upper Gloucester Road, a few minutes from Brighton Station. If you live In Brighton and want to share your experiences of Maximus, Skills Training and Careers Development Group please write to us at brightonbenefitscampaign [AT] – let us know which companies are working directly with the FND providers, which companies and charities are taking you on for the four weeks of workfare and any other juicy gossip from your time spent with the Paulines!

Some of the groups taking part in the National Day of Action are:

Cambridge Unemployed Workers Union

Edinburgh Coalition against Poverty

Hackney Unemployed Workers

Manchester Disabled Peope’s Direct Action Network

Nottingham Claimants

Sunderland Welfare Action Group

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This article was published on 14 June 2010 by the SolFed group in Brighton. Other recent articles:

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