Firms that used benefit claimants for unpaid work are revealed

It has been a hidden secret for years, but the firms that used benefit claimants for free labour have finally been forced to reveal their true identities, as they were named and shamed in the media last week. Firms that were linked to Mandatory Work Activity were included on a vast list for everyone to see as they were accused of exploiting benefit claimants with free work. The list includes a shocking 500 companies and amongst them were well-known supermarket giants Tesco, Asda and Morrisons as well as budget chain store pound-stretcher. The list was created in 2011 and the shameless firms have now been revealed. As well as retail firms, there was also cash company cash converters, popular chicken restaurant Nando’s and high street drug store Superdrug. Benefit claimants in supermarket

The Workfare Scheme

The notoriously hated workfare scheme affected 10, 000 job seekers as they were forced to work 30 hours of unpaid labour in exchange for their benefits per month. The scheme represented itself as voluntary – if claimants wanted to work or to gain experience, but there were reports that if a claimant had joined the scheme they would risk being sanctioned (benefits cut) if they left the scheme or didn’t show up for a shift they were due to work. The organisations (in this case some considerably big firms) were responsible for reporting back on the progress of thee workers on the scheme. In this case, workers were forced into Mandatory Work Activity, and understandably there was huge backlash surrounding the scheme. Until now, it has been kept a secret which firms were involved in such an unfair process, protected by a lengthy and costly legal battle, conducted by the DWP. The notion behind keeping the firm’s identities a secret was to protect their commercial interest. In other words, there were fears that they would be boycotted by protests if it became known they were involved in workfare. The DWP was in fact overruled by Watchdog back in 2014 to reveal the names, but fought a strong battle to stand its ground. Last Wednesday the DWP was finally overthrown, and chaos and anger has ensued. Contender for labour leadership Owen Smith has said that this is just one of many cover ups by the Tories for the DWP, which needs to change. He goes onto mention other controversial Tory movements such as cuts to the much anticipated Universal Credit, as well as the bedroom tax that has undeniably left many in a state of devastation. To add insult to injury, it was of course the tax payer that funded the massive cover up of the workfare scheme users. Whilst there was no official spending figure released, it is thought the DWP could have easily racked up tens of thousands of pounds in the process.

Job centre handing out benefitsThe Dangers of Workfare

It is kind of a given that this kind of scheme will cause upset purely for the fact that it screams exploitation of the most vulnerable. However, there are also a number of other reasons why the Workfare scheme is disliked. Firstly, it undermines the actual responsibility of volunteering, which many people do all over the UK. It is important that the UK has genuine volunteers, and that they are rewarded for this exact reason. People that also already volunteer were being forced to give up their current position and go and volunteer somewhere else in order to claim their benefits – which doesn’t seem necessary. It also undermines the need to create real jobs, and in turn actively increases unemployment. If companies are able to get their workers for free, they are less likely to create paid jobs, which means less jobs and further unemployment. In one particularly severe case, a pizza company in Leicester sacked 350 workers and re-located to Nottingham, where they were able to take on over one hundred benefit claimants for no pay. Although they claimed it was to give these ‘volunteers’ ‘experience’, the real reason behind the company’s decision is probably rather obvious. the workfare scheme was also once described by the Trade union Congress as a ‘failed policy.’ There has also never been any actual evidence to suggest that the Workfare scheme helps and encourages people to find jobs, this fact was even concluded by the DWP themselves. Some people are asked to work full time on Workfare placements, which averages out at an earning of £2 per hour. Working full time leaves little time to spend searching for jobs that will take them out of the Workfare scheme and place them in genuine employment.

They have been described as having a ‘skewed view of the world’ and it seems that the Tories made a huge mistake in forcing people into unpaid work – and are more than likely going to have to pay for it. The Mandatory work Activity mostly took place within a six month period, between July 2011 and January 2012, and overall there were 534 companies to exploit workers, including charities. Places on the list include Hartlepool, Thurrock and Leicester.

Despite many of the companies unsurprisingly refusing to comment, The Independent managed to get word from a spokesperson from Tesco, who defended the supermarket giant by saying that they had realised that adopting the scheme wasn’t right for them, after they had agreed to pay into the scheme, they also say that despite this, they remain committed to finding employment for the long term unemployed. After coming under such fire, the DWP did comment, but didn’t refer to the scandal unfolding and instead continued to preach the benefits of employment programmes, by saying that each year they help thousands of people to find work, as well as providing very useful new skills.

Could this be the end of the DWP?

The DWP have come under fire in recent months, mainly because of the austerity that has been introduced by the Tory government. Welfare cuts have swept the nation, and have arguably targeted the most vulnerable in our society causing homelessness and poverty, and unsurprisingly, there are calls for it to end. Pronto. Theresa May’s new government have wasted no time setting about to take action on some of the issues that have upset the nation, and this includes taking down the DWP and replacing it with a fairer system. Labour Party Politician Owen Smith has argued that the DWP now brings nothing but insecurity and as a result should be replaced with something more stable, like a work ministry. He continued to say that if he became labour leader (he is currently in the running with jeremy Corbyn, both who;s fate will be decided in September), this would be the case. Will Theresa May succeed in reducing cuts to help those most vulnerable, as well as protecting the country’s economy after a shock Brexit?Money from the DWP

Universal Credit Failures

The DWP incompetence has recently come to light with the delays to Universal Credit getting longer and longer, leaving them to come under fire from ministers who are saying that the delays could have been avoided, and that the whole thing has not been managed correctly. Many people that are in recipient of Universal Credit have spoken of their anguish in trying to obtain their payments, with many comparing getting the money you’re entitled to as like getting blood from a stone. Universal Credit is not yet available to everyone in the UK , but some areas of the country are classed as ‘trial areas’, which means that if you are in need of unemployment benefits, your claim will be registered as Universal Credit. News has emerged that it will take until 2022 for the new system to be fully ruled out, which shows somewhat of a mass incompetence on the DWP’s part. Complicated new computer systems are being seen as one of the main reasons to blame for its ever growing delays. The situation has now become severe and the reason for this is that it is causing a large increase in poverty, with a huge amount of respondents to several surveys admitting they have to cut down on food in order to survive. It is about time the new prime minister realises that the country’s current social security system is not working for vulnerable people in our society.An element of irony also clouds the whole claims process that definitely needs to be addressed. Because the process is so lengthy and inconvenient, claimants are having to take time out of applying for work and finding a new job, to attend several universal credit interviews, to see whether they are even eligible. The other half of the country is still receiving Job Seeker’s Allowance amongst other benefits and have no idea when they will be switched over to Universal Credit, which will definitely see a cut to the payments that they receive.

Socialist Revolution

Owen Smith has voiced his wishes to shift power back to employees. He has not only insinuated that the DWP is incompetent, but has also called them cruel. Those that are new to claiming and claim for Universal Credit because they have found themselves suddenly out of work, will (eventually) be able to have a claim submitted, after form after form and an interview, only to be told that although the claim has been processed, payment will not begin until September. The sad fact is that you can no longer rely on the inefficient DWP for financial security should you find yourself out of work, and , of course, this is a reflection on the government, which is probably why Smith is determined to change this should he come into power. On top of dealing with the DWP, Owen Smith has expressed a need to return the country to a 50p top tax rate, as well as setting a new rate to the richest 1%, cancelling ex-minister George Osbourne’s cuts to corporation. This may be met with some hostility as this was to encourage trade with EU countries, despite a Brexit. However, the money they gain back from this will help towards the 4% spending rise by the NHS, which could arguably suggest he has better priorities. It seems Smith is determined to target the rich, by introducing a 15% tax levy on income that was not earned, but rather invested. This aims to target those with £150, 000 or higher income. This is to be known as the wealth tax. Owen Smith ultimately, enthusiastically calls for a socialist revolution in which to ‘build a better Britain.’

Could Owen Smith’s ideas of totally scrapping the DWP and replacing it with a ministry of labour and a department for social security mean that those who are most vulnerable, out of work and relying on the government, get the help they actually need, instead of being told they will have to wait due to a ‘backlog of claims’ or an ‘inbuilt delay’. Is this a true take from the rich and give to the poor scenario, and will there really be a ‘socialist revolution’?





The Tax Credit Deadline is Getting Nearer

In a previous article, we spoke about whether or not you are eligible to receive child -tax credits. If you are a parent that does receive child tax credits, you will know that every April your situation is assessed and your claim is renewed for the following year. Many recipients will simply get an overview of what they receive and their income will carry on as normal. However, some need to fill out the form they receive and send it back (this is usually if your situation has changed and you are now entitled to a smaller or larger amount of money), and the deadline is fast approaching. Unfortunately, missing the deadline can result in your payments stopping altogether as the DWP don’t have your up to date details. According to HMRC, by the end of this month (31st July) around 3 million claimants will need to have renewed their child tax credits. Not leaving your renewal until the last minute is beneficial because not only will your payments be stopped, you will also be asked to pay back the money you have received since April as there will be no proof that you are lawfully entitled to claim it. Person renewing child tax credits

How do I renew my credits?

If you have left until now to renew when you are required to, don’t worry it can be quickly and easily done. Changes in circumstances that need to be reported to HMRC include changes to employment eg working hours or income and a change in your childcare costs. The easiest way to report these is to do it online via Gov.UK, or if you have a smartphone HMRC have a handy new app, which is really simple and convenient to use. The benefits you receive will differ depending on your financial situation so it is important that you give the right information, so as not to miss out on the benefits you deserve. In the same sense, if you accidentally receive too many without knowing, you will be expected to pay this back, which may understandably have a strain on your finances. As mentioned before, the child tax credit pack you receive in April will either require you to respond or just require you to ensure all the information HMRC has for you in correct. If your letter features the words ‘reply now’ then it means your information requires updating, before the 31st July. If it has the words ‘check now’ you will just need to check over the form to see if any misinformation has been printed, and if this is the case, inform HMRC straight away.

HMRC are encouraging people to renew their credits online as it is quick and convenient. However, if you are having any problems with your online form, then please do contact HMRC via the contact number. There is also a webchat facility that is available from HMRC for any minor issues. The new online renewal system is understandably a godsend to many who have waited in endless phone-line queues in the past as people attempt to renew before the deadline.

Cutting Welfare will not Help Employment, According to Reports

A somewhat ironic report has been released that suggests cutting welfare such as housing benefit for unemployed people, will not result in higher employment, and in fact cuts to benefit entitlement make it less likely that people will find work. The report makes the allegations despite the Government’s claims that cutting benefit entitlement acts as an incentive for people to find work. Interestingly, the opposite is happening to what was predicted, and a report by Oxford City Council and the DWP have said that the amount of claimants that have been unemployed for a long period of time, and then found work has reduced by 2% for every pound lost by cuts to housing benefit. It has become increasingly difficult for the unemployed living in Britain, with support from the state dwindling and cuts to things such as housing benefit, as well as the bedroom tax and local housing allowance

The findings of the report emerged after an EU funded scheme ran by Oxford City Council and the DWP which aims at helping those deal with benefit cuts was evaluated. Rather than encouraging claimants to find work to assist their financial situation, the cuts are just pushing unemployed people further into poverty, which adds major stresses onto their everyday lives, interfering with their focus to find a job. The Government’s harsh approach into helping claimants to find a job appears to have backfired. While cutting financial welfare may seem like the logical solution to encourage those that are not working, to find a job, there are many underlying factors to be considered, with the combination of childcare and debt acting as a significant barrier to work. People that have their benefits cut are likely to receive the effects of extreme stress and anxiety as they attempt to see their family survives on little to nothing. This is not a good sound and supportive basis in which someone can look for work, and rather than providing motivation will send some people into despair and worry. In the opinion of some, it is time that the Government realised that it is not cruel to be kind. The benefit cap has currently restricted benefit payments to £500 a week for working-age families but will be lowered to £385 later in the year, which sparks fears for a rise in not only general poverty,  but also housing evictions and homelessness, which is an even bigger worry for those with children.

Some reporters have called the plans the ‘biggest irony of all’ as all people claiming benefit are labelled under the term ‘skiver’ as they do not find work. Whilst this may be the case for some, it is certainly worth looking at the bigger picture. A recent study has revealed that more than a million families in Britain are living in destitution, struggling to afford to buy the essentials. Will cutting their benefits further be a proactive and productive decision as stressed, hungry and demoralised people attempt to desperately find work? When looking at it that way, the logic doesn’t seem so obvious.


Asylum Seeker Escapes Jail, Despite Benefit Fraud

The case of benefit fraudster Linda Okungbowa is a complicated one, but thankfully one with a happy ending. Lisa arrived in the UK in 2004 after she was brought over by traffickers, hoping to start work in the UK as a nurse. The traffickers demandedpayment for helping her begin a new life in the UK and so Lisa had no choice but to falsely claim benefits under a fake name to give them the money they demanded. Although jailed for 8 months in 2011 for claiming over £70, 000 worth of benefits illegally, whilst working under a fake name, Linda has been spared jail for a second time in an ‘amazing act of mercy.’ The 36-year-old mother of three came to Britain innocently thinking she would be given the opportunity to train as a doctor, with every intention of making an honest living. Instead, she became trapped in a cycle of debt that she owed to criminals, and turned to desperate measures for a way out.

Sick criminals continued to increase the amount that Okungbowa owed to them for getting her over to the UK, and even began to threaten her family back in Nigeria, so benefit fraud seemed like her only option. The judge took this into consideration when deciding to waiver her prison sentence, and was also pleased to note that there was little chance of her falling back into further crime due to finding the support of Sheffield churchgoers. The Sheffield community have offered Linda the support she needs to get onto the straight and narrow and avoid the people that once took advantage of her position. Despite working many jobs to try and afford the ever increasing re-payments she owed, the family became more and more destitute, with her and her children having to walk the 12 mile trip to school due to not being able to afford bus fare. The normal prison sentence for such severe benefit fraud was suspended, as the judge heard of Linda’s circumstances. Amongst the benefits, Okungbowa had falsely claimed £26, 201. 56 in working and child tax credits to see her family through.

Linda knew that several jobs were her only way of paying what she owed, and worked in different care jobs. She took on the identity of a female friend in London and asked if the money could be paid into her bank account, who then transferred her wages to Linda, she told the company she could not provide her own bank details due to being in a significant amount of debt and she needed to survive on her wages. As a result the DWP were unaware of her employment. With the support from the local community, Linda Okungbowa now has the trust of the court that she is not going to re-offend and instead is going to turn her life around. She was influenced badly by people she came into contact with, but now she has the right kind of support to get on track. Linda’s sentence has been suspended and she will be tried again in court.