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Every day is Orwell day – Workfare

March 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Debate and discussion about ‘Workfare’ have always tended towards the Orwellian. The DWP and the government defended it, of course.  Workfare was a gift, they would explain to one camera, offering skills and experience to those in most need of them. Turning to the next camera, they would confirm that it was a most appropriate punishment for the unwilling. For those scrounging little wastrels who won’t go out and get a job in the middle of a recession, damn their hides.

To camera one, the DWP and the Tories would explain that ‘mandatory’ and ‘benefits sanctions’ were the lies of the left. To camera two, they would just wink.

It created difficulties when it came to conducting a rational or rigorous discussion about the workfare program.  The left was not especially helpful in its arguments when it put forward spokespeople who explained that, well, it’s evil because everyone has a right to be happy in their jobs.

Everyone doing work in this country has a right to a minimum wage. That might have been a better place to start.

In February, the Court of Appeal ruled that the legality of the scheme was flawed. This ruling centred around what information the DWP had supplied or failed to supply to claimants about the scheme and the sanctions they would suffer if they did not comply with the scheme. This was deeply unsurprising given the truck-ton of bollocks and doublespeak uttered publicly on the subject by those supposed to be running it.

Iain Duncan Smith was deeply concerned by the Court of Appeal’s judgement, not at the extent of his department’s monumental cock up, nor at the inaccuracy of information given to people, nor at the utterly unnecessary difficulties his department had put people through by attempting to impose an illegal expectation upon them and removing their benefits when they did not comply with the illegal measures.  He was worried about the cost of compensating these people for the benefits his department had docked.

Compensation is a nice, Orwellian choice of word. Compensation is supposed to atone for something bad that happened to you. In this case, what the DWP should be liable for is the benefits they stopped. They should ‘pay back’ this money because it appears that they were not acting legally when they ‘withheld it’. ‘I forgot to pay rent last month. Don’ t worry, I will compensate you, by, er, paying it now.’ Oh, the grateful thanks we would expect for such a generous act of compensation.

The DWP go one better. They call it ‘a windfall‘. Paying back the benefits that they illegally withheld would constitute, in their minds, a windfall.

In any case, although many spokespeople had  claimed that no one was being denied benefits due to Workfare, it turns out that it will cost the beleaguered tax-payer £130 million to pay back the money that was denied to those affected by the scheme. This is because over 150,000 people have had sanctions applied to their benefits, as laid out in the DWP’s Impact Assessment.

There’s only one solution of this. Change the law and apply it retrospectively. Here we have the emergency Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill:

“The impact upon individuals is that JSA claimants who have not complied with requirements under the ESE Regulations will not be repaid sanctioned benefits as they might expect following the judgment or may have a sanction imposed. The Bill effectively restores the status quo to a situation before the High Court and Court of Appeal judgments. Once the Bill is enacted, claimants who might have appealed against previous sanction decisions on the grounds upheld by the Judicial Review will be unable to do so. Sanctions imposed under the impugned legislation can continue and sanctions decisions currently stayed can be made in accordance with the original intent of the legislation. This is to ensure that the Government is not faced with the situation whereby jobseekers who failed to comply with their requirements and were sanctioned under the quashed ESE Regulations can receive an advantage over claimants who have complied with their requirements and is necessary to safeguard the economic interests of the state.”

Well when you put it like that, it seems such an obvious solution. And it’s only a tiny bit terrifying.

If my place of employment were to reduce my wages by one shiny pound an hour, can they apply this retrospectively? Could I spend the next year working for nothing as I repay the £35 a week I now owe for every week I have worked?

If at the same time my landlord raises my rent and applies this retrospectively? Then I’m really screwed.

But there could be an upside. If we could just have retrospective democracy, it might balance out this retrospective law-making.

Because, you see, the UK did something a few years ago and it didn’t turn out the way we intended. We ‘elected the Tories and the Lib Dems’ acting on the assumption that this would save  money and prove less annoying and incompetent than Labour. But recently, it has come to our attention that there is quite a serious flaw in this. Because they’re fucking awful. So, as in any difficult situation of our own making, we are seeking to impose a magical-thinking solution which will be retroactively binding. We have decided that we did NOT elect the bastards. Therefore they are not in power. And nothing they did during their time in power counts.

I’m not saying this makes sense, but then sense is such an old fashioned concept. Like the idea that ‘a job’ carries  ‘a wage’. Or the belief that we are not in fact living in 1984. So repeat after me:

Workfare was always legal.

The Tories were never in power.

We were always at war with Eurasia.

Huzzah!

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