Labour’s Workfare Shame – A New Low For the Party That Pretends to Care About the Poor

The Void Blog
The Void Blog


Update:  Labour welfare sanctions betrayal ~ Unite’s Len McCluskey threatens to cut purse strings Posted on March 22, 2013


Posted on March 20, 2013 by johnny void

clegg-cameron-milibandIn a sad, but not unsurprising move, Labour yesterday abandoned any support for the poorest by allowing Iain Duncan Smith’s retrospective workfare legislation to pass into law virtually unimpeded.

The nasty little bill rushed through Parliament by IDS means that money illegally taken from claimants who were wrongly sanctioned will now not be paid back. This shocking move, which has even appalled right wing think tanks*, means there is no longer any real point in taking the government to court as they can simply backdate changes to the law – seemingly with cross party support – to avoid any consequences resulting from their crimes.

The Labour Leadership could have stalled the timing of this bill until it had proper scrutiny. They could at the very least have voted against it. But instead they chose mass apathy, with just 44 Labour MPs defying Liam Byrne and voting with their consciences.

In a squirming piece on the Labour List website, Byrne claims that benefit sanctions were ruled illegal simply because Iain Duncan Smith bungled the legislation when he introduced workfare. The truth is that this is only half the story as Byrne himself well knows.

The judgement which ruled many workfare schemes, and the benefit sanctions which resulted from them illegal, was about much more than poorly drafted laws.

The Appeal Court judgement also slammed the information given to claimants as inadequate, warning it was:

 “unclear and opaque” 

with one judge stating 

“the answer to my mind is plainly that there could be no question of sanctions being validly imposed if no proper notice of the sanction consequences was given.”

Simply put, claimants were not given the correct information about what would happen if they didn’t attend workfare. And many lost vital benefits as a result, plunging them into immediate poverty and in some cases probably facing homelessness.

Many claimants have learning disabilities or difficulties with literacy. Some do not speak English as a first language. When Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) was introduced, the Social Security Advisory Committee, who scrutinise welfare laws warned (PDF):

“Evidence from the Department’s Equality Impact Assessment and DWP research shows that ethnic minority claimants and those with a learning difficulty tend to be disproportionately sanctioned for not actively seeking employment. This, alongside other societal factors, could lead to these groups being disproportionately referred to this scheme and, as a consequence, at even greater risk of sanction.”

These are the people Labour yesterday enabled the Tory Government to steal money from. The most marginalised and poorest claimants, who despite the difficulties they face are now expected to second guess what information from the DWP really means or face losing money they are entitled to. If any other group in the country were treated so disgracefully there would be an outrage. But when the government steals money from those with virtually nothing, who face countless other difficulties in their lives, the Labour Party stands back and does nothing.

Despite their crocodile tears over the bedroom tax, Liam Byrne has sent a clear message to those with least. They will all too happily exploit the suffering of the poor if they think there might be a few votes in it. But when it suits them Labour will turn a blind eye when the Government robs those with least of what little they have.

There is no real difference at all between Labour and the Tory Party on social security reforms. Labour introduced workfare, Atos, and their own bedroom tax for private tenants after all. And as for the Lib Dems fake commitment to civil liberties, they have just allowed a bill to be passed that would make most tin pot dictators blush.

For those who have never trusted Labour, or any other shiny faced class traitor with a cheap suit and a manifesto, their utter contempt for those with least will be of no surprise. Even those dwindling few who thought Labour offered even a glimmer of hope will have had those hopes dashed. The Labour front bench, alongside the bulk of the party, are every bit as committed to banker imposed austerity and the resulting war on the poor as the toffs in the cabinet. And as for any change of heart on civil liberties since Blair’s totalitarian tendencies, well yesterday showed that even that is a sham.

As part of the Week of Action Against Workfare an online blockade of poverty pimps A4e has been called today (20th March).  Join in at:

*As pointed out by @revstu on twitter, the original version of this post on the Civitas website has ‘been disappeared’.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid



Dear Ian,

As your constituent I’m writing to ask you to oppose the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill, which will be debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday 19 March.

As you may be aware, last month the Court of Appeal ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had acted illegally in sanctioning jobseeker’s allowance claimants on workfare schemes, because they had not given claimants the correct information about the schemes to which they were referred.

The bill seeks to retrospectively change the law to excuse the DWP from reimbursing wrongly sanctioned claimants like Cait Reilly and Jamie Wilson (who brought the successful case).

The DWP estimates that around 225,000 people would be entitled to an average reimbursement of £550 for being incorrectly sanctioned.

The bill would set a dangerous precedent if passed – sending the message that when citizens defeat the government in court, it can overturn the court ruling retrospectively with primary legislation – effectively making the government above the law.

Please oppose this bill which not only seeks to rob incorrectly sanctioned jobseekers of deserved benefits, but also sets a dangerous precedent.




Dear John,

Many thanks for your email on this important subject. I apologise for the length of the
response but I think it is important to explain the detail of the decision to abstain and
the contents of the Bill.

I hope you will see that I’m completely on your side with this but the pragmatic politics of this issue is that we would have lost the vote in any circumstances and had to find amendments that would be accepted to assist the situation for those who had been wrongly sanctioned.

There has been a bit of confusion over the Jobseekers (Back to Work) Bill and what it is seeking to resolve. This Bill is not about the much mentioned Poundland case, nor is it a Bill that would stop the Government workplace schemes. Some commentators have said that defeating this Bill would stop those dreadful schemes but that is not the case. The Bill is primarily about the sanctions that were applied to JSA claimants. It is not about the dreadful situation of the Government forcing people onto work schemes and that is why it must be seen as being simply about sanctions that were applied to people for not being correctly informed of the consequences of not participating in work experience schemes. The explanantions not being as detailed as they should have been in regulations and in letters to JSA claimants were the main issue.

All Governments since 1911 have had a sanctions regime of some description in the system. There were sanction regimes in place for Labour’s flagship work schemes of the past in the New Deal and the successful Future Jobs Fund. Sanctions are an appropriate way to ensure that there is fairness in the system and that those who do the right thing and try to get themselves back into work are not disadvantaged by those who do not participate.

The reason the Government are in such a mess is due to their complete incompetence in their work programmes. It is a mess of their own making. It is also a symptom of them being completely incompetent at improving the economy and getting more jobs to get people back into work. Their economic plan is not working and that can be emphasised by there not being jobs for people to get employment. That is where their work schemes fall down as there can only be fairness in the system if there are jobs for people to do. It is statistically correct to say that the Governments work programme is such a disaster that it would be more
effective to do nothing.

This is why Labour are calling for a compulsory jobs guarantee for every young person
unemployed for more than 1 year and for every adult out of work for more than 2 years. A proper back to work programme that offers a guaranteed REAL job at its conclusion is the only way to get people into employment, off benefits and paying tax.

The Government’s total incompetence has resulted in a figure of £130m being due to all people who were sanctioned since 2011 not just those who were on the work place schemes. The result would be that where claimants were sanctioned for refusing to sign on or refusing to apply for jobs, attend skills training or were consistently refusing paid jobs, they would have received the money back also. This would have been exceptionally unfair to people who are doing the right thing. Most people who are unemployed are desperate to get back into work and it would have been unfair to them to allow those who are not engaging but on support from the tax payer to be compensated. The fact that it is called “Job Seekers Allowance” should mean that those who are not seeking work should be encouraged to do so and if that is not forthcoming, sanctions should be applied.

This is why the Labour Party demanded safeguards in the Bill to ensure that it could clear up the Governments mess and assist the people that were affected in the work schemes. This relates directly to the £130m as the Government was persuaded to accept our safeguards in terms of:

1. The Government will guarantee that appeal rights are protected for JSA claimants who have been WRONGLY sanctioned. This means that people who had good cause for not participating will still be able to claim their JSA back and that includes all people who were wrongly sanctioned for not participating in the work place schemes. Good cause makes it wide enough to allow appeals for those who are caught up in this case without compensating those who were not seeking work. This should cover all those claimants who were sanctioned illegally, as upheld by the Courts.

2. The Government must launch an independent review of the entire sanctions regime, with an urgent report to parliament. This would allow an analysis of where sanctions are being applied, to whom and expose the cases where sanctions should not have been applied. The urgency of this should assist with the people who wish to appeal as per point 1 above.

These 2 safeguards are clear in their intention to ensure that all those Job Seekers claimants who were sanctioned for not participating in the workplace schemes due to the scheme instructions and information letters being defective should get their JSA refunded through an appeal process.

Finally, it is the case that the coalition Government have a working majority of 100.

Had Labour not pushed for these changes and amendments to the Bill then it would have passed easily without there being a mechanism for the compensation of people who were wrongly sanctioned as a result of the Court rulings. That is the critical point and is a matter of justice and fairness. It is also the case that the sanctions regime would have continued unrevised and that, too, would have been unjust and wrong. By insisting on these safeguards we have made sure that this is a better Bill, resolves the court ruling, compensates those who were affected and reviews the sanctions regime. Otherwise, it would have been a dreadful Bill that punished those who should not have been punished in the eyes of the law.

I was satisfied, after these changes were made, that something had to be done. I lodged my abstention in order to allow the government the opportunity to sort the problems of their own creation. I still disagree with the government’s policy in this area, which is why I did not vote in favour. We cannot have a welfare system which does little to support people back to work. I believe people who can work should not be able to claim benefits with no obligation to find a route back into work.

Constituents tell me consistently that they also find this unfair.

The decision to abstain was not an easy decision. This issue has generated strong feelings about the injustice of unpaid work and I appreciate why some of my colleagues decided to vote against the motion, but this was not the subject of the Bill. It may be that you disagree with my decision but I hope you can see my reasoning for doing so.

Please do not hesitate to get back in touch should you require more information on this or any other matters.

Best wishes,

Ian Murray

Labour Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South
Shadow Business Minister
Constituency Office: 0131 662 4520
House of Commons: 0207 219 7064
Write: 31 Minto Street, Edinburgh, EH9 2BT

Sheila Gilmore (Lab, Edinburgh East) replied to our request to vote against:

‘Secondly taxpayers became liable to pay back Jobseekers Allowance to all the people who had been sanctioned following their refusal to participate in various work experience schemes. This would have come to £130 million. I chose to abstain because I did not think it reasonable to expect the taxpayer to have to foot the bill for the Government’s incompetence.’

@blacktriangle1 thanks for your message about the Jobseekers Bill on Tuesday. I’ve explained my position here:

A sorry excuse if ever we heard one! We have responded by twitter stating that we remain ‘Unimpressed’


Labour Party member Louise Sutcliffe wrote on Black Triangle and DPAC’s petition at 293:

‘Until I see evidence that forced labour improves quality of life and societal cohesion in any way I will disagree with the Parliamentary Party over this.

‘I proposed an anti-workfare motion to Newcastle City Council for a reason – I do not believe in slave labour for less than minimum wage, it is not only not morally right, and contravenes minimum wage laws, but I do not believe it is a functional way to deal with unemployment.

‘Policy should be driven by evidence, not by pandering to scaremongering Daily Mail rhetoric on “scroungers”.’

See also:  and sign the petition!

The jobseekers bill: a shameful retroactive stitch-up Posted on March 22, 2013

29 thoughts on “Labour’s Workfare Shame – A New Low For the Party That Pretends to Care About the Poor

  1. John Lanigan says:

    Labour once again showing their true colours and their contempt for the ordinary people of this country. Even for Labour this is a new low by being complicit in theft this time round.
    A dangerous precedent has been set. Make no mistake it’s class war.

  2. Bluesky says:

    Well the appeal judges ain’t gonna like this, Ian Duncan Smith will have to watch his back as the judges will be sharpening their knives ready to stab him in the back, and quite rightly so. julius ceaser will be sooo jelous. I think that there will be one heck of a back lash from the judges over this. Ian Duncan Smith’s days are numbered……

  3. Kevin Mullins says:

    In the meantime Labour having waved their true BLUE colours once again it means millions of one time Labour supporters being disenfranchised having nowhere to go at the moment. Just because Blair and his mob have stood down from power there is still a load of opportunists left behind committing treachery from their comfortable position paid for by us. The left of politics has fractured over the last 20 to 30 years and there is no cohesive opposition group that is viable enough to form a party that could enter parliament in sufficient numbers for a revolution to take place in that den of thieves and extortionists.

  4. kelpiemare says:

    It’s tome for Real Labour to kick blairlabour out. We, the 99%, are NOT represented in this travesty of a parliament.

  5. Humanity2012 says:

    We will be Better Off without that Shower of a Parliament

    It has Let People Down too many Bloody Times

    Shame upon the Alleged ” Official Opposition ” over this Outrage

  6. jeffery davies says:

    did you think otherwise ive been saying ed reply makes it look like they still in blairite moods and being a party of little torys well they showing their true colour again wait for the reply of then saying its all they could do its hands still in that open till and their greed showing them up once again jeff3


    One has to feel really sorry for the likes of Mr Meacher and a handful of the real, die hard socialists. They exhibit real, old fashioned labour values which seek to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
    Contrary to this, we see the merchant banker, out of touch policies that are exhibited by certain factions of the party.
    Sadly this faction is erasing the original values of the party. In effect they mirror the aspirations of the other side.

    Considering the vote taken to deny £130 million to the poorest, whilst giving a trillion to bail out the bankers, my faith has faded into obscurity……….

    Mr Meacher must be in a lonely position where he is really trying to retain labour values whilst being knifed in the back from his colleagues.

    The vote in question, laid down a precedent, whereas any court action brought by the people will now, almost certainly, be overturned at a whim!

    Suffice to say, the vote almost certainly cemented opinions of labour voters, in that we have been pissed upon from a great height from the very people that purport to air our views……….

    Shame on you……..

    1. Annos says:

      Hi Geoff,

      Would that be the “Mr Meacher” who just happens to be an MP ?, if it is he owns MANY houses, he is a landlord who rents them out for profit!, he is also a (allegedly) multi-millionaire.

      Wake up Geoff, Meacher is a plant (just like John McDonnell MP), their job is to try and convince people that there is still an element/a spark of decency in the New Labour party, and keep people voting for them. Its all a highly sophisticated, and polished illusion and works so well on so many. The truth is Meacher/McDonnell could not give a care about you or I, think about it Geoff, for all their Crocodile tears will it make any real difference at the end of the day, it won’t will it!, they don’t intend that it will, but, it will keep so many voting New Labour!!!.

      “illusion” the name of the game…

      1. GEOFF REYNOLDS says:

        Just done a quick check on him, everything you said, seems to be right. Multiple property owner who stated his father was a farm labourer but really was an accountant/stock broker.
        Failed to keep tabs on his multiple homes properly and was ridiculed on tv for his stance against people with more than one home………..


    According to documents deposited in the Land Registry and Companies House, the Meachers are the owners of at least nine properties – from third-floor luxury flats to more modest ground floor properties – many acquired after Mr Meacher became environment minister in Tony Blair’s government. He has told friends that he now owns 12 properties, and he now takes rent from five tenants.

    The family property portfolio is worth around £2m in total.


    Watching channel 81 now. Meacher speaks excellently for the disabled cause, asking for meetings with Spartacus………

    Esther Mcvey, most evil tool of a twisted government, replies….

    1. Annos says:

      All for show, the outcome is assured, as Meacher knows. It all looks so good though for New Labour getting votes at the next election (if there is one ?).

  10. GEOFF REYNOLDS says:

    ……… much emphasis put on Professor Harringtons review. He is to disability what Julie Andrews is to Deep Throat, what a farce!

    Both Meacher and O’Donnel made their point that it wasnt ATOS’S fault the descriptors were twisted, they were presented by DWP, the assassins.

  11. Serenity says:

    He went on: “I disagreed and still disagree with the government over the war in Iraq, but I have never even considered leaving Labour.”

    In the Guardian last December, Mr Benn wrote that the Iraq war, which had been justified by “a blatant lie about Saddam’s possession of WMDs and opposed by more than half of the electorate, can now be seen to have been not only illegal under the UN charter, but deeply immoral and unwinnable. And the continuing subservience of Downing Street to the White House is unpopular, because the US might lead us into more wars”.’

    He also complained about the “shift, by stealth, towards privatisation in health, housing and education, including the proposed cutbacks in civil service employment described as modernisation but actually a throwback to the Victorian era, when the marketplace and not the polling station ruled our lives”.

    I canceled my party membership of labour because of Iraq, they weren’t using £2 per month of my money to kill people.
    They are all in it together and that’s for sure! They can’t afford too have principles not on the money that they are on.
    I certainly won’t be voting for them either, wouldn’t matter who called me up! A vote
    for labour is a vote for Scameron


    All for show, the outcome is assured, as Meacher knows. It all looks so good though for New Labour getting votes at the next election (if there is one ?).

    Hopefully Scameron won’t do a Hitler on us when the riots start and declare a state of emergency!!!!!

    1. kelpiemare says:

      Scumoron et al are vile enough to do anything. They already have the deaths of thousands of sick, disabled and vulnerable people on their consciences. Oops, well they would, if they had a conscience.

  12. Humanity2012 says:

    The Lack of Real Opposition to the Regime is what Keeps that Shower in Power
    just like the National Socialist Regime

    We Need Mass Protest in the Millions like Iran in 1978 on a Daily Basis Peacefully which brought down the Shah and his Savak Thugs

    We Need a Real Revolution Not Just One Arrogant Out of Touch Politician taking
    Anothers Place

  13. Boadacia! says:

    It’s just getting worse every day as we now have evidence of purposeful sanctions put on people for no reason, who then have zero income, to make up the statistics expected by these slime-balls in power. it really is time for a written constitution, and a true independent BBC, free of government control.

  14. alan says:

    why wait to vote, remember the jarrow march, we would need ambulances i guess,hospital over run , can not survive till 2015 like this, worry more worry strife more strife, not listen to, can not reason with any one in any office

  15. Clare Sheldon says:

    I notice in the MPs letters as quoted above that NOT ONE of them refers to the issue of the injustice of retrospective legislation. If you completely ignore the rights and wrongs of the issue of benefit sanctions, what you are left with is the ugly fact that the government was found to have broken the law by the Court of Appeal, in response to which it is attempting to pass a bill absolving itself from all legal consequences of its actions. This absolutely stinks. It doesn’t matter what the issue is – this is WRONG ON CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLE. Apparently, Labour MPs don’t give a shit about defending the constitution. Totally spineless.

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