A recent Freedom of Information request seems to raise huge concerns over whether the Department of Work and Pensions accept that they have a legal Duty of Care with respect to benefit claimants forced onto mandatory Workfare placements. With DWP intent on implementing new policies which will see disabled people in the ESA WRAG being forced onto indefinite mandatory Workfare placements under threat of sanctions, never mind all of the complexity, risk and privacy concerns that disability adds to the existing Workfare farrago, this is obviously hugely concerning.
The DWP have apparently stated "If however, a work placement is considered appropriate then the responsibilities of the individual, the provider and the organisation accepting the placement must be discussed and made clear (including liability)." and pointed their respondent at the generic guidelines for workfare, which state "All participants involved in any way with DWP Provision are entitled to train and work in a healthy and safe environment with due regard to their welfare. Under Health and Safety Law they are regarded as your employees, whether they are paid by you or not. You must, therefore, comply with your Duty of Care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Act’s associated regulations in the same way as you would do for any other member of your workforce"
This may seem quite responsible on the surface, however the implications are anything but. The Workfare situation is an unusual one, in which people are being forced to work by (or is it 'for'?) a government agency, the DWP, at a private contractors, while the DWP pay them benefits - which of course amounts to people being forced, under threat of having their benefits stopped entirely for anything up to three years, to work for less than the national minimum wage. Under normal circumstances the person paying your wages would be considered your employer, no matter where you were working. So if I work for Company A, but they send me to work at Company B, then both Company A and Company B would have a Duty of Care towards me, Company A because I am their employee and they have a legal responsibility to ensure that I am not exposed to unnecessary risk wherever I am, and Company B because they have a similar responsibility towards anyone on their premises. Yet DWP seem to be denying that they have the Duty of Care towards me that would normally descend from me being their employee. They also seem to be insisting on a process which would require the disabled person to fully reveal details of their disability to a company they are being forced to work for, in order to allow a risk assessment, no matter the privacy concerns of forcing someone to reveal full details of disability to an organisation for whom they not an employee.
This would be worrying enough for anyone in any circumstances, but for a disabled person dealing with the DWP it is a recipe ripe for disaster. The Workfare process involves someone, either from Job Centre Plus or one of their providers, such as the much castigated A4e (facing two more probes for fraud just this week), deciding that the benefit claimant would be helped by a work placement - or at least that is the spin on it, there is a considerable body of evidence pointing at JCP and contractors like A4e being very heavily target-driven, with JCP employees under massive pressure from management to hit targets such as number of people sanctioned per week, which whistleblowers have revealed means they are driven to target people with intellectual and mental disabilities as 'easy marks'. Now extend that pattern of behaviour to Workfare, and we will undoubtedly see large numbers of disabled people being forced onto Workfare not because it is in their interest, or appropriate for their disability, but because the JCP employee will be bawled out by their manager if she doesn't mandate another dozen crips before the end of the week, or because the training agency employee will miss a bonus if their figures aren't better than the rest of the office's...
I've dealt with JCP Disability Employment Advisors and training agency employees from the benefit claimant's position, a more clueless bunch of people about disability employment it would be difficult to imagine. The JCP staff persistently pushed the boundaries of what my disability allowed me to do, if I could do something for 10 minutes, they would write down 30, and then persistently try to undermine that at every other meeting. The training agency people (once I'd climbed the rickety outside staircase to their office - god help me if I'd arrived with a wheelchair not crutches....) knew so little about privacy and data protection that they saw nothing wrong in asking me to discuss the intimitate details of my disability while the gentleman sat immediately behind me was discussing his drug problem. Do either of these sound like organisations likely to give the necessary weight to the complexities of disability, or to their Duty of Care - especially if they seem to believe that Duty of Care doesn't apply in the first place?
When I was working I regularly ended up curled up in pain on the office floor because of my inability to sit for extended periods, Duty of Care can potentially be something as basic as recognising that someone cannot even sit at a desk, but how much recognition and understanding are we going to see when showing those may mean a bollocking in the manager's office, or a missed bonus? And if basic physical constraints are so readily targetted for undermining, what chance does someone with complex mental health issues have.
I thought this was scary when it was just the prospect of DEAs or A4e employees mandating disabled people onto indefinite Workfare assignments under threat of sanction, but if they don't even think they have a Duty of Care towards us....