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In some polling for Policy Exchange YouGov asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed with the following proposition:

People who have been out of work for 12 months or more, who are physically and mentally capable of undertaking a job, should be required to do community work in return for their state benefits.

There was support from 80 per cent, while 13 per cent were against. Even among Labour voters the statement was backed by 72 per cent to 21 per cent.

Of course a key part of the Government’s welfare reforms have been to make that proposition a reality. While I take a keen a interest in politics it is simply unclear to me whether the Labour Party (as opposed to Labour voters) agree with it or not.

Anyway we do have some clarity from Labour’s paymasters, Unite the Union. They disagree. Furthermore they have started a campaign denouncing the Work Programme, Help to Work and Community Work placements and urging councils to boycott them.

So far the following councils have signed up:

Barking and Dagenham
Brent
Burnley
Edinburgh
Ipswich
Islington
Lambeth
Norwich
South Tyneside
St Helens
Sunderland
Thurrock
Wakefield

They are overwhelmingly Labour. Edinburgh is a hung council. Thurrock is interesting as Labour have just lost control there leaving UKIP with the balance of power. Surely even with UKIP’s lurch to the Left they would not wish Thurrock Council to be seeking to block those on welfare getting into work? So let us hope that we may soon see a change in policy from that quarter.

What are these councils seeking to achieve by their obstructionism?

Community Work Placements, which are one element of the wider Help to Work scheme, help long term unemployed people to increase their confidence, gain vital skills and, crucially, increase their chances of getting a job. This should be welcomed. Its pilot version, the Community Action Programme, found that 76 per cent of placement participants reported a sense of satisfaction from the experience of the working routine and 69 per cent cited a sense of achievement while 63 per cent reported an increase in motivation to find work.

Councils that choose to take part recognise the positive benefits it has – both for the local community and the jobseeker. The placements will be backed up by at least four hours of supported job searching each week to help jobseekers turn their new experience into full time employment.

Why try and prevent the unemployed in Brent or Norwick or Sunderland having these chances?

Already the Work Programme has delivered results – over a quarter of a million jobseekers have escaped long-term unemployment and found lasting work – normally at least six months – through participating in it. Work Programme providers get paid the majority of their money when someone has stayed in work for six months, or three months for some of the hardest to help, so many more people have started work but not reached the six month point yet. Industry figures show almost half a million people have started a job thanks to the Work Programme.

The Labour councils that have decided to boycott the scheme will not derail it – other organisations in the areas concerned will offer places. But the Labour councils will be able to say that they won’t have helped.

As Major Calloway tells Hollly Martins in The Third Man:

“That will be a fine boast to make.”

Does Ed Miliband agree with the Labour councils who have signed up for the boycott? Or is he too weak to disown them?

16 comments for: Labour councils boycott welfare to work schemes

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