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Charities withdraw from the government's work experience scheme over docked benefits

By Chloe Stothart, Third Sector Online, 21 February 2012

Charities withdraw from the government's work experience scheme over docked benefits

Marie Curie Cancer Care, Scope and Shelter say claimants should not be forced to do unpaid work under threat of cuts to their Jobseeker's Allowance payments

Three charities have pulled out of a government scheme that instructs benefit claimants to do unpaid work or have their payments withdrawn.

Marie Curie Cancer Care said on Friday it would pull out of any government scheme where claimants risked having their benefits docked if they rejected work placements.

The disability charity Scope said on Saturday it would suspend its involvement in the government’s work experience scheme for young people on Jobseeker’s Allowance while it checked whether it had unwittingly taken on people compelled to work under threat of benefit cuts.

Under the work experience scheme, 16 to 24-year-olds can lose their Jobseeker’s Allowance if they leave a work experience placement, lasting two to eight weeks, after a week or more.

The housing and homelessness charity Shelter said on Friday that it withdrew from the Work Programme last year.

In a statement, Marie Curie said: "We participated in this scheme because we believed it could offer volunteers an opportunity to gain valuable experience. However, there is a difference between volunteering and being forced to work and if there is any chance that people with terminal illnesses could be made to take part in this scheme we would take this very seriously."

A spokeswoman said the charity had no national agreement to make placements so was trying to ascertain whether it had people currently volunteering locally as part of welfare schemes.

A spokeswoman for Scope said people on the work experience scheme had volunteered in its charity shops, which could provide "useful new retail and customer service skills". "We were concerned to hear that there is a chance that some Get Britain Working volunteers may have come to our shops having been threatened with having their benefits taken away," she said. "As a result of these concerns, we have taken the decision to suspend our involvement in the scheme while we look into the issue." However, Scope will continue to be part of a coalition of eight disability charities, Disability Works UK, which is a specialist subcontractor on the Work Programme.

The welfare rights campaign group Boycott Workfare is pressing other charities to end their involvement with compulsory, unpaid work experience schemes for benefit claimants.

The group said data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and published on the organisation’s website showed that more than 20 charities provided mandatory work placements in London, Maidenhead, Kent, Surrey and Sussex under the Work Programme or "work boost placements" under its predecessor the Flexible New Deal.

The DWP had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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