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DWP forced to reveal vast list of firms using benefit claimants for unpaid work after 4-year legal fight

The Tory government spent four years trying to stop you knowing firms it linked to Mandatory Work Activity - from Cash Converters to Nando's

Website: The Mirror
Date: 29/07/2016
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The Tory government has been forced to reveal a vast list of firms that hoovered up free labour from benefit claimants after spending four years trying to keep it a secret.

Poundstretcher, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons are among more than 500 companies, charities and councils named as having used Mandatory Work Activity.

Others on the list from 2011 included payday loans firm Cash Converters, chicken diner Nando's, WH Smith, Superdrug and DHL.

More than 100,000 jobseekers were put on the hated 'workfare' scheme, which forced them to work 30-hour weeks unpaid for a month each or have their benefits docked.

Yet the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) mounted an astonishing and costly legal battle to keep the firms' names a secret.

Officials claimed revealing those involved would hurt their "commercial interests" because protesters would boycott them.

The DWP stood its ground for nearly four years despite being overruled by the Information Commissioner (ICO) watchdog in August 2012.

The saga finally ended at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday - where a trio of top judges threw out the DWP's argument by a 2-1 vote.

Campaigners and Labour condemned the vast cost of the cover-up - in which taxpayers had to fund lawyers for both the DWP and ICO.

Neither party told the Mirror what they spent, but court fees they racked up in previous cases suggest the bill could run into tens of thousands of pounds.

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith , a former shadow work and pensions secretary, told the Mirror: "Under the Tories there's a culture of cover-ups at the DWP that needs to end.

"Whether it's cuts to Universal Credit, the Bedroom Tax or Work Capability Assessments, the Tories always try to hide the true effects of their cruelty and incompetence."

Debbie Abrahams, who took over his job as Labour welfare chief, said: "This scheme truly reflects the Tories' skewed view of the world.

"First they thought it was acceptable to force people into unpaid, poor quality work and couldn't see why there was an outcry against the scheme.

"To then use public money to try and keep the list of companies taking advantage of this a secret is beyond the pale."

Anti-workfare activist Frank Zola, who made the original Freedom of Information request, said: "These workfare schemes cost the public billions.

"Why should employers be able to hide behind the DWP's cloak of secrecy and legal shenanigans?"

All 534 organisations on the list were named as "placement providers" for Mandatory Work Activity in a narrow six-month period between July 2011 and January 2012.

The list also featured well-known charities and councils including Scarborough, Essex, Hartlepool, Fenland, Leicester, Rochford and Thurrock.

Many of those named on the list left the scheme long before it closed down in April this year.

A tide of charities - including Cancer Research, Scope, Age UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Red Cross, PDSA and Sue Ryder - pulled out of the scheme after protests against it grew.

Some - including Barnardo's - said they had been included on the list in error.

Others - including MIND - voiced concerns about the scheme and said they upheld the highest standards.

Defenders of the scheme, which ran for five years, said it was designed for community benefit and firms funded all training and induction themselves.

A DWP spokesman said: "Employment programmes help thousands of people every year gain new skills and experience to get into work.

All 534 organisations on the DWP's list (edited)

PLEASE NOTE: These are firms, charities, religious groups and any others which the DWP says were "placement providers for Mandatory Work Activity" between July 2011 and January 2012. NONE are current providers of Mandatory Work Activity because the scheme ended in April this year. Many of them stopped before that date.


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