Workfare: Labour confirms it’s commitment to reintroduce mandatory forced-labour for benefits and another punitive benefit sanctions regime, when it next gets into Government

On Sunday, the Labour Party, during it’s party conference, reaffirmed it’s long standing commitment to reintroduce forced-labour workfare for benefit claimants [1], when it next gets into government. Alongside it’s intention to create a new punitive benefit sanctions regime.[2] Labour’s workfare scheme is a retread of the one announced 6 years ago [3], then as now referred to as a ‘compulsory jobs guarantee’ that must be taken up or “face losing benefits“.[4]

Labour conference:
compulsory work placements
BBC – 26 September 2021 – screenshot of article

When Labour was last in power it included mandatory forced-labour for benefits workfare, under it’s New Deal scheme, which also involved greater numbers of benefit claimants being subjected to financial penalties (Benefit Sanctions), including, for the first time, lone parents and disabled people.

Labour’s objective to reintroduce mandatory work for benefits workfare, is despite the fact that Tories have stopped using mandatory work experience or work placement schemes, since effective campaigning and direct action from Boycott Workfare and others forced them to collapse.


[1] Labour conference: “compulsory work placements”
26 September 2021
Note: BBC replaced the content, you can view an archive of the original at:

[2] “Labour are looking at reforming sanctions”
23 August 2021

[3] The Forced Labour Party: The Day That Corbyn (And Half His Cabinet) Voted For Workfare
14 September 2015
Note: The Conservative manifesto of 2015 also included a promise to introduce a new ‘Youth Allowance‘ benefit for 18 to 21 years olds, to limit entitlement to six months and abolish automatic rights to Housing Benefit and impose mandatory daily community workfare, if unpaid traineeships (which can last up to 6 months) or Jobcentre organised work experience are refused.

[4] “Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 1:57 pm, 11th February 2015
I beg to move,

That this House
calls on the Government to put a strict limit on the amount of time that people can be left on jobseeker’s allowance without being offered, and required to take up, paid work, by introducing a compulsory jobs guarantee that would ensure that anyone under 25 who has been receiving jobseeker’s allowance for a year, and anyone over 25 who has been receiving jobseeker’s allowance for two years, would be offered a paid job, with training, that they must take up or face losing benefits”

What is workfare?

DWP – “workfare activities are sometimes referred to as ‘unpaid work experience’, ‘community service’ or ‘work for benefits’”
Source: DWP Research Report No 533 ‘A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia’ – (2008)

Boycott Workfare – “a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare” (website) – “Campaign to abolish forced unpaid labour” (twitter)

Keep Volunteering Voluntary – “Workfare is the name given to government schemes where unemployed and disabled people have to work in return for their benefits.” (website) – “Keep it Voluntary Promoting the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement in the voluntary sector. For volunteering, against workfare” (twitter)

Welfare Reform Act (2009)
“Work for your benefit” schemes etc.

Welfare Reform Act (2012) – Universal Credit
Section 16 Work preparation requirement

(3) (e) undertaking work experience or a work placement

Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013
…the programme known as the Community Action Programme
(See ‘Community Work Programme’)
…(a) the Mandatory Work Activity Scheme, or
(b) a placement described as Mandatory Work Activity.

Charter Against Workfare: A Statement of Principles

For any workplace based scheme for benefit claimants

“First, it must be entirely voluntary.

Secondly, there should be real training so that people go away at the end with skills that are relevant to their future employment prospects.

Thirdly, those concerned must have employee status so that they are protected by health and safety and equal opportunities legislation.

Fourthly, they must be paid the rate for the job—not benefit-plus—and,

finally, projects must have trade union approval.”

Hansard: Clare Short MP – 14th December 1987

Workfare States

“Contemporary workfare policies rarely involve job creation on any significant scale, along the lines of the old-fashioned public-works programs; they are more concerned with deterring welfare claims and necessitating the acceptance of low-paid, unstable jobs in the context of increasingly “flexible” labour markets. Stripped down to it’s labour-regulatory essence, workfare is not about creating jobs for people that don’t have them; it is about creating workers for jobs that nobody wants. In a Foucauldian sense, it is seeking to make “docile bodies” for the new economy: flexible, self-reliant and self-disciplining”

Source: Jamie Peck in Workfare States (2001)

Work camps and the training of the unemployed in Britain before 1939 (pdf)
Why workfare doesn’t work – by author of labour camp book