Sunday, 15 January 2012

The work programme privacy invasion

On Wednesday, I attended a meeting to thrash out the details for Liverpool Solidarity Federation's strategy to organise against workfare. With luck, this will get off the ground within a month or so, with the emergence of the first local Unemployed Workers Union in the city. In the meantime, the programme rolls on - with the injustices going beyond the core question of unpaid labour.

The following is the personal data given to the provider at the point the customer is referred to the Work Programme –

The customer’s Title (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms or Other)
The customer’s Forename
The customer’s Surname
The customer’s NINo/Reference number
If held the customer’s Address (up to 4 lines) and Postcode
The customer’s STD code, Telephone Number and Alternate Telephone Number and STD code
The customer’s Disabled Person status (Disabled/Not Disabled)
The customer’s Signing Day, claim Cycle, and claim Pattern
The Referral Date
An indication (yes/no) of whether an Incident has been recorded relating to the customer on JCP premises
An indication of a customer’s Childcare Requirements (Yes/No/Not Known/Not Disclosed)
If the customer has expressed a preference for Written and/or Verbal communication in Welsh
An indication if the referral to the Provider is Mandatory/Non Mandatory

The following items from the customer’s Action Plan:

Aims (free text);
Job Preferences (1 to 3);
Preferred Hours of work;
Employment History (free text);
Last Job 1;
Last Job 1 Start and End Dates;
Last Job 2;
Last Job 2 Start and End dates;
Driving Licence(s) held;
License Endorsements; and
Additional Info relating to Action Plan (free text).

The following items from the customer’s Jobseekers Agreement (JSAg)

Other Activities (free text); and
Agreed Restrictions (free text).

The following information about the customer’s recorded Qualifications:

Subject of Qualification;
Level (e.g. GCSE etc);
Outcome achieved;
Date Started;
Date Completed; and
Whether the Qualification relates to a Basic Skills Assessment.

During the currency of a customer’s time with the Work Programme provider their
circumstance may change. The provider will be notified of the following changes –

Telephone number
Status, for example joint claim identified, lone parent, changes to partner details.
Signing day / cycle
Appointee / Power of Attorney
JSA Permitted Period
Available hours, for example attendance at court
Caring responsibilities
Sickness / accident – Only the details of when the claimant may be unavailable to attend
interactions face to face or training courses etc
Admission to hospital – Only the details of when the claimant may be unavailable to attend
interactions face to face or training courses etc
Part time working (starting /ending or change of hours)
Part time education
Voluntary work, for example Territorial Army, Reserve Forces
Employment Support Allowance / Incapacity Benefit Permitted Work
Incidents – unacceptable customer behaviour
Employment Support Allowance, Work Capability Assessment appeal received form the
customer or outcome of appeal received
Customer moves to live abroad, whether payment of benefit continues or ends
Benefit claim terminated
New claim to Jobseekers Allowance or Income Support
New Work Capability Assessment outcome known
Customer is at or over the age at which they are eligible for Pension Credit
Employment Support Allowance, Work Related Activity Group lone parent whose youngest
child reaches 5 and starts school
Employment Support Allowance, Work Related Activity Group lone parent is now responsible
for a child under 5
Becomes or ceases to be Employment Support Allowance credits only
Employment Support Allowance safeguard measures (vulnerable customers) identified
Special Customer Record Case
Transfer to another Jobcentre Plus District
The extent of the disclosure is only known due to a Freedom of Information request, whereas the "customer" (whose custom is guaranteed through menaces) is only told "we have passed your contact details on" to the provider. Clearly, this is much more than contact details and offers a glimpse at the level of control being exerted over claimants.

Fortunately, there is a way out. Claimants are advised to never sign the consent form, as this essentially waives your rights under the data protection act. There is also a standard letter to withdraw your consent if it has already been given, and as there is no legal requirement to provide any of the above information no action can be taken against you. Unfortunately, most claimants will be blissfully unaware of all of this, and so the information along with tips on enacting your rights are all helpfully compiled here.

As noted above, this is just one front in the attack that workfare as a whole represents. Through collecting and retaining such information, the DWP can monitor and control you effectively, and most people will be too afraid of losing their only means of support to speak up. But beyond that, the programme itself remains something that must be organised against.

The Boycott Workfare website helpfully lists the companies gaining from workfare in various areas. This list (.xls download) contains all public, private and voluntary sector organisations involved.

All of these providers, including charities such as Barnados and the PDSA, are benefiting from the exploitation of the unemployed. In essence, they get free labour which allows them to boost their own profits on the taxpayer's dime, at the same time undercutting the security of those actually employed in such roles and diluting the job market for those whom workfare is supposed to provide with opportunities. In essence, it is a way of funneling tax money into private profit.

For those who actually do the jobs, it is even worse. Sure, all employment is exploitation, and those of us who've worked in retail (as one example) will know how demeaning and dehumanising the whole experience is. But we at least get an actual wage out of the experience. A shit wage, to be sure, but one that far out-weighs £67.50 (or £53.45 if you're under 25) a week in JSA.

This is why organising against workfare is all important. As Liverpool Solfed's campaign builds momentum, hopefully we will be able to see the results. One of the easiest, but most important, things to do is to make claimants aware of their rights - as with the specific issue of privacy and data protection described above, this is the most vital aspect of any campaign. It is claimants themselves who should be at the heart of any actions and demonstrations that emerge, and we will be striving to see that this is what transpires.

But those already in employment are also affected, and their solidarity is also important. This goes for workers in the Department of Work and Pensions, who are best placed to offer practical support through their jobs to those facing the work programme. But it also applies to those who work for providers, who can form a direct link with any campaign of protest and disruption against those companies which use workfare.

The House of Lords may have defeated the Welfare Reform Bill, but the attacks on claimants will continue. Only through solidarity and working class self-organisation can we defeat workfare and related initiatives. To end the exploitation of the unemployed, we must make it unprofitable through direct action.