Letter: Workfare looks unworkable to the Kentish 'chain gang'

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your report on workfare (26 September) highlights the fact that pilot studies on forcing the unemployed to work for their benefits are taking place in Hull and north Kent.

Evidence so far from the pilot areas suggests that the Tories will have much more trouble in implementing US-style workfare than they think. In both areas, the scheme - officially titled Project Work but dubbed "the Chain Gang" by many of its participants - is not only unfair, but also impossible to operate.

Hull City, Rochester City and Kent County councils have all boycotted any work connected with the scheme. The voluntary sector has also been unwilling to participate because the work is forced.

Some of the placements that have been found are in areas that were previously done by people on community service orders, placing both the jobs of probation- related staff and alternatives to custody at risk.

Ironically, one of the first organisations in Kent to take people on the scheme was a local Napoleonic fort, partly built by French prisoners of war.

If "Conservative strategists" are "hopeful that [the] pilots ... will highlight the positive aspects of the scheme", they are either being told fibs by civil servants on the ground or are deliberately ignoring the evidence from Kent and Hull. Workfare is unworkable.


Vice-Chair, Medway Towns Trades Union Council

Rochester, Kent