A man has been ordered to work for a company for six months for no pay by the Department of Work and Pensions – despite the fact his contract with the firm had ended.
Electronics specialist John McArthur, 59, is surviving on 16p tins of spaghetti and doing without heating, after having his state benefits cut for refusing to work unpaid for a company which had formerly paid him the minimum wage.
Mr McArthur, who has been staging a one-man protest outside the Scottish social enterprise LAMH Recycle in Motherwell, claims his Jobseeker's Allowance was stopped after he refused a six-month unpaid ‘community work placement’.
“It’s essentially slave labour which bypasses the minimum wage regulations,” he said to The Motherwell Times.
“My trade is electronics, but I’ve been applying for every kind of job. I make around 50 applications a week, but I refuse to work for nothing.”
The DWP has now stopped his employment benefit until January because of his principled refusal to work for free, and the electronics worker barely survives on his monthly pension of £149.
Mr McArthur condemned the Government’s Community Work Placements, labelling them “entirely exploitative” and said they came at the “expense of poor people who’ve got absolutely no choice”.
“The person who is trying to survive already on subsistence level welfare has absolutely no choice in the matter … especially if they’ve got young children to look after.”
The social enterprise, which repairs computers and recycles cardboard, confirmed to the Guardian that it has 16 individuals working for free – but stated since June six had progressed into paid employment.
Operations and development manager Joe Fulton said to The Independent the case had been misrepresented, claiming the "facts" of the situation were that Mr McArthur "has never been referred to us for the CWP programme".
Mr Fulton said he believed the scheme “worked for people who want to make it work for them”. He also highlighted that 25 out of their 39-strong workforce had previously been unemployed.
In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for the DWP said: "Community Work Placements help long-term unemployed people to gain work experience which increases their confidence, helps them to gain vital skills and crucially, improves their chances of getting a job.
"These placements do not replace existing roles.”
The DWP’s CWP scheme has been controversial: despite initially being used by many leading charities, the department confirmed to the Guardian that the British Heart Foundation, Scope, Banardo’s, Sue Ryder, and Marie Curie had all withdrawn from the CWP scheme.
Last week the battle continued to reveal where individuals on the scheme were being sent. The Information Commissioner has ordered DWP to disclose where these people are working unpaid, however, the department has countered by claiming political protests would increase possible leading to the collapse of several employment schemes.
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