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Workfare is an alternative model to conventional social welfare systems. The term was first introduced by civil rights leader James Charles Evers in 1968; however, it was popularized by Richard Nixon in a televised speech August 1969.[1] An early model of workfare had been pioneered in 1961 by Joseph Mitchell in Newburgh, New York.[2]

Traditional welfare benefits systems are usually awarded based on certain conditions, such as searching for work, or based on meeting criteria that would position the recipient as unavailable to seek employment or be employed. Under workfare, recipients have to meet certain participation requirements to continue to receive their welfare benefits. These requirements are often a combination of activities that are intended to improve the recipient's job prospects (such as training, rehabilitation, and work experience) and those designated as contributing to society (such as unpaid or low-paid work). These programs, now common in Australia (as "mutual obligation"), Canada, and the United Kingdom, have generated considerable debate and controversy. In the Netherlands workfare is known as Work First, based on the Wisconsin Works program from the USA.

There are two main types of workfare scheme: those that encourage direct employment to get individuals off the welfare roll and directly into the workforce, and those that are intended to increase human capital by providing training and education to those currently in the welfare system.[1]

In the Third World, similar schemes are designed to alleviate rural poverty among day-labourers by providing state-subsidised temporary work during those periods of the year when little agricultural work is available. For example, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in India offers 100 days' paid employment per year for those eligible, rather than unemployment benefits on the Western model. However, a workfare model typically not only focuses on provision of social protection through a wage-income transfer, but also supports workers to get into work.

Goals of workfare

The purported main goal of workfare is to generate a "net contribution" to society from welfare recipients. Most commonly, this means getting unemployed people into paid work, reducing or eliminating welfare payments to them, and creating an income that generates taxes. Furthermore, it is argued that the combination of job search support and employment experience, even at entry level, enables one to better find gainful long-term employment. Welfare-to-work programs aim to break the cycle of poverty in which welfare dependence can become a way of life.[3][4] Workfare participants may retain certain employee rights throughout the process, however, often workfare programs are determined to be "outside employment relationships" and therefore the rights of beneficiaries can be different. [5]

Some workfare systems also aim to derive a contribution from welfare recipients by more direct means. These systems obligate unemployed people to undertake work that is beneficial to their community. The rationale behind these programs is threefold. First, taxpayers may feel that they get "more value for their welfare dollar" when they observe welfare recipients working for benefits, making such programs more politically popular. Second, putting unemployed people into a workplace-like environment attempts to address the argument that one of the biggest barriers to employment for the long-term unemployed is their lack of recent workforce experience. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the result of these programs support social cohesion and can build the overall social fabric of communities.


Workfare schemes in the UK are controversial. Critics point out that the type of work offered by workfare providers is generally unskilled and is comparable to community work carried out by criminal offenders being punished on community service schemes. Many charities and workers unions have criticized workfare schemes for undermining the work done by actual charity volunteers, and acting as a threat to low paid unskilled workers.

In Australia, the Work for the Dole schemes have been linked to the concepts of “mutual obligation” and "compliance". Their effectiveness has been questioned by researchers.

In the United Kingdom

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  2. Leman, Christopher (1980). The Collapse of Welfare Reform: Political Institutions, Policy, and the Poor in Canada and the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. p. 217.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Dietrich, Sharon; Emsellem, M.; Paradise, J. (2000), "Employment Rights of Workfare Participants and Displaced Workers", National Employment Law Project Second Edition, March 2000, NELP<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links