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Havering’s Saint Francis Hospice defends use of controversial job placements

PUBLISHED: 09:57 09 August 2016 | UPDATED: 09:57 09 August 2016

Louisa Danby worked for the Saint Francis Hospice Shop on a controversial work programme, where benefits claimants had to work for free for their benefits. She now works as Retail Manager for the Saint Francis Hospice Shop in Ilford

Louisa Danby worked for the Saint Francis Hospice Shop on a controversial work programme, where benefits claimants had to work for free for their benefits. She now works as Retail Manager for the Saint Francis Hospice Shop in Ilford

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The launch of the Conservative government’s Mandatory Work Programme prompted headlines describing it as a forced labour scheme, but some Havering residents have spoken about how it helped them secure work.

Louisa Danby

A mother made redundant five years ago said the mandatory work activity programme changed her life.

After leaving her job as a shop assistant in Romford, Louisa Danby, 43, from Harold Hill accepted a two-year course under the free labour programme at Saint Francis Hospice’s Harold Hill shop.

“It’s the best thing I have ever done,” she said.

Within 18 months, Ms Danby applied for the position of assistant manager at the charity’s shop in High Road, Ilford, She has since been promoted to manager.

“This is all due to the work programme,” she continued.

“After being made redundant, it was quite hard to get back into work. The scheme brought me back my confidence to go looking for a job. I gained so much experience and that is why I am where I am today. It has absolutely changed my life.”

Ms Danby also said the scheme helped her gain administration skills.

“Saint Francis Hospice supported me all the way and gave me training,” she added.

Last week a list of the 534 businesses and charities to have taken part in the scheme was published after the government lost a four year legal battle to keep it secret.

In Havering Saint Francis Hospice, Havering Country Park, Havering Council and Wellgate Community Farm took part in the programme.

The scheme required those claiming Job Seekers Allowance to take on 30 hours a week of unpaid work – or be subject to benefits sanctions. It was scrapped last year but similar initiatives continue.

Staff at Saint Francis Hospice defended the scheme saying it was beneficial for both the hospice and the participants.

The charity said: “This isn’t something we feel the need to hide or be ashamed of, quite the opposite.”

Out of the 420 volunteers working at the charity, between 20 and 30 participants took part in the scheme at any one time.

Roles filled included manning tills, creating window displays, customer service, selecting merchandise and van driving.

The charity said all participants were given “proper training” and support throughout their placements, with the majority of them securing employment after the scheme.

Havering Council was the only London borough to have been included on the list.

A council spokeswoman said the benefits claimants were employed through Seetec, a government programme which provides skills and training for job-seekers.

“Working with Seetec and with the sole purpose of maximising opportunities for permanent employment, we provided experience of grounds and country park maintenance and management through working with our award winning parks service,” she added.

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