Birmingham MP, Roger Godsiff, has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (DWP), Iain Duncan Smith MP, asking him to investigate, as a matter of urgency, the treatment received by a group of long-term unemployed jobseekers and apprentices who were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under London Bridge before working on the river pageant.
Up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth as part of the government’s Work Programme.
Arrangements for the day were made by the security firm Close Protection UK, which won a stewarding contract for the jubilee events and also has won a contract to provide staff for the Olympics. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics and the company admitted today that it had made ‘logistical errors’ in leaving the group of people, both men and women, to fend for themselves at 3am on a wet, cold, Jubilee Sunday in London.
It appears that the jobseekers had to camp under London Bridge the night before the pageant, change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.
Roger Godsiff said: “Clearly the treatment that these jobseekers received is unacceptable but is it also deeply worrying that this same company is providing staff for the Olympics who might be filling security roles“.
He went on to say: “There is also a suggestion that companies such as this might be profiteering from the continued confusion surrounding whether or not unemployed people should do ‘work for no pay’ as part of their assessment or risk loosing benefits.
I have asked Iain Duncan Smith MP if his department has put in place any monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the young unemployed are not open to the risk of exploitation in this way. Have Job Centres been given clear guidelines to operate by the DWP or are they still able to hint that not taking any work offered, voluntary or otherwise, will have a detrimental impact on their claim?”.
Close Protection UK said it had spent considerable resources on training and equipment that stewards could keep and that the experience was voluntary and did not affect jobseekers keeping their benefits.
Mr Godsiff also took the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for a progress report on the case of Cait Reilly, who despite DWP rules, was told by her local Job Centre in King's Heath, Birmingham that she would lose her benefits if she did not take a Poundland placement.