During 2011, the UK Government introduced the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, which requires JSA claimants to work in order to continue receiving benefit. Workfare has been viewed as a radical departure in the evolution of British labour market policy. However, an historical review of workfare in inter-war Britain reveals that the most recent proposals merely resuscitate a heritage of compelling the long-term unemployed to work for their benefit. Both then and now workfare has flourished in times of economic crisis, and particularly where Governments have pursued economic theories which exalt the market. Historical analysis reveals important continuities and changes in the nature of contemporary workfare.