Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.
With over 17 actions in the UK and beyond, and hundreds of people taking action online, we stepped up pressure on workfare which is unpopular and vulnerable.
In Edinburgh, compulsory courses at workfare provider Learndirect were cancelled when 60 people blockaded its office. In London, provider Urban Futures faced an occupation at the same time, exposing managers’ nasty attitudes towards claimants. In Brighton, people invaded provider Avanta and handed out leaflets.
Job centres were rebranded “sanctions” centres
Actions took place at job centres, which were rebranded “sanctions centres” instead. This report from the demo in Peckham shows why: “They appear to be sanctioning people at the rate of between 30 and 45 people per day. Some people have received sanctions of 10 months for a ‘first offence’! They seem to be ignoring the official guidelines about sanctions periods entirely and making up as they go along. We also heard about a 6 month pregnant woman with child who was sanctioned for two months for being one minute late.”
“Welfare woman” and others challenged the TUC’s support for sanctions and workfare
With the government set on extending workfare and sanctions to the working poor next, the huge level of support in the week of action shows that the public are with us. In Sheffield “shoppers were, without exception, sympathetic” to the picket outside workfare exploiter Savers. “Some people had experienced workfare schemes themselves and were pleased that we were making the issue a public one.” People know that workfare means increased poverty via sanctions, and replaces paid work.
In the Netherlands, the anti-workfare campaign Doorbraak also took part in the week of action, pushing the mayor of Amsterdam to pledge to end to workfare next year. Austrian unemployed group “Aktion Arbeitslose” helped build support as well.
By holding those who profit from workfare to account and having a massive impact – at a time when permanent austerity and social injustice are the policy order of the day – your actions bring hope. We show each other that we are not alone. People’s actions in New York have brought workfare to an end in the city where it began. Whilst claimants have been abandoned by the Coalition Government, Labour and sadly even the TUC – they have not been abandoned by you. So let’s keep the pressure up!
A massive thank you to everyone who took part in any way in the week of action. If your action isn’t mentioned here, but you’d like it to be, please email email@example.com
Today we’re supporting the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign’s call for people to contact the charities and voluntary organisations you support to invite them to pledge to shun workfare too. Read on for more info and a template letter, and follow Keep Volunteering Voluntary on twitter and facebook.
There are a lot of organisations who have said they won’t take workfare, but still a lot who do. We want all voluntary work to be freely chosen, not a means for private companies to make profits or Jobcentres to force people off benefits. Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV) have set up a pledge and already 430 organisations have signed!
You can help to encourage organisations to sign up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary in several ways. Firstly check whether they are already on the list of sign-ups.
If you use or support a charity, try to find out whether they use workfare, and in any case ask them to sign up to KVV.
If there is a local charity shop, go in and talk to the people there: find out whether there is anyone there on workfare, and ask the organisation to sign up to KVV.
If you work or volunteer at a voluntary organisation, try to get them to sign up.
If a place you work or volunteer at has any links with a voluntary organisation, try to contact them too.
“We’ve already signed up.” – great, well done! “We don’t have anyone on workfare.” – so you won’t mind signing up to KVV then. “We’re helping the unemployed gain experience.” – that’s not of much value if they don’t want to be there. “What’s wrong with (unpaid) volunteers.” – there’s no objection to genuine volunteers, but to compulsory schemes and coercion. “The people on placement want to be here.” – that’s fine, but they shouldn’t be threatened with sanctions.
If you can get any kind of statement from an organisation, that’s always useful – a way in to further dialogue, or good publicity for the campaign. Let Boycott Workfare know and we’ll pass it on to KVV as well.
Some charities – such as Age UK – have a national office but each local area branch is ‘independent’ and may sign up separately. So if you see a local branch signed up but not your area, that’s an added incentive for your local to sign up too.
Without charity’s support, workfare schemes will collapse. That’s why every extra new organisation to sign up is so important – helping build consensus in the voluntary sector that workfare is completely at odds with its aims and values.
A massive thanks to everyone who has taken part online and organised demonstrations throughout the week of action! There are more protests in Amsterdam and Peckham today, and in Bristol, Haringey and Sheffield tomorrow!
Today members of Haringey Solidarity Group and Boycott Workfare paid a visit to workfare provider Urban Futures in Wood Green. Fifteen people occupied the office with banners and a soundsystem – challenging Urban Futures on their treatment of claimants and speaking to people on enforced jobsearch about their experiences and sharing info on their rights.
We’d already heard that the managers are aggressive and bullying towards claimants, so expected the same. But the short occupation revealed the nasty attitudes throughout the staff team – about ten staff tried to hassle people out and came out with some revealing lines, taunting a number of us that we should “get a job” (yawn). When one of us replied that he had a job, they replied, “I can’t believe you have a job, looking like that.” Read the rest of this entry »
Update: The action was a success – Scope has been removed from the list and Barnardos and BHF have said they will no longer be involved!
Community Work Placements would collapse without support from major charities. Today, as part of our week of action, we are contacting the major charities who provide CWP placements for Groundwork in the North East of England (six months’ workfare for 30 hours per week). We’re asking them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.
Yesterday, the website of Groundwork North East listed all the charities providing them with placements. These include Cheshire Homes, British Heart Foundation, Barnardo’s and Scope, as well as over 15 more local voluntary agencies in Redcar or who are part of Redcar Voluntary & Community Sector. As Groundwork also say, as well as having a ‘fantastic working relationship with the local job centres’, they work in close partnership with Christians against Poverty and local food banks.
What they don’t say is that workfare is a major cause of poverty and a major reason why people end up depending on food banks for food. We know how Community Work Placements are being marketed to employers as a way of replacing paid jobs.
Groundwork have since removed the webpage – but we’ve got a screenshot (click on the image above to enlarge it).
The involvement of well known national charities is disappointing. BHF have previously stated “We are not involved in the Help to Work scheme.Barnardo’s have said “Barnardo’s does not take part in any mandatory work activity. We have been clear that we are against the principle of benefits sanctions”. Scope are signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement, which commits them to not taking part in any government workfare scheme.
So what’s going on? It looks like the culture of secrecy surrounding workfare (e.g. the refusal of Freedom of Information requests, redaction of placement providers from contracts on the grounds of ‘commercial sensitivity) is enabling placement brokers like Groundwork to mis-sell forced labour as volunteering.
We have to ask: is this secrecy compatible with the duty of charities to be open and honest about their activities? To ensure that the public, who donate to charities, are fully aware of whether they do, or do not, support forced unpaid labour in any guise?
We understand that because all aspects of workfare are cloaked in secrets and lies, some charities providing placements may well have been misinformed. It can be especially difficult for small, local charities to avoid being deceived. But if an organisation gets a letter that refers to the same group of people as ‘unpaid employees’, ‘volunteers’, and ‘unemployed people’ – and emphasises that the organisation won’t have to pay anything for them (even travel costs) – then alarm bells should start ringing. And when well known workfare fixers like Groundwork get in touch, it’s more than likely it’s for placements for JSA claimants who’ve already been unpaid on the work programme and are now being sent on CWP for up to six months more unpaid labour.
As for British Heart Foundation, Barnado’s and Scope: you can let them know that the public expect them to honour their commitments not to take part in workfare. And expect them to remember that they have a duty of care towards those on current placements: these organisations must ensure that they do not face sanctions or suffer as a result of the organisation withdrawing.
You can send a message to BHF via their website or phone their head office on 020 7554 0000. You can tweet at them Tweet to @TheBHF
And Groundwork UK are on Facebook and Twitter as well Tweet to @groundworkuk. Or you could contact them through their website, or on the phone (0121 236 8565). They have other local branches throughout the UK. To find contact details for the nearest one to you, look here.
Please feel free to contact the other placement hosts listed on the Groundwork North East website as well. There’s not many, and if half pulled out, Groundwork’s CWP contract would be ruined.
This week is #HospiceCareWeek. Today, as part of our week of action, we want to contact hospices and ask them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.
Hospices offer palliative care, social support, and practical advice – and help families through mourning and bereavement. They help people with illnesses which would otherwise massively curtail their freedom of movement be as independent as possible. This is vital and valuable work, transforming the quality of people’s lives.
‘A hospice is not just a building, it is a way of caring for people. Hospice care aims to improve the lives of people who have a life-limiting or terminal illness, helping them to live well before they die.’
But why are so many hospices willing to stop other people living well, by forcing them to work for no pay under threat of sanctions?
Many hospices have local charity shops which take people through workfare schemes – especially Mandatory Work Activity. If you’re unwilling to take part in MWA, which involves 30 hours unpaid work per week, for four weeks at a time, you’ll be hit with a minimum sanction of 13 weeks for a ‘first failure’. The maximum sanction is 3 years: 3 years of hunger, hardship and destitution. We’ve also heard from people at hospice charity shops on mandatory work placements from the Work Programme and six-month Community Work Placements.
We know hospice shops and care centres need volunteers to run them. And we know that hospice care across the UK relies on the work of tens of thousands of volunteers to carry on their valuable activities. But that is no justification for forcing unemployed people to work in charity shops for weeks at a time for no wages. Charities that take part in workfare not only undermine genuine volunteering, but are also instrumental in claimants being sanctioned and left with no income.
One hospice, The Hospice of St Francis has already signed the agreement, pledging never to take part in any workfare scheme. We want lots more to sign, and join with the carers support organisations, parents’ support charities and many others – all of whom know that forced work is not the same thing as volunteering.
Here are four hospices you could encourage to sign up to the KVV agreement as part of #HospiceCareWeek.
St Ann’s Hospice have a number of sites and charity shops around Manchester and Cheshire. Their website says they’re Greater Manchester’s largest hospice. The phone numbers of all their charity shops and departments are listed here. Most recently, in July, we heard of them taking people on mandatory placements from the Work Programme, for at least six weeks at a time. As well as the contact details on their website, they are on Facebook and Twitter: Tweet to @StAnnsHospice
North London Hospice are filling their charity shops with people on six-month mandatory Community Work Placements. Please contact NLH and politely ask them to stop using workfare. 0208 343 8841, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook and on Twitter: Tweet to @NLondonHospice
If there’s a hospice near you that you know is using workfare, or that you think should sign the KVV agreement, then please get in touch with them as well! Many, many more hospice charity shops are under ‘local charities’ in our list of workfare providers. And if you’re in London, watch out for the picket of North London Hospice by Haringey Solidarity Group at noon on Saturday.
But please remember, if you call one of their charity shops: it’s definitely worth trying to speak to a manager, or someone involved in fundraising and volunteer organising. The person who answers the phone may well be low paid admin staff, or possibly on workfare themselves.
 This sentence was amended on 8th October 2014, because it mistakenly suggested that St David’s Hospice had been taking part in Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) as well as taking placements from the Work Programme. It was pointed out to us that we had conflated St David’s Hospice in North Wales (@StDavidsHospice) with St David’s Foundation Hospice Care (@SDFHC) in South Wales. We know SDFHC have taken part in MWA in 2014.
Groundwork boasts of its involvement in workfare. Join in with an online blockade of their social media and let them know what you think of their prolific and unashamed use of forced unpaid labour.
Take online action today against Groundwork, the green charity using unpaid labour. Branches of Groundwork up and down the country openly advertise their involvement in all kinds of workfare, including the latest and most exploitative programmes.
Charities and voluntary organisations should know the value of volunteering. Instead Groundwork is taking thousands of unemployed people on workfare placements with no pay and putting people at risk of sanctions. According to their own statistics they forced 4,500 people through workfare last year alone. They trade on the goodwill of their ‘volunteering’ projects to secure government money for unpaid labour schemes.
Groundwork is also taking part in the latest draconian scheme, Community Work Placements (CWP), as a sub-contractor of G4S in Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria. CWP is a six month long placement – twice the length of the maximum community service sentence for committing a crime. Workfare criminalises unemployed people and then punishes them more harshly than other people who are forced to work for free. It does this without even the appearance of judicial process: people are punished just because they’re unemployed.
More than 400 charities and 22 councils have rejected CWP and other workfare schemes by signing the Keep Volunteering Voluntary pledge. They understand that workfare is punitive and that it doesn’t help people find jobs.
A lot of green charities and recycling companies are involved in workfare schemes. The environment is a useful alibi for forcing people to work for free, because it makes it easy to claim that the work unemployed people are doing is for “community benefit” – which it is supposed to be, if the scheme is one that people can be directly forced to do, like CWP or Mandatory Work Activity. This is why there’s so many environmental charities, city farms, and recycling firms on our list of workfare exploiters.
Workfare schemes cannot operate without charities that are willing to take on unpaid workers, but Groundwork’s involvement is deeper: they help organise the schemes as well. Groundwork say they recognise that Jobcentre Plus is enforcing a “stricter application…of conditions and sanctions”, but they continue to help to run this punitive system anyway. Let them know about the hardship and destitution that benefit sanctions are causing. Let them know that forcing people to work under threat of destitution for no pay is wrong.
On 1 August 2014, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) made a joint statement with Confederation of British Industries (CBI) to back Traineeships for 16-23 year olds and “show support” for the businesses that benefit from the unpaid labour on this scheme.
Traineeships involve training and “work placements” for up to six months – all unpaid. The TUC’s Assistant General Secretary Paul Nowak hails Traineeships as “an important first step towards the world of work”. But in giving a green light to a new layer of unpaid work in the economy, the TUC is in fact helping to shrink opportunities for young people, undermine the going rate, and replace paid work with workfare.
Traineeships mean that young people are now expected to work unpaid for six months before even qualifying for an interview for an apprenticeship. The lucky few who make it through the interview can look forward to a minimum wage of £2.73 an hour, as an apprentice.
If a young person does not take part in the training, they face punitive sanctions. The work placement segment itself may not be backed with the direct threat of sanctions, but, between the economic coercion of a jobs market with so few footholds and the draconian job centre regime, few people will feel able to turn them down.
Instead of demanding decent wages, the TUC is supporting McDonalds, Toyota, Virgin Media, BT, Vodafone, Phones4U, Siemens, Capita, local councils and many more being supplied with unpaid staff for up to 6 months on benefits alone, without any obligations to hire them!
The TUC plans to march behind the slogan “Britain needs a payrise” on 18 October. It seems to have chosen to ignore the millions of us who do not have paid work and instead face workfare and sanctions.
The TUC’s support for benefit sanctions is totally unacceptable. It has recommended that ‘claimants who turn down a job guarantee job without good cause should face benefit sanctions’. Let the TUC know that punishing people by taking away their means to survival can never be okay.
As the week of action against workfare begins, Boycott Workfare can reveal an email sent by a subcontractor for the new Community Work Placements, a six month workfare scheme. It exposes how workfare is being marketed to employers as a way of replacing paid jobs. It also exposes the smoke and mirrors involved, with people mandated to workfare referred to both as “unpaid employees” and “volunteers”.
If you are in paid work, that list of potential roles should worry you: at the moment these are paid jobs. After Ixion Holdings have offered “large numbers of [volunteers] to cover the same job role or to cover different departments”, why would any unscrupulous employer keep paying people to do them? Read the rest of this entry »
At the start of September, the government announced it would be using ‘attitude tests’ to assess claimants’ attitudes towards work and their ‘behavioral norms’. This test is in fact a survey – or rather data mining exercise – and would take place in 27 Jobcentres, targeting 27,000 claimants. It is supposed to record the effects on people of signing on every week versus every fortnight. In other words, it is designed to find out what kind of person deserves more hassle from the Jobcentre, based on their attitude.
These surveys are completely unethical. Attempting to classify people according to their feelings about work is being used to stigmatise and pathologize certain claimants. The tests are part of the DWP’s efforts to pretend that unemployment and a low wage economy are a result of individuals’ bad attitudes, rather than a deliberate policy. Esther McVey talks about ‘psychological resistance to work’. The test assesses people’s attitude to work through just 20 widely varying and unrelated questions, placing claimants into in the following four bizarre rigid categories:
1 Willing but nervous Jobseeker
2 Eager Jobseeker
3 Ambivalent Claimants with few barriers
4 Other Jobseekers
Here at Boycott Workfare we always try to keep on top of these events and find out what people’s rights are when each new shameful and wasteful tax payer funded scheme is rolled out by the DWP and the welfare to work industry. So the guidelines – your rights – regarding the Claimant Segmentation Survey scheme are as follows.
If you have made a new claim, or are signing on as your claim continues then it is important that you know you do not have to take part in this ‘attitude test’ at all.
These are the facts:
If you are asked to agree to take part in the Claimant Segmentation Survey you can disagree to take part (see picture ) – it is an entirely voluntary survey.
Refusal to take part or answer will not affect your benefits in any way: you cannot get sanctioned for refusing to answer any of the test questions or for refusing to take part in this test [Link 3]:
“There is no obligation to answer these questions and it has no bearing on your entitlement to benefits whatsoever.”
Your advisor has to ask for your consent before going through the questions, because they ‘are collecting additional information beyond what is necessary for the claims process for the purposes of research’.
With the week of action against workfare coming up on 4-12 October, we wanted to share some of the things your action and active support has already achieved. With so much impact already, the week of action is the next step where you can help put an end to workfare altogether.
We have helped each other to defend our rights
The job centre and workfare providers rely on misinformation, lies and bullying to push people around. That’s why finding out and claiming our rights is so important. We find out our rights, spread the word and have helped cancel workfare placements for many who have contacted us. Our Welfare Action Gathering in February brought together tens of groups of people from around the country who take action against workfare and who support each other to get their rights on workfare, rights at the job centre and in navigating Atos’ tests.
Over 20,000 people support this campaign. The more people who know their rights the more people can say no to workfare – or help expose who is using workfare…
Our actions make workfare exploiters pull out
Workfare relies on placement providers – every time we get them to pull out is another step to ending workfare. Many big names including Argos, Holland & Barrett and PDSA have pulled out.
A highlight this year: George Osborne was publicly humiliated after a visit to promote his new 6-month brand of workfare (CWP) backfired when Byteback IT pulled out just a week later, following a backlash against workfare from the public.
The list goes on, and we’ve been keeping track of it here (where you’ll also find the crowd-sourced list of the organisations still exploiting people on workfare).