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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.

Court of Appeal says the government breached claimants’ rights, but the retrospective legislation stands

Posted: April 30th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Info on schemes, Uncategorized | No Comments »

retroSanctions2At the Court of Appeal on Friday the government lost part of its grubby legal battle to stop claimants getting back benefit payments that were unlawfully taken from them.

The government was appealing a High Court judgement, which said that the emergency retrospective legislation the government rushed through in 2013 was ‘draconian’ and incompatible with the right to a fair trial. The Court of Appeal rejected the government’s appeal against the High Court judgement. It says the legislation is okay according to English law, but that it shouldn’t have applied to all sanctions, because this meant that claimants who were waiting for the results of appeals against sanctions found their cases automatically decided in favour of the DWP. The legislation meant that people were automatically sanctioned even when the DWP’s own appeals process would have overturned the sanction.

That emergency legislation – the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013  – rewrote history. It made it so that workfare regulations made in 2011 were lawful and had always been lawful, even though the court of appeal had said that they weren’t. Those regulations made it possible to sanction people for not taking part. So the retrospective legislation meant that all the sanctions the government had imposed under the 2011 regulations, in one block, were valid, along with the regulations – even the sanctions that would have been unlawful under the old regulations anyway. This meant, in turn, that ongoing appeals against sanctions, most of which would have succeeded before the Act was passed, were bound to fail. (Challenges to sanctions have about a 70% success rate at the moment.) Public Interest Lawyers explain more about this background here. Read the rest of this entry »


Mental Health Resistance Network write back to Richard Watts #DoNoHarm

Posted: February 27th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Guest blog, Psychological coercion | 6 Comments »

Mental Health Resistance Network write back to Richard Watts #DoNoHarmIn this second guest post – a follow-up to What’s What Councillor Watts? An open letter from Mental Health Resistance Network to Councillor Watts – Mental Health Resistance Network respond to Richard Watts’ comment on their open letter. Councillor Watts’ comment is reproduced below, after MHRN’s post. For more on the protest on 4th March and our reasons for opposing the ‘Working Better’ scheme, see the Facebook eventthis co-written article on the DPAC website and this letter from a GP about work cures and the duty to #DoNoHarm.

Dear Cllr. Watts

As service users and survivors of the psychiatric system, we are accustomed to people in suits ignoring our real concerns, talking down to us and believing that they are acting in our best interest even when we are telling them differently. Sadly, your comment does little to persuade us that you are going to offer us a different trajectory.

It seems you are determined to ignore the problematic issues that your pilot scheme has created, and that you are somehow incapable of comprehending how horrendous it would be for someone to find a DWP funded Employment Coach from the Maximus ‘family’ in the surgery where they seek treatment for a condition that has been exacerbated by a perverse decision in the ESA or PIP sham assessment processes, or a benefits sanction which has removed their very means of survival and independence. Unfortunately such events are now everyday occurrences in your borough, and the areas to which your pilot is intended to spread. It seems we all have to somehow get used to these injustices because all the safeguards appear to have failed. Rather than providing effective opposition to these outrages, you and your pilot seem set on adding to the misery.

We told you that we would meet with you when you are ready to have an adult discussion with us. You are clearly nowhere near ready to do that. I suspect that rather than genuinely reaching out to us, your comment is merely public posturing in the hope that some people will be persuaded by your whitewash.
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What’s What Councillor Watts? An open letter from Mental Health Resistance Network to Richard Watts

Posted: February 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Guest blog, Psychological coercion | 4 Comments »

What's What Councillor Watts? An open letter from Mental Health Resistance Network to Richard Watts

Employment coaches have been placed in six GPs’ surgeries in Islington. ‘Jobs on prescription’ is part of toxic and dangerous government plans to merge health and employment services – putting the Jobcentre in the NHS. Boycott Workfare, Mental Health Resistance Network, and Disabled People Against Cuts will be protesting the scheme from 3pm on 4th March, outside City Road Medical Centre. For more details on the protest and our reasons for opposing the scheme, see the Facebook eventthis co-written article on the DPAC website and this letter from a GP about work cures and the duty to #DoNoHarm.

This guest post is an open letter from Mental Health Resistance Network to the leader of Islington council, Richard Watts.

Dear Councillor Watts

As you are aware by now, the Mental Health Resistance Network are involved in the organisation of a demonstration  due to take place outside the City Road Surgery in Islington on March 4th. The protest is intended to voice our disquiet at the introduction of  Job Coaches into six Islington surgeries, in a pilot project which has been enthustiastically promoted by yourself and Dr. Josephine Sauvage, a GP at City Road surgery, and Joint Vice Chair (clinical) of Islington CCG.

We first learnt about this pilot in an article in Pulse Magazine, and immediately suspected that that the DWP were likely to be central to this scheme. Our suspicions were confirmed when we found a document, authored by Kay Peat, the CCG Employment Lead for Islington CCG. The document makes it clear that Ms. Peat’s job is directly  funded by the DWP, and that the Working Better’ pilot which you and Dr. Sauvage were promoting is also directly funded by the DWP. Furthermore, Ms. Peat’s document confirms that Remploy, a company mainly owned and controlled by Maximus, have been engaged to provide the Job Coaches that Dr. Sauvage says she will be ‘prescribing’ to her patients.

Maximus, as I am sure you are aware, have taken over from ATOS, in conducting Work Capability Assessments for those claiming Employment Support Allowance. What you may not know is that we at the MHRN instigated a judicial review of the WCA which found that the procedure “disadvantages people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism”. Read the rest of this entry »


Sanctions centre plus: open all hours?

Posted: February 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: In-work conditionality, Sanctions, Welfare to work industry | 4 Comments »

Roll up! Roll up! The first oral evidence session for the Works and Pensions Committee inquiry on ‘in-work progression in Universal Credit’ began on 3 February. This is all about ‘in-work conditionality’, where low-earning workers receiving top-up benefits such as Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit will be subject to the tender attentions currently enjoyed by unemployed claimants. We previously covered this in Workfare: Don’t Think a Job Means You’re Safe and Suggestions, They Want? Now, with Universal Credit due to be ‘rolled out’ in more areas, we can enjoy another round of parliamentary mumbling.

150215sanctioncentre

Ready to welcome workers into the fold?

Despite the limited terms of reference, Boycott Workfare made a written submission to this inquiry. Given that we campaign against sanctions imposed on unemployed people, we naturally oppose sanctions against working claimants. Extending conditionality – which will include sanctions – to working claimants extends these harms to a wider population and will only punish people on the receiving end of the UK’s low-pay no-pay precarious labour market. Small rises in the national minimum wage will not make these concerns go away: with the imposition of conditionality for workers, a higher minimum wage will simply mean a higher conditionality threshold and the use of the minimum wage as a stick to hit workers who are not earning ‘enough’.

We have already stated our opposition to all sanctions in our previous submission to the same committee, and oppose any attempt to extend the regime that has been described as Britain’s ‘secret penal system’.

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Mustard Tree: from workfare exploiter to workfare refuser

Posted: January 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Charities, Pulled out! | 2 Comments »

12265661_1515689348749285_1701812175792048410_o (1)Mustard Tree is a charity that works with homeless and other disadvantaged people in Greater Manchester. Until recently, it participated in workfare. But thanks to a sustained campaign by Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester, they’re no longer involved!  

Mustard Tree had been part of the government’s Mandatory Work Activity Programme (MWA)  –  4 weeks’ full time unpaid work, carried out under threat of sanctions.   Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester first picketed Mustard Tree in December 2014.  Then again at the end of January 2015, again on March 21st, and again in November.  On January 13th, Mustard Tree updated their position on MWA:

Following further consideration, the board of Trustees of Mustard Tree have decided to withdraw our offer of the 4 week work placements associated with the Mandatory Work Activity element of the Welfare to Work Programme.

This updates their earlier stance. In the previous position statement, from March 2015, they said that:

We believe that the 4 week work experience placement [i.e. MWA – unpaid work] is a wholly proportionate and effective tool for accessing sustainable employment.

Like Haringey Solidarity Group’s campaign against North London Hospice, it shows that sustained campaigns against charities using workfare are effective.  BW Greater Manchester put pressure on Mustard Tree in different ways:

  • they wrote to supporters of the charity, like FC United
  • they kept a dialogue going with Mustard Tree throughout the process,
  • they continued picketing their shops and offering information to people passing about what workfare is and how it links to sanctions.  

On all the demonstrations, people from BW Manchester had a massively positive response from passers by.  Even people who were hearing about workfare for the first time very quickly understood what is wrong with workfare, and especially what is wrong with a charity participating in it.

Protest report: MUSTARD TREE: STOP USING WORKFAREMustard Tree’s Eccles shop, Saturday (14/11/15) at 12 noon.As usual…

Posted by Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester on Saturday, 14 November 2015

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Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements to go! But what’s coming next?

Posted: November 29th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Info on schemes | 9 Comments »

Hidden in the Autumn Statement was the news that the contracts for two flagship workfare schemes – Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements – will not be renewed. Their demise is significant: it means that together we have frustrated and scaled back the government’s mass workfare project.

Total spending on employment will be reduced, including not renewing Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements, but introducing a Work and Health Programme for the longer term unemployed and those with health conditions.

This is down to all of us. The DWP is ditching MWA and CWP after deciding that they’re too expensive – and it’s our solidarity and resistance that contributed to those costs and ultimately made those schemes unworkable. If you named and shamed your workfare placement organisation, if you tweeted at workfare-using companies, blockaded their doors or encouraged a local community organisation to Keep Volunteering Voluntary, then you helped make this happen.

We should be proud. We know that thanks to our efforts, workfare providers have found it so hard to find organisations willing to tar their reputation with workfare that only half of the people referred for Community Work Placements were found places. We know that the government has gone to every length to avoid publishing which organisations use workfare for fear that our campaigning could lead to these schemes’ collapse.

So before we look at what’s coming next, it’s important to see what we have achieved: forced unpaid work in the UK has been beaten back from the vast scale the government had planned. This matters. Benefits have not become pegged to unpaid work in the new poverty “settlement” Osborne hopes to establish.

So what now?

Workfare is still taking place. Referrals to punitive six-month Community Work Placements are due to run until the end of March 2016, so the placements will end in October – see section 1.25 of the CWP contract details. The end date is the same for referrals to Mandatory Work Activity – so contracts for that 4-week scheme end in April 2016.

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Solidarity with Tony Cox! Actions across UK on 12th and 13th October

Posted: October 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Call to action | No Comments »

Update: the charge of ‘threatening behaviour against Tony has been dropped! But he’ll be back in court on 18th November to face charges of resisting arrest (via ECAP).

Yesterday, 12th October, Boycott Workfare took part in a national day of action in solidarity with Tony Cox, who was arrested at Arbroath Job Centre on 29th January this year while representing an unemployed woman. Tony is a welfare rights officer and a  member of the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network. He was taken into custody and charged with threatening behaviour, refusing to give his name and address and resisting arrest.

Boycott Workfare in London joined with Haringey Solidarity Group and welfare action groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Doncaster, Cardiff and Nottingham outside job centres talking to claimants about avoiding sanctions, workfare, and the right to be accompanied to interviews at the job centre and DWP offices.

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#BigSavingsNoWages – 2nd day of action against B&M Stores

Posted: September 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action | Tags: | 4 Comments »

B&M front croppedAfter the impressive response to the last call-out, help pile on the pressure calling for B&M Bargains to pull out of all workfare schemes.  

Two stores in Manchester will be targeted, at 2 pm:

  • Chorlton – 595-597 Wilbraham Rd, Manchester M21 9AJ
  • Ashton-under-Lyne – 9-11 Bow St, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 6BU

Join the Facebook event here.

The last action saw an overwhelmingly positive response from the public and showed again how workfare relies to a great extent on a lack of general awareness of its very existence and what it involves for those made to participate. Large sections of the public recognise the inherent unfairness and contradictory nature of being made to work for free or lose your benefits. This has also been shown to be ineffective in achieving its own aims – the DWP’s own research points to workfare having ‘no impact on the likelihood of being employed‘.

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Solidarity with Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty #AdvocacyIsNotACrime

Posted: September 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Guest blog | No Comments »
The scene outside High Riggs job centre on Thursday.

The scene outside High Riggs job centre on Thursday.

Here is a guest post from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, who on Thursday shut down High Riggs job centre in Edinburgh, in response to G4S security and job centre staff refusing a claimant his right to be accompanied to interview. There will be a solidarity demo tomorrow (Monday 14 Sept) at 9 am at High Riggs Jobcentre. If you’re not in Edinburgh, you can support the demo on Twitter using the hashtag #AdvocacyIsNotACrime. Recent reports about job centre bosses pressurising staff to sanction claimants make it more important than ever to support people who want to be accompanied at the job centre. Boycott Workfare will have new materials available soon to help you navigate, avoid, and resist Community Work Placements and other schemes 

Though we shouldn’t have to, we need to insist on the very basic right to be accompanied, even though the DWP have repeatedly affirmed it is available to everyone claiming benefits.  

Update! Read about the success of ECAP’s response to the job centre here.

This direct action and solidarity won a tremendous victory as the DWP gave in and agreed that jobseeker Adam could be accompanied to his appointment by ECAP activist Mike, without the requirement to show any ID.

The original post from ECAP is here:

SOLIDARITY DEMO CALL FOR 9am MONDAY 14th SEPTEMBER AT HIGH RIGGS JOB CENTRE

The entire ground floor of Edinburgh’s High Riggs Jobcentre was closed down for almost three hours on 10th September as Jobcentre managers called in police and refused to permit a jobseeker to exercise his right to be accompanied to an appointment. Members of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty defied threats of arrest and stayed in the jobcentre to support the claimant and the ECAP advocate.

Now ECAP are calling a solidarity demo for this Monday 14th at 9am at High Riggs Jobcentre, when the jobseeker, Adam, will attend his rearranged appointment, once more accompanied by an ECAP advocate.  ECAP say: “We will not be intimidated by the DWP bullies, G4S security or the police.  We will assert claimants’ right to be accompanied.  The DWP themselves state: “Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf..””

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B&M Bargains National Day of Action – over 20 stores!

Posted: July 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Name and shame | Tags: | No Comments »

Saturday 27th June saw an inspiring nation-wide Day of Action against B&M Bargains, a notorious user of workfare.
Aberystwyth Picket 4

In a very short space of time the action snowballed, with autonomous groups organising actions against B&M in at least 20 towns and cities across the UK (let us know if we’ve left you off the list below!). It was truly a moment of solidarity: “If you exploit us we will close you down!” 

Many of these groups were new or recently formed, which shows the exciting beginnings of campaigns against sanctions and workfare in even more localities. It also shows that such groups can get going almost anywhere. They can have immediate impacts and that there are many, many people out there who want to take direct action to bring an end to the exploitation, misery and poverty caused by workfare and sanctions.

The impact on B&M was clear – almost no one entered their shops while protests were taking place. And as always on anti-workfare protests, the response from the public was hugely supportive. Passers-by were shocked and appalled at a company not paying its workers. Many had never even heard of workfare and sanctions, and this shows how much the imposition of these schemes rely on maintaining unawareness in the wider public. It also points to serious questions around mainstream media’s coverage of these issues.

Managers’ responses…

At the Norwich protest, a manager admitted that he, like all managers, are given a fixed amount to spend on wages. Therefore, he can only only cover all the tasks to be done during opening hours by using workfare – while B&M Bargains made about £100 million profit last year.

Elsewhere, another manager argued that those on workfare were on “work experience”. A month of full-time work in a low-skilled job is not work experience. It is only work. But instead of a wage paid in exchange for labour as in the classic understanding of a job, compulsion is used that forces those on workfare to work for free or face sanctions.

What next?

With other companies, keeping up the pressure through monthly or even weekly pickets can be incredibly effective. Norwich has already had a follow-up protest the weekend after!

Contact B&M – Remind B&M of the reasons that workfare is unfair and the impact it could have on the company if it continues to exploit its workers.

Main Telephone: 0151 728 5400 (or search the B&M website for a local store contact) If there is interest, there could also be another National Day of Action, perhaps to coincide with the opening of a new B&M store.

Some example slogans from protests around the UK:

Workfare = Claimant Trafficking
Fair Work, not Workfare
B&M: Big Profits, No Wages
They say work, we say pay us!
Workfare = Exploitation
Don’t shop where they don’t pay wages!
Workfare = Not Fair
If you exploit us we will shut you down!

List of actions that took place:

Actions in Wales – pictures and updates on the joint Facebook page:
– Rheidol Retail Park, Aberystwyth
– Y Coed Duon/Blackwood
– Merthyr Tydfil
– Caerffili
– Caerdydd, Heol Casnewydd/Cardiff, Newport Road
– Casnewydd/Newport – 2 branches (Maesglas, and the Kingsway Centre)
– Ceredigion (near Aberystwyth)
– Cwmdu (Swansea)

Edinburgh (Musselburgh) – organised by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty; a write-up of the action is at: http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/177

Middleton District Shopping Centre, LeedsLeeds Welfare Fightback and Left Unity report (first on the page).

Birkenhead, Wirral – Unite Community Branch in Wirral; pictures on Facebook.

Liverpool, Toxteth – Liverpool IWW wrote up this action here.

Liverpool, Marina Walk Ellesmere Port – supported by Unite Community Ellesmore Port and Cheshire West Trades Council.

Birmingham, Priory Square Shopping Centre – Birmingham Claimants Union

Pool, Cornwall – Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance

Norwich – Norwich Claimants Union

Tottenham, London – Haringey Left Unity

Old Kent Road (Peckham), London – organised by South London Left Unity; pictures on the Facebook event. Report on the Left Unity website (second report on the page).

Willesden, London – Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

Rotherham, Great Eastern Retail Park, Park Gate (Off Beale Way)

Haymarket Sheffield S1 2AX – organised by Sheffield Uncut.

Sheffield, Meersbrook. Pictures and brief report online here.