The workfare industry annual conference disrupted with a very loud noise demo. Salvation Army in Edinburgh – the main users of Mandatory Work Activity in the city – blockaded for two hours. An anti-sanctions action in Germany. Solidarity with claimants subject to the farcical pilot of Universal Credit. The petition for all sanctions to be scrapped hit 10,000 signatures. Tea and information outside job centres. Workfare users picketed in Wales, Scotland and England. All this in just one week in 2013 – a year in which ordinary people made workfare’s progress a whole lot more rocky.
Targeting workfare exploiters
In 2013, your actions online and on the streets meant these brands stepped back from workfare: Shoe Zone, The Red Cross, Capability Scotland, Marriott Hotels, Superdrug, Argos, Wetherspoons and Debenhams.
In April, we helped expose that at least one Homebase store was using 25 placements at a time to save hundreds of hours on their payroll, and cutting existing workers’ hours as a result. Thousands of people took action online and outside Homebase stores across the UK, and just one month later, the company withdrew from the scheme (though we’re chasing up reports that it’s since reappeared in their Willesden store).
Haringey Solidarity Group showed how effective it can be when local people take on workfare exploiters on their doorstep. When they discovered Homes for Haringey was using workfare to maintain its estates, action at board meetings and local council meetings stepped up the pressure. The result? Those working for Homes for Haringey will now be paid.
Disrupting industry events
When the workfare industry has met, campaigners have been there too – to unpick their doublespeak and make sure the real-life consequences of their decisions can’t be forgotten. When thinktank Policy Exchange supported sanctions being extended to people in work on low incomes, rolling disruption meant their event was (in the words of its organiser) “ruined”. In Manchester, delegates to the Welfare to Work Convention were met with protests at their lavish dinner at the Hilton. Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Hoban have both faced hecklers during speeches on welfare ‘reform’.
Reducing the number of placements
When the Work Programme was launched in June 2011, it was promised that those finishing it would be directed onto a six month long workfare scheme, the Community Action Programme. However, no such scheme was launched in June 2013 probably because it was not feasible after we persuaded so many charities to end their involvement.
In the government’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s ruling that it must reveal those using workfare labour, the Department for Work and Pensions argued: “The activities of campaign groups and the results of negative publicity meant that… “a great many placement organisations” had ceased to offer placements. That in turn reduced the numbers of opportunities available across both programmes with a loss of many placements and prospective new placements being at risk.”
The DWP’s appeal revealed that one subcontractor has complained about a loss of 100 placements per week in its area alone. The cost of each Mandatory Work Activity placement has doubled since we made it so much more difficult to find placements.
They know the public don’t want to see jobs replaced by workfare
The Taxpayers’ Alliance felt the need to slander Boycott Workfare in its ‘Work for the Dole’ “report”, commenting that because of our success in persuading charities to withdraw, it is vital that “the public case for the morality and the economics of the [workfare] scheme is very strongly made”. The government has used our campaigning as the explicit reason for turning down Freedom of Information requests about who is using workfare.
We know that the government and workfare industry see our activities as a genuine threat to workfare’s viability. This means that in 2014, we have the opportunity to make sure the schemes do indeed become unworkable.
Every success against workfare is because ordinary people take action
Workfare has the backing of the three main political parties, their thinktanks, the welfare to work industry (which only exists because of the public money handed to it), and the companies, charities and councils who are able to cut their wages bills by using unpaid work. Some professionals e.g. psychologists also make money from supporting workfare, while others e.g. some public health professionals, remain silent instead of speaking out.
But against this stand the people who face the impact of workfare in our lives: the threat of sanctions and the hunger they bring for people sent on workfare; the loss of paid work as workfare is used instead; the threat of workfare with no time limit for people found ‘fit to work’ by the disgusting Atos assessment; and the toll all this takes on our wellbeing. With workfare even touted for people on low incomes in part-time work, few people can afford to ignore its threat.
The actions of Cait Reilly and Jamie Wilson in the courts deserve special mention here. These two people pursued justice to the Supreme Court – where workfare schemes were ruled to have been unlawful. Faced with this challenge, the government, supported by Labour, enacted unprecedented retroactive legislation to rewrite history. Being found unlawful hasn’t been enough to stop workfare, but our actions can be.
For workfare to succeed, it needs companies, charities and councils to co-operate. We’ve shown that we can make sure it’s not worth their while to do so. Osborne wants 6 month workfare placements in charities and the public sector to become the norm from April 2014. We can make sure they don’t.
Take action in 2014
- Book your travel for a day of skills and info-sharing on 15 February (or let us know if you’d need help with travel costs)
- Send the charities using workfare a new year’s message
- Send the companies using workfare a new year’s message
- Send the companies using a new workfare scheme for young people a new year’s message
- Join those who are demanding that the British Psychological Society and their members take a stand against workfare by tweeting at them
- Take a look at the different ways you can help
- Sign up to our email announcements list or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch for more action in 2014.