Less than two weeks into 2014 and we’re already having an impact! Scarborough Council, one of the worst workfare-using councils in the UK, has cancelled its involvement. Volunteer centre Knowsley CVS has taken the principled stand to have nothing to do with workfare schemes. On Friday, the DWP’s social media strategists were forced to abandon use of their hashtag #takeoverday to promote ‘work experience’ when people literally took it over to campaign against sanctions and workfare!
Over Christmas, The Mirror and The Guardian published our research into UK councils using workfare. Scandalously, councils have benefited from at least half a million hours of workfare labour since 2011. We highlighted some particularly shocking examples, including Scarborough Borough Council, which had taken 120 Mandatory Work Activity placements in its Parks Department.
Apparently the Council didn’t appreciate the national publicity, and following its first meeting in the new year, the scheme appears to have been cancelled practically overnight [Warning: link contains embarrassing self-congratulation by members of the same political party which introduced workfare to the UK]. Cuts to the Parks Department were proposed in 2012. This success should mean jobs are now a little more secure.
This success is important: from April, the government intends to extend the average workfare stint to six months with its ‘Community Work Placement’ scheme. People who refuse to take part face destitution through benefit sanctions, but councils and charities can say no and make the scheme impossible. In recent weeks, Liverpool Volunteer Service and Knowsley CVS also followed the example of charities like Oxfam in refusing to be part of this sanctions machine.
Scarborough’s not the only council to be persuaded to pull out. Trade unionists in Brighton sabotaged the local council’s plans to sign a deal for free labour with Work Programme provider Avanta. This time last year, Newcastle City Council passed a motion saying it would have nothing to do with it (see below for the text). Norwich Council have also committed not to take part (see motion 9, page 2 here). Meanwhile, efforts by local people in Haringey ended the use of workfare on the borough’s council estates. Elsewhere in the public sector, we heard that trade unionists blocked workfare in the Home Office – something that looks necessary at the DWP, now that job centres are even mandating people to do workfare in job centres.
We know that when organisations pull out of workfare, it threatens workfare’s existence. Please do everything you can to make sure your council and local charities don’t take part. You can find out if your council replied to our research and what it said by downloading the spreadsheet here. If there’s nothing for your council, you could try your own Freedom of Information request as there’s now plenty of precedents that this is information they should share!
Also this week:
- Take part in the Brighton picket of workfare user Grosvenor Casinos this Tuesday.
- Book your travel to the skills and info-sharing day on 15 February (or let us know if you need help with travel costs).
[EXPAND Newcastle City Council Motion, Feb 2012 – Workfare and Forced Labour]
“This council notes that the coalition government’s Workfare scheme forces people in receipt of benefits to work without payment, or risk losing those benefits;
Draconian new rules include the withdrawal of benefit – which now seems commonplace from those who “fail” to look for enough jobs or “miss” an appointment.
This council believes that this strategy has been proven to harm genuine volunteering, to undermine paid employment and the social welfare system, to increase net cost to the state, and does not benefit individuals or communities, but
rather perpetuates and exacerbates poverty;
Through its City Deal the Council is looking to improve apprenticeships and skills and drive the creation of real jobs.
This council resolves not to participate in any Workfare or other similar forced labour scheme, and where possible, to extend the provisions of such a boycott into its procurement policy.