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.
Share your ideas about how to take on workfare and sanctions in 2015
In 2014, your actions helped push workfare closer to collapse. The disgusting new Community Work Placement scheme struggled to get off the ground; 500 charities and voluntary organisations pledged to avoid workfare and Keep Volunteering Voluntary; and direct action and pressure across the UK brought an end to hundreds of placements.
Over the next few weeks, we’re having a proper think about the most effective ways to take on workfare and sanctions in 2015. We’d like your ideas and creativity to help us plan ahead!
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on this article by Wednesday 4th February. We’ve got some thoughts on the questions below and would love to hear your thinking on any of them too. Please feel free to think wider as well! Read the rest of this entry »
After numerous workfare placements in their stores, Cancer Research now say they will cancel any placements they hear of
Despite having formally pulled out of workfare in 2012, we recently heard of two people who were referred to undertake six month long Community Work Placements at Cancer Research shops in London. One of the persons concerned complained. She was informed by the Head of Retail Operations:
Cancer Research UK do not have and never has had a national relationship with a mandated scheme which affects people’s benefits as these do… we have had local arrangements, however these were brought to a close almost two years ago.
When this is brought to our attention we make sure all details are thoroughly investigated and appropriate action is taken to stop this from happening.
All shops shops nationally received… a communication once again clarifying our policy not to accept, however underhand some of the agencies have approached shop managers, individuals on a placements scheme.
There have been some challenges and confusion at local level where shop teams may have missed reminders or their initial training or where the agency hasn’t been clear as to the nature of the scheme someone is joining us on. However, following this complaint, 10 placements were withdrawn.
Anyone out there in the world of Community Work Placements or facing workfare on another scheme, please ensure Cancer Research UK stay true to this commitment. Read the rest of this entry »
Boycott Workfare members recently met Irish activists challenging workfare from young people’s organisations We’re Not Leaving and #WorkMustPay, and Paul Murphy TD, who set up the Scambridge website. Here’s what they learnt.
The Irish government’s response to huge unemployment rates of over 10% (and more than double that for young people) follows the same disastrous blueprint as many others in Europe: more sanctions, more conditionality and the introduction of workfare.
Its “Gateway” scheme puts claimants to work in public sector jobs for twenty hours a week for nearly two years, all for a bonus €20/week on top of the ‘dole’. With a thousand placements already having taken place and a further 3000 planned, it’s clear unpaid work on this scale is plugging the gaps left in a public sector which has already lost over 45,000 jobs in austerity’s squeeze.
The fact that workfare clearly replaces jobs has been no deterrent to the Irish government, who also continue to push the JobBridge scheme as a solution to unemployment: This despite the fact that 200 employers (3% of the total) have admitted to displacing paid workers with claimants on JobBridge. A further 29% admitted they would have advertised a paid role if free labour hadn’t been on offer. Read the rest of this entry »
Direct action and online pressure meant thousands of workfare placements were prevented in 2014
At the tribunal, the DWP argued that if the public knew exactly where people were being sent on placements political protests would increase, which was likely to lead to the collapse of several employment schemes and undermine the government’s economic interests.
Get a mirror. Got it? Good! Now take a look at yourself. Yes you. The amazing person looking back at you has made a real difference. A massive difference in fact. In the last year, people who know instinctively that workfare and sanctions are just plain wrong have pushed workfare closer to collapse. That’s the government’s own view, given as evidence in court in October 2014.
Here are just a few of the ways amazing people like you have helped make it happen:
A new, punitive, six-month workfare scheme to launch in April 2014 was the headline policy from the previous Conservative Party conference. But the scale of public opposition to workfare means that rolling out more forced unpaid work wasn’t going to be easy for them.
The War Memorials Trust rapidly rebutted Cameron’s headline claims that the unemployed would be put to work “restoring war memorials”.
Our opposition helped to delay the scheme’s roll-out by several months.
The Boycott Workfare week of action at the start of April persuaded major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA to say that the new CWP scheme was one step too far even for them.
George Osborne’s first PR visit for the scheme backfired when it prompted such a huge public response that a week later, Byteback IT pulled out, thanking people for bringing the issues around workfare to their attention.
Encouraged by hundreds of supporters on social media and elsewhere, charities came out en masse to say no to workfare…
In 2014 – thanks to the great work of the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign – over 500 charities have come out against workfare, pledging publicly not to take part. This is important: many workfare schemes rely on placements for so-called “community benefit”, so need the co-operation of the voluntary sector. 500 organisations which will not take part in workfare removes thousands of potential placements. The growing consensus that charities want no part in workfare and benefit sanctions is a huge huge blow to the welfare to work industry and workfare.
The KVV list already includes many household names – such as Shelter, Oxfam, Crisis, Scope and the Trussell Trust – as well as umbrella bodies and local organisations.
As Oxfam put it “These schemes involve forced volunteering, which is not only an oxymoron, but undermines people’s belief in the enormous value of genuine voluntary work.”Help invite more organisations to sign up!
120 Mandatory Work Activity Placements took place for Scarborough Borough Council, but the scheme has now been cancelled!
This time last year, the Guardian and the Mirror covered our research showing that councils in the UK had used more than half a million hours of workfare. Within days, Scarborough Council, one of the worst workfare-using councils in the UK pulled out! It had taken 120 Mandatory Work Activity placements in its Parks Department, where cuts to staff had recently been proposed. This success should mean jobs are now a little more secure.
As the unprecedented retrospective workfare legislation passed with the help of Labour in 2013 showed, the government considers itself above the law when it comes to workfare. But that doesn’t mean that workfare schemes were compatible with human rights law nor that the government has the right to withhold information from the public. In 2014:
On 5 July, the High Court ruled that emergency workfare legislation in 2013 was not compatible with the human right to a fair trial.
In June, an Upper Tribunal judge ruled that the DWP must reveal the list of organisations using workfare. The DWP fears that the public response to this list could make the schemes “collapse” and has appealed again.
In October, the DWP was back in the courts again, trying keep information on workfare out of the public domain, this time revealing just how fearful of public opposition to the schemes it is. Once again, it lost its case and was ordered to reveal workfare users.
“Employers the world over agree: it’s all about the right mindset” – James Reed, Chair of workfare providers Reed
Ever been forced to attend a course laced with “positive thinking” mumbo-jumbo or referred to a psychologist for ‘asking too many questions’? If so, you’ll understand why it’s so important to push back against the government and workfare industry’s attempts to blame unemployed people for the state of the economy.
In 2014, we won an important step in challenging the psychological coercion used by the workfare industry. After a prolonged effort from Boycott Workfare members, with support from academics and mental health activists, the new president elect of the British Psychological Society (BPS), Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, has agreed to launch an enquiry into the misuse of psychology in workfare and the role of BPS. You can tweet BPS to keep up the pressure here.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty shut down a workfare-using Salvation Army shop for three hours
When charities and businesses realise the brand damage and disruption that involvement in workfare brings, it often doesn’t take long for them to reconsider their involvement.
Direct action at the start of April persuaded major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA to say they would not take part in the new Community Work Placement scheme, although it remains to convince them to withdraw from workfare altogether.
In October, the week of action against workfare led to four major charities (Scope, Barnardos, BHF and Traid) cancelling their involvement in Community Work Placement schemes too!
Effigy of the manager of a forced labour centre in the Netherlands made out of the sponges that people on workfare are forced to cut
In February, our Welfare Action Gathering brought together over a hundred people from 12 different groups to share information and strategies and plan co-ordinated action. It sowed the seeds for the launch of the hugely successful Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign. As more and more welfare action groups emerge across the UK, find a group taking action against workfare near you here.
In the year when workfare in New York City was finally brought to an end, we built links with anti-workfare campaigners across Europe too: Boycott Workfare members have met people from the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland who are campaigning to stop workfare and sanctions in their countries too.
In 2015, watch this space for more workshops, gatherings and international links!
People taking action in Sheffield picketing Savers and TCV described passers by as “without exception” sympathetic. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty’s impressive blockades of workfare profiteers like Salvation Army were an important deterrent to other potential workfare users.
When John McArthur was sent to work unpaid for his former employer, he chose instead to picket the recycling plant on a daily basis. His action inspired hundreds of people to contact LAMH Recycling and it pulled out too!
Haringey Solidarity Group (HSG) have kept their ear to the ground with weekly “know your rights” and “blow the whistle” leafleting sessions outside Community Work Placement provider Urban Futures. As well as showing solidarity with people facing bullying and mistreatment on the punitive scheme, HSG have discovered who the local workfare users are. Their actions have brought placements at Traid, Cancer Research and Marie Curie to an end, and they are working hard to end the 50 placements at North London Hospice shops.
As major charities and high street shops boycott workfare, placements increasingly take place in local businesses and charities which is why this kind of local action is really important. Every placement we end makes it more difficult and expensive for workfare providers to profit from these schemes. And our impact can be seen in the numbers: Figures published in May 2014 showed a significant decrease in Mandatory Work Activity referrals.
Many people who follow and support our campaign are claiming some form of social security. They may have suffered the scapegoating of the media; abuse and terrible treatment at the sanction-obsessed Jobcentre; or been subject to the positive-thinking, double-speak thought police at workfare providers. If you are one of these people, then you should be especially proud. Whilst the media, millionaire politicians, and workfare profiteers tell us we are to blame, they have failed to break us. With every action you have taken, or workfare user you have named and shamed, you have given others hope.
So look back over the year and see what you have helped to achieve in the campaign against workfare and be very proud of yourself. Together we have made a massive impact. To win on workfare is to defeat those waging war on living standards and the welfare state. We can do it: just look at what you have helped to achieve already.
Help make a difference this coming year too! Join our email list and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Share this blog on social media to inspire others to get involved too!
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 »
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 »
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).