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.
Lord Freud – the ex-banker with an 8 bedroom mansion driving the welfare abolition agenda (Photo: CBI/Flickr)
David Freud, or Baron Freud of Eastry, is the coalition’s welfare reform minister. He’s been instrumental in bringing in privatization of the welfare system, increasing conditions on those claiming benefits and advancing the rotten cause of workfare at every step. This is why Boycott Workfare paid him and Minister Mark Hoban a visit last week when they wanted to talk about how wonderful the new ‘universal credit’ system was going to be. It’s also why UK Uncut stopped by his house in April to give him their very own eviction message.
Freud has been at the forefront of the ideological attacks and demonization of unemployed people and those struggling to make ends meet. Last November, he complained that “people are able to have a lifestyle off benefits and actually off conditionality.” In May, he was criticized for refusing to comment on the suicide of Stephanie Bottrill, who cited the government’s bedroom tax as the reason why she could no longer cope.
He had no answers to what the effect of the tax would be on the 220,000 families who face the changes to housing benefit and dismissed the extra charges as “relatively small”. When asked how social housing tenants would make ends meet he suggested they “could go out to work”, enforcing the myth that those in social housing or claiming housing benefits are not in work already. He also repeated his advice that separated parents who don’t want to pay the tax shouldn’t keep a bedroom for their children to sleep in. Instead they should downsize and put their kids on a sofa bed.
Freud was also a key adviser to the previous Labour government on the introduction and extension of workfare, before he joined the Tories and was made a Baron. His advisory report on workfare in 2007 recommended contracting out the ‘management’ of claimants to private companies on a massive scale. At the time, he noted that:
‘there is no conclusive evidence that the private sector outperforms the public sector on current programmes’. (p6)
What he was sure about was that:
‘this will be an annual multi-billion market. Such scale would attract commitment from a wide range of private service providers and voluntary groups.’ (p8)
Workfare thinktank Policy Exchange got together with the DWP yesterday to announce the results of their call for ideas for bullying part-time workers off in-work benefits. When Universal Credit is launched, all claimants unable to secure full time jobs will have to continually look for ‘more or better paid work’ or face sanctions. But Boycott Workfare were there to make sure the event didn’t go to plan. One Policy Exchange organiser was overheard bemoaning “It’s just such a shame that the event has been ruined.” Now to ruin their plans to extend devastating sanctions to the working poor!
Argos: boasted about using workfare at its ‘busiest times’ but now appears to have pulled out of workfare. Photo: olishaw/flickr
In yet another massive blow to workfare, Argos – which has 740 stores nationwide – appears to have pulled out of workfare. Argos had previously boasted that it was using workfare to cover its busiest period at Christmas. In at least one store, workfare workers were doing ten hours a week more than paid staff. That they have now pulled out is a testament to the strength of feeling amongst the general public and shows the results we can get when we keep up the pressure!
It gets better. Remember how Homebase were exposed for using 25 workfare placements in one store and boasting about it? How we heard some people’s paid hours were cut from 48 a week down to 8 as a result? They faced such a huge response from the public that they took their Facebook Page down repeatedly. People protested at their stores across the UK. Now, they too, have apparently stopped using workfare. Their statement is full of doublespeak, but people protesting during the bank holiday at the store where the story emerged were told by the manager that the last workfare workers finished on Friday and they won’t be using any more.
These companies were saving thousands on their wages bill by exploiting the unemployed. This, despite the fact that the CEO of Home Retail Group – which owns Argos and Homebase – was paid £1.1 million last year. They didn’t ditch workfare out of the goodness of their hearts: it’s clear that your actions are making a massive difference, taking two big scalps! Please keep an eye on your local stores to check they don’t slip back into workfare when the pressure eases off. Read the rest of this entry »
Work Programme: proving there’s money to be made out of the unemployed, but none for the unemployed themselves. Photo: Howard Jones
Another week, another admission from politicians that the government’s Work Programme is failing (but obviously without any moves to bring it to an end). This open letter of complaint highlights just how useless the Work Programme really is, and concludes “I think the only solution to my complaints is for your company (and the Work Programme in general) to cease to exist.” For more stories of people’s experiences, read the comments on the blog where this letter was originally posted.
To whom it may concern
I am writing to lodge a formal complaint against Avanta. I do not wish to target any individual branch or person in my complaint but, rather, your organisation as a whole. My reasons for this are that I believe any branches or individuals are only acting in the interests of your company and their actions are a reflection of what is expected of them.
I will state, however, that my branch is the [removed] branch – but I’m fully aware my complaints are not limited to this one branch.
I am extremely dis-satisfied with what is supposed to be a service intended to help myself, and other jobseekers, back into work. There is nothing about Avanta which proves to me that Avanta are interested in anything more than filling their own pockets.
My complaints are as follows, and in no particular chronological order:
The government must now reveal the list of workfare exploiters, which it fears mean the schemes will ‘collapse’. But it praised Salvation Army for ‘holding the line’. [Photo: Sinister Pics]
Some great news: The government has lost its appeal and must reveal the organisations that have used Mandatory Work Activity, Work Experience, and Work Programme placements. That means we’re going to be able to show those organisations what we think of them profiting from free labour!
The evidence the government submitted reveals what a huge impact your actions have had. They 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.” (Point 109)
This adds to the evidence that emerged earlier in the week that numbers of people on “Government employment schemes” (read ‘workfare’) have dropped by 16,000 this quarter. We also heard that Seetec were complaining at an industry conference last week how difficult it is to find placements nowadays because employers are worried about protest. The DWP’s appeal revealed that one subcontractor has complained about a loss of 100 placements per week in its area alone (point 93).
That is your actions – whether building pressure online, spreading the word, withholding donations, boycotting shops, joining a picket or staging an occupation – helping push back forced unpaid work in the UK.
The government feared that “Put simply, disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme”. Let’s do our best to make sure it does! Keep your eyes peeled for the release of the names and get ready to step up the pressure on those profiting from forced labour.
Special congratulations go to Frank Zola for pursuing this to the Information Tribunal. The full decision can be enjoyed here. (Of particular note are points 28, 29, 67, 70-75, 93, 94, 96, 99, 100, 103, 109, 127, 133, 176, 196)
Since the Salvation Army gets a special mention from the DWP for ‘holding the line’ (point 196), you may like to take this opportunity to remind them why this position is just so inconsistent with their Christian values. The Salvation Army UK can be contacted on facebook, by phone (020 7367 4500), by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). More background on their involvement and contact details can be found here, or you can tweet at them: Tweet to @salvationarmyuk
GovKnow’s Employment, Apprenticeships & Skills conference was about using welfare reforms to create incentives to work. It aimed to show employers where to look for cheap, compliant and mandated workers and to show educators and recovery organisations how to create those workers. It showed all those attending how to rebrand unpaid work as training, learning and recovery.
One protester spoke for five minutes until Mark Hoban had to leave the room; she was then evicted. When Hoban returned to the stage, another protester took up where she had left off. As he was evicted another one popped up again!
This is not the first time that industry conferences have been challenged. Others have been invaded, relocated and disrupted too. These events are all about the money to be made out of unemployment and out of the unemployed. It’s clear there’s no money to be made by the unemployed in the form of employment.
Three protesters were evicted from the conference this morning for disrupting Hoban’s speech. Challenged on his profit at expense of taxpayer while robbing the poorest, he had to leave the room. Video to follow! Tweet #employ2013 @GovKnow
Employment, Apprenticeships & Skills Conference 2013 16th May 2013
This conference is about the use of welfare reform to create incentives to work. The conference planning committee has already ruled out the option of well paid work.
Instead, the focus is on stepping up efforts to force people to work longer, harder, with greater insecurity and fewer rights, for very much less money.
The conference is also about ‘creating employees that business needs’ – in other words compliant, frightened, non unionised, isolated, grateful, desperate, aspirational, eager to please and above all, endlessly cheerful, positive and upbeat workers – no matter how exploited.
You can find details of the agenda here. Special highlights include:
how to pay low wages and still get highly skilled workers
government incentives for taking on those who are too sick to work
finding disabled people who are especially willing to work for nothing
diversity pays! Watch your wage bill plummet as disadvantaged groups clamour for zero hour contracts
focus on recovery: people who are hungry and homeless are a real bargain
Free postage donated by Salvation Army, ink donated by Barclays – Priceless. (Photo & caption courtesy of @cliffjamester)
Have you seen the Million Freepost Letter Project yet? If not check it out!
Its purpose is clear: “This is a Anti-Workfare page set up to use all legal means to stop organisations using the unemployed for free labour, these unscrupulous organisations understand one thing only, and that is profit, so that is where I aim to encourage people to target.”
Its method is simple: Write your complaint about workfare to an organisation’s freepost address, thus costing the organisation money as well.
The fantastic and v. useful infographic that Occupied Times have put together, working with Boycott Workfare. Click on it to see it full size!
There are different rules for each of the workfare schemes, and the job centre and work programme don’t seem too bothered about following them, so it’s important to know your rights! We hear stories every week of people who have managed to avoid workfare by asserting their rights. This great new infographic, put together by Occupied Times (who also published this article about Boycott Workfare), is a very useful summary of some of our key rights. For more detail, check out this page too.
Please help spread the word! Pass the infographic onto people you know who are signing on, or download and print leaflets (with the infographic formatted for A4) to give out at your local library, work programme provider or job centre. (We can help with printing costs – so let us know if that would help!)
We are extremely disappointed that PCS leadership have decided not to allow debate at their conference on two motions which called for the union to move from theoretical to practical unity with claimants in challenging sanctions.
Current welfare policies and reforms represent an unprecedented attack on claimants and on the welfare state itself. Conditionality, workfare and the huge rise in sanctions are driving claimants further into poverty and destitution. At the same time a vicious campaign of hatred driven by the media and political classes has stigmatised those on benefits and poisoned public debate. Read the rest of this entry »