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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.

Saturday 27th June, National Day of Action against B&M Bargains – the DWP’s pet exploiter

Posted: May 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Welfare to work industry | No Comments »

B&M Bargains have just won a ‘prestigious’ workfare industry award for their use of forced upaid labour. We need to let them know this has not gone unnoticed. They need to understand that it is unacceptable to have this sort of exploitation take place in our communities.

B&M bargains are a private, profit making company (they made over £100 million last year) and yet it won’t pay its workers for their labour. People on workfare are given sanctions (loose their benefits) if they don’t work for free, and even when they do work they are sanctioned for ‘misdemeanours’ such as being late. Sanctions mean that claimants loose their basic means of survival – the money they need for food, bills and other necessities. Sanctions are a major cause of the rise in the use of foodbanks.

Apart from exploiting claimants, workfare also undermines the hours and conditions of paid employees at B&M. As with all workfare placements in the private sector, workfare provides free labour that replaces paid jobs.

Boycott Workfare has had several reports of reduced hours for paid staff as well as the practice of employing paid staff on a trial basis, sacking them after 12 weeks, and replacing them with workfare placements:

“B&M stores started using workfare Jan 2013. Receiving free labour and stopping overtime for employees with contracts. The people forced to do this free labour are not happy and neither are the other workers.”

“older or long term staff were sacked and a new wave of 20 workfare placements taken on.”

“Just to let you know B&M Stores have taken on new staff under a workfare scheme. This was 1 month after staff hours were cut by 50%. This meant my hours were cut from 20 to 10.”

With no sense of irony, ESRA awarded B&M Bargains ‘Large Employer of the Year’ for such behaviour. With almost no large charities (except for Salvation Army, sigh) and so many companies refusing to be part of workfare, such self-congratulatory awards start to smell more than a little of desperation!

B&M’s destruction of paid jobs and exploitation of claimnants is NOT something that we think a company should be congratulated for. Because ESRA, who gave this award, have no sense of irony and because we do…

Come out on Saturday 27th June and help ‘celebrate’ their award outside their stores:

  • Make it noisy – bring pots and pans and wooden spoons 
  • Bring trumpets, drums, whistles and kazoos 
  • Make it colourful
  • Bring a message small or big for B&M Bargains

Workfare can only take place if there are employers willing to take advantage of forced labour. And these employers will only do so if they think they can get away with it. Public pressure, protests, pickets and social media campaigns have already been hugely successful in forcing businesses and charities to pull out.

People can only be sent on workfare placements if there is somewhere to send them. Let’s make it impossible to do this!

Not on this street, not in this city!

How to get involved:

Use twitter, facebook and direct action to expose B&M Stores and call for a boycott of their stores

Find a B&M Bargains near you and join or organise a protest there

Get together to create banners, signs and share ideas


Unanswered Question Time: Break the Election Silence on Workfare and Sanctions

Posted: April 30th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action | 5 Comments »
Graph of sanctions increases, from David Webster's evidence to the sanctions inquiry

Graph of sanctions increases, from David Webster’s evidence to the sanctions inquiry

It is a disgrace that the three main political parties (and UKIP) support workfare and sanctions.  This consensus has allowed the introduction of policies that are causing ill health, hunger, homelessness and deaths.  All three parties have some responsibility for this and they all have questions to answer.

So today we’re asking you to take action online and help us break the election silence on workfare and sanctions.  It is unlikely that these issues will even get a mention during tonight’s Election Leaders Special edition of Question Time.

Help us to make sure these issues do get talked about, and tweet up a storm about workfare and sanctions using the #bbcqt hashtag.  And tweet your unanswered questions to @Ed_Miliband @nick_clegg and @David_Cameron…

Here’s the low-down on the political parties that support workfare and sanctions:
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Take action: No voice for workfare profiteers

Posted: April 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Welfare to work industry | 4 Comments »

ERSA twitter screenshotTake action online against the workfare industry conference as part of the Week of Action vs Workfare and Sanctions!

Today, Monday 27 April, the welfare-to-work industry is holding its AGM.  The ERSA – the organisation that does spin and lobbying for workfare exploiters – is meeting to discuss the year in workfare and new ways of making the sector respectable.

We don’t know the location yet.  Since our noise demo massively disrupted their conference at the end of 2013, they’ve been cagier about where they meet.

For the first online action for the week of action against workfare, we want to target the ERSA and spotlight the violence they do to claimants through workfare, ‘training’, and sanctions.   Their work relies on coercion, threats, and the imposition of poverty. So at the AGM we’ll find the Employment Related Services Association talking over new ways of presenting the same lies about workfare.
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Fast food workers are hungry for justice and a living wage!

Posted: April 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Guest blog, Unions | 2 Comments »

fast-food-rights-logo-square-ii-2This is a guest post from the Bakers’, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). They are organising actions around the UK on Wednesday against low wages and zero hour contracts in the fast food industry.  BFAWU was one of the first unions to sign up to the Boycott Workfare pledge, after workers at a 2 Sisters Food Group factory in Nottingham were sacked and replaced with people on workfare back in 2012.  Unlike some others, BFAWU has consistently campaigned against workfare as well as the precarious work, poor conditions, and low pay that workfare supports.   See here for more details of BFAWU actions on Wednesday.    

On 15 April 2015, thousands of fast food workers will lead a mass movement of around 60,000 low waged workers striking across the United States to raise the issue of poor wages and the lack of trade union rights within their industry. At the same time, fast food workers and activists in 33 other countries around the world will also be taking action against low pay. Here in the UK, the Bakers’ Food and Allied Workers’ Union’s Fast Food Rights campaign, which works in conjunction with the US workers’ movement, is calling for an end to the use of zero hours contracts and demanding an increase in the minimum wage to £10 per hour.

Protests have been organised across the country against employers who are wilfully exploiting their workforce in order to boost their already significant profits. Fast Food Rights actions will take place in London, Glasgow, Sheffield, Manchester, Darlington, Leeds, Birmingham, Leicester, Cardiff and Southampton (For details: fastfoodrights.wordpress.com)

One fast food worker on a zero hours contract said,

“I’m joining the 15 April global day of action because zero hours contracts and low pay are no way to live. What the American fast food workers have done shows we can fight for better. It is great that the bakers’ union has taken up the fight for £10 an hour and union rights for fast food workers here, and that’s why me and my workmates have joined the union.”

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#GE2015 More workfare, less pay

Posted: February 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Info on schemes, Sanctions | 5 Comments »
Solidarity protest at Arbroath Job Centre to support Tony Cox and affirm claimants' right to be accompanied

Solidarity protest at Arbroath Job Centre to support Tony Cox and affirm claimants’ right to be accompanied

This week the Conservatives announced in their manifesto they would introduce a new ‘community’ workfare scheme, specifically targeted at young people.

This is odd because chancellor George Osbourne had already launched just such a workfare scheme last year – and neither David Cameron, Osbourne, nor the media appear to remember it.

What does this workfare reboot really tell us? That workfare as a policy must be in enormous trouble if it has to be rebranded and relaunched on a yearly basis. Successful polices don’t need constant spin and retreads. And this tells us that the public is just not buying workfare. But then why would they when it replaces  jobs?

But then this latest ‘new’ workfare announcement is just more poorly thought out PR masquerading as a manifesto policy. A large number of workfare schemes already exist, and it is a proven fact that they do not work. They are very expensive failures. The Work Programme for example is a £5 billion failure, while the existing Community Work Placement scheme costs £235 million alone and is faltering badly with over 500 charities pledging not to take part in the scheme – and with more signing up every week.

More recently, the DWP evaluated the London Mayor’s ‘Day One Support for Young People’ (DOSfYP) workfare scheme. The DOSfYP scheme, like this new community workfare scheme presently touted by the Tories, was also targeted at young people. It cost £12 million and its chief outcome was to deter young people from claiming JSA – while making no difference to young people’s employment chances at all (see p. 28 of the evaluation here).
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Call Out for Mustard Tree Protest this Saturday!

Posted: January 30th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

WP_001680Take part in the our second Manchester Boycott Workfare action against Mustard Tree
31 January 12pm at Mustard Tree, 110 Oldham Rd, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6AG

After a great turn-out at our last protest, Mustard Tree have said they are discussing their use of workfare with their Board of Trustees. Let’s make sure they realise that it is unacceptable to take any part in workfare – an exploitative programme that causes poverty and destitution.

Workfare is forced, unpaid work: people have to ‘volunteer’ or face loosing their right to benefits. It makes a mockery of the concept of volunteering, it undermines real voluntary work, and it does nothing to help people into work (as even DWP research has shown).

The sanctions given for not completing a workfare placement result in hunger, severe poverty, distress and also contribute to homelessness. And it is homeless people who are among the most likely to be sanctioned and devastated by the consequences. It is almost beyond belief that a charity like Mustard Tree that works to support homeless people uses workfare. It needs to end immediately.

Come out and stand in solidarity with homeless people and everyone exploited by workfare. Show Mustard Tree that we will not tolerate this exploitation in our city: there can be no place for unpaid and forced labour anywhere, let alone in a homeless charity.


Make sure your festive charity giving doesn’t support workfare

Posted: December 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | 2 Comments »
Salvation Army band

When donating to charity this festive season, many people will wish to avoid charities such as Salvation Army which put people at risk of destitution by using workfare.

Today’s the launch of #GivingTuesday in the UK when charities encourage people to share their festive cheer with donations. This month is one of the most important of the year for charity fundraising. Boycott Workfare encourages people to think twice before giving to organisations that use workfare.

To view a list of those charities you may wish to avoid donating to, click here. Sadly the list of those still willing to put poor people at risk of destitution through benefit sanctions still includes big names such as Salvation Army, YMCA, RSPCA and others, as well as many local charities and hospice shops.

If you’d like to know which charities are committed to avoiding workfare and to Keeping Volunteering Voluntary, see the list of nearly 500 voluntary organisations that have signed the pledge here.

And if you’d like to donate to help bring down workfare, your donation will go a long way. Please feel free to do so by clicking on the Donate button below.





Take action online: Workfare Profiteers’ annual get together

Posted: November 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Welfare to work industry | 2 Comments »
Boycott Workfare banner

Previous conferences of workfare profiteers have faced occupations, disruption and twitterstorms to challenge their business of carving up welfare for profit. Take action online on Monday 1 December!

Monday 1st December is conference time for the ‘Employment Related Services Association’ whose speciality is ‘Championing the welfare to work industry’, i.e. lobbying and spin for workfare profiteers.

The profiteers have a luxury hotel booked for this annual celebration of all the money they are making from workfare. An opportunity to hear Esther McVey describe her plans to psychometrically test the unemployed for ‘resistance to work’. Not to be outdone, she’ll be joined by shadow employment minister Stephen Timms; just to prove that Labour and the Con/Dems are as one when it comes to their commitment to workfare, sanctions and the dismantling of labour rights.

If you don’t have the £450 registration fee to hand, you could always find other ways to let ERSA know your views on people whose profits depend on forced unpaid labour and the no pay/low pay economy that workfare sustains.

If you haven’t come across this lot before, here’s a helpful glossary for the language they use from Another Angry Voice:

Voluntary = Forced
Support = Punishment
Opportunity = Compulsion
Help = Hindrance

Let them know what you think of people who make money from ‘help to work’ contracts designed to annihilate workers’ rights and plunge those who resist into poverty and destitution.

Tweet them:
Phone: 0203 757 9415 (always worth asking for a senior manager – the person answering the phone could well be on workfare themselves. The Chief Executive is Kirsty McHugh)
Email: membership@ersa.org.uk

It’s no surprise to find support for this festival of workfare exploiters coming from the Shaw Trust, the Papworth Trust, Tomorrow’s People and Groundwork. But it’s disappointing to find Julia Unwin from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the programme – in a session headed ‘better together’. Even more troubling that she’s on the platform with Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham Council and responsible for evicting the Focus E15 Mothers.

Then on 3rd December, the Institute of Employability Professionals (making a career out of delivering workfare) is holding a leadership event at the Olympic Park, London. Book your place at events@iemployability.org They say you are welcome to bring a friend.

Previous workfare profiteers’ conferences have faced occupations, disruption and twitterstorms to challenge their business of carving up welfare for profit. We know that taking action is effective! Workfare is falling apart – as more and more organisations refuse to take on forced labour. Without placements, the ‘employability’ sector will collapse.


It’s working against workfare: Bulky Bob’s and LAMH pull out of Community Work Placements scheme

Posted: November 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Pulled out! | 2 Comments »
bulky bobs furniture store

Bulky Bobs and LAMH Recycling have both stepped back from workfare in the last few weeks!

It’s been a bad month for workfare: anti-workfare protests and campaigns in various parts of the country have been gaining ground at the expense of the DWP’s schemes. Campaigners are causing myriad problems for the Department for Work and Pensions: it is increasingly difficult for them find and keep placement providers for their Community Work Placements (CWP) scheme.

As Shiv Malik reported in the Guardian earlier this month, even the DWP admits that our actions are working. At the Information Commission tribunal hearing – where the DWP are challenging court orders telling them to release the list of organisations that are involved in workfare schemes – they 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”. Well, it would be a shame not to prove them right.

Successful attempts to get charities and other organisations to stop their involvement in workfare this month have taken many forms. There have been online actions; the work of the campaign urging charities to Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV); persistent one-man protests outside placement providers; and actions which didn’t even have to take place to get Bulky Bob’s to stop using workfare!

By some accounts, it was merely the threat of Liverpool IWW arriving at local household waste recycling firm Bulky Bob’s for the protest they had planned for the 12th of November that moved them to withdraw from workfare – although online actions by Liverpool IWW and others helped to pile pressure on the company’s management. Bulky Bob’s have also agreed to sign the KVV pledge, promising not to get involved in further unpaid work schemes. You can see their statement on their website here.

John MacArthur protested on his own for 2 hours a day outside the Motherwell (Scotland) charity ‘LAMH’ (Lanarkshire Association for Mental Health). He had been employed by the association at minimum wage in 2010-11, but recently was referred to them for unpaid work as part of the 6 month Community Work Placement programme. He was sanctioned in August – his Jobseeker’s Allowance was stopped until January for refusing to work for no wages at LAMH, leaving him “living on 16p tins of spaghetti”. But John made sure his former employers were aware of his situation and the negative publicity LAMH received induced them to drop out of the CWP scheme.

Sustained campaigning against workfare schemes has been destabilising the DWP’s schemes at every level this month, and clearly they’ve been feeling it. Let’s all support each other to keep up the good work going forward.

If you have any actions planned you’d like us to publicise, or any recent actions you’d like us to mention, get in touch at info@boycottworkfare.org.


Take Action: bring down Groundwork’s CWP in the North East

Posted: October 9th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | 1 Comment »

groundwork ne cwp placement hosts

Update: The action was a success – Scope has been removed from the list and Barnardos and BHF have said they will no longer be involved!

Community Work Placements would collapse without support from major charities.   Today, as part of our week of action, we are contacting the major charities who provide CWP placements for Groundwork in the North East of England (six months’ workfare for 30 hours per week). We’re asking them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.

Yesterday, the website of Groundwork North East listed all the charities providing them with placements.  These include Cheshire Homes, British Heart Foundation, Barnardo’s and Scope, as well as over 15 more local voluntary agencies in Redcar or who are part of Redcar Voluntary & Community Sector.  As Groundwork also say, as well as having a ‘fantastic working relationship with the local job centres’,  they work in close partnership with Christians against Poverty and local food banks.

What they don’t say is that workfare is a major cause of poverty and a major reason why people end up depending on food banks for food.  We know how Community Work Placements are being marketed to employers as a way of replacing paid jobs.

Groundwork have since removed the webpage – but we’ve got a screenshot (click on the image above to enlarge it).

The involvement of well known national charities is disappointing.  BHF have previously stated “We are not involved in the Help to Work scheme.  Barnardo’s have said  “Barnardo’s does not take part in any mandatory work activity. We have been clear that we are against the principle of benefits sanctions”. Scope are signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement, which commits them to not taking part in any government workfare scheme.

So what’s going on? It looks like the  culture of secrecy surrounding workfare (e.g. the refusal of Freedom of Information requests,  redaction of placement providers from contracts on the grounds of ‘commercial sensitivity) is enabling placement brokers like Groundwork to mis-sell forced labour as volunteering.

We have to ask: is this secrecy  compatible with the duty of charities to be open and honest about their activities?  To ensure that the public, who donate to charities, are fully aware of whether they do, or do not, support forced unpaid labour in any guise?

We understand that because all aspects of workfare are cloaked in secrets and lies, some charities providing placements may well have been misinformed.  It can be especially difficult for small, local charities to avoid being deceived.  But if an organisation gets a letter that refers to the same group of people as ‘unpaid employees’, ‘volunteers’, and ‘unemployed people’ – and emphasises that the organisation won’t have to pay anything for them (even travel costs) – then alarm bells should start ringing.  And when well known workfare fixers like Groundwork get in touch, it’s more than likely it’s for placements for JSA claimants who’ve already been unpaid on the work programme and are now being sent on CWP for up to six months more unpaid labour.

As for British Heart Foundation, Barnado’s and Scope: you can let them know that the public expect them to honour their commitments not to take part in workfare. And expect them to remember that they have a duty of care  towards those on current placements: these organisations must ensure that they do not face sanctions or suffer as a result of the organisation withdrawing.  

You can send a message to BHF via their website or phone their head office on 020 7554 0000.  You can tweet at them 

You can phone Barnado’s North East regional office on 0191 240 4800, contact them on Facebook and tweet at them

Scope – details removed since they are no longer on the list. Well done everybody!

Groundwork North East can be reached on the phone (01388 662 666), on Facebook, and on Twitter

And Groundwork UK are on Facebook and Twitter as well .  Or you could contact them through their website, or on the phone (0121 236 8565).  They have other local branches throughout the UK.  To find contact details for the nearest one to you, look here.

Please feel free to contact the other placement hosts listed on the Groundwork North East website as well.  There’s not many, and if half pulled out, Groundwork’s CWP contract would be ruined.