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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.

Brisfest and workfare

Posted: September 25th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

After an article published here on Friday reporting how people had been coerced into applying to volunteer at Brisfest through the Work Programme, it turns out Brisfest had no knowledge of this. We have removed the blog following assurances from Brisfest that they were not aware that this was taking place and that they will take steps to prevent it happening in future. It is because the government are refusing to reveal the names of organisations using workfare we have to rely on people naming and shaming the organisations involved.

Boycott Workfare were told that Prospects (and at least one other local work program provider) were getting claimants to apply for the volunteering and training at Brisfest, in some instances under coercion. It now appears this was done without the Work Programme providers ever making contact with the organisers of Brisfest. Brisfest were not aware of what was going on until the article posted here as the Work Programme providers were getting people to apply through the normal procedures that all volunteers do. This shows how workfare has corrupted true volunteering, where organisers do not even know that all the volunteers are actually volunteering.

Brisfest, have said this could have come about by them advertising the volunteering posts in the Job Centre, something they will not be doing next year. By taking this action, they are trying to make sure their placements and training remain truly voluntary. They were shocked to find out what was happening in some Work Programme providers, as they pride themselves on being a community festival brought together by volunteers. We are pleased that the Brisfest organisers do not support the use of workfare and that they are keen to ensure they only use genuine volunteers and they are currently looking into signing the Boycott Workfare pledge at their next group meeting.




New welfare support and action groups starting up

Posted: August 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
'How to Avoid Workfare' leafleting in Bristol

‘How to Avoid Workfare’ leafleting in Bristol

We’re excited to hear about a number of new welfare support and action groups that have been set up recently across the UK. There has also been a public meeting in Stroud on the benefit cuts and what we can do.

These groups provide a space for claimants to support each other with benefit problems they are facing and take action together to try to resolve that issue, as well as organising actions against welfare cuts in general.

London Coalition Against Poverty and Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty both have a great deal of experience in running these sorts of groups. Take a look at their websites for resources, especially this inspiring booklet from LCAP which has tonnes of useful information on starting a group.

The last workfare week of action saw thousands of ‘how to avoid workfare’ leaflets being handed out at job centres across the UK. Through informing people of their rights and forming support groups so that we can make sure these rights are upheld and extended, we can effectively challenge the government’s various workfare schemes and their welfare cuts.

We are currently organising a UK gathering for welfare action groups and individuals looking to start a group to come together and share ideas and experiences. Save the date 18th January 2014. Get in touch with us if you’d like to be involved in making this happen and if you or your group would be interested in running a skillshare on the day. Keep your eyes peeled on this blog for further information.

Why not get involved in one of the groups listed below? Or drop us an email if you would like to set up a group in your area and would like to discuss how we can support you, advertise your group and link you up with others in your area.

New welfare support and action groups:

Birmingham Claimants Union

Brent Housing Action

Bristol Claimants Union meet 12.30pm every Friday at Easton Community Centre

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth


Established welfare support and action groups:

Brighton Benefits Campaign

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty

Hackney Welfare Action

Islington Poverty Action Group

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

Leicestershire Solidarity Group

Leeds Unemployment Action

Liverpool Claimant Network



Football clubs using workfare

Posted: August 21st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

workfaremascotWith football clubs under fire for not paying staff the minimum wage, Boycott Workfare can reveal some of them are using workfare to avoid paying staff at all. Portsmouth FC, which went into administration following relegation, bankruptcy and debts of millions, is now owned by the fans in the shape of the Portsmouth Supporters Trust. Ironically one of its sponsors is ‘‘. The club is open about its use of workfare through the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme, telling a local paper:

“So far there have been 35 people working here over the past six weeks .They’re contracted to do 6.5 hours a day and since they’ve been here, for the past six weeks they’ve done more than 3,000 hours of painting and maintenance and general cleaning. It’s incredible.

Some of the painting we would do every year, but we’re painting things that haven’t seen a lick of paint in maybe 25 years

The general up keep and maintenance of the club is done by people forced to work for free under threat of losing their barely subsistence benefits for a minimum of 3 months, and up to 3 years.  Turns out the self-proclaimed ‘community club’ are more than happy to exploit the local unemployed community by using them to do jobs – without wages. By doing workfare at Portsmouth FC, the unemployed are effectively being used to pay off the club’s debts.

But Pompey is not the only club involved. On the Boycott Workfare facebook there has now been reports about more MWA at Leciester City Football Club and mandatory Work Programme placements at Bristol Rovers Football Club and Bristol City Football Club. On top of this tender documents that companies used when bidding for their MWA contracts back in 2011 name local clubs Handsworth FC, Hurlford United FC and Lanark Juniors FC as possible workfare users.

Someone on facebook described the conditions at Leciester City Football Club where her friend has been forced to work:

“Apparently at leicester fc grounds,there is at least one person with special needs on a MWP, and i am told they are treated badly, only being given a 30 Min lunch break. The have also reported being spoken to derisorily by the supervisor at LCFC stadium, and being forced to wipe down chairs for six hours one day-clearly punitive & not about gaining experience or improving skills.”

Football is not unique in the sporting world and people using our Name & Shame form have also been sent to Keighley Cougars Rugby League Club and the Leicester Riders Basketball Club to do 4 week long MWA placements.

These clubs and sports are enjoyed by many, but they should not be using forced free labour where people face losing everything if they do not do as the clubs demand – and Pompey, not having got round to painting your stadium for 25 years is not an excuse!

If you suspect that your local sports club are using workfare report them on our  Name and Shame form. Why not contact them using their twitter and facebook pages to express your concern at their involvement in workfare schemes which increase poverty and undermine paid jobs. 



Cait Reilly and Jamie Wilson at the Supreme Court

Posted: July 28th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Jamie Wilson and Cait Reilly began their legal challenge against the Department for Work and Pensions’ workfare schemes at the High Court in 2012.  Jamie, a mechanic, was sanctioned for six months because he refused to work unpaid cleaning furniture for 6 months for 30 hours a week.  Cait was forced to end her time volunteering at a local museum and stack shelves in Poundland for two weeks.  

Campaigners celebrated a significant victory against workfare outside the High Court today

At 10:30 this Monday morning the Supreme Court will begin hearing the DWP’s appeal and Cait and Jamie’s cross-appeal in Cait Reilly and Jamie Wilson v Secretary of State .  The legal atmosphere will be odd: the DWP’s appeal is completely academic because it has enacted law which says that it won in the first place anyway.

In February 2013, the Court of Appeal held that the 2011 Regulations under which most workfare schemes were operating were unlawful, and quashed them.  The Court’s ruling said that the Regulations were far too vague: they didn’t relate to the schemes that existed

After that judgement, no-one could be be forced to participate in workfare – except MWA, which wasn’t covered by the regulations – until new regulations were drawn up. (These were made the same day the Court of Appeal handed down judgement.)  It looked like £130 million of unlawfully applied sanctions would have to be repaid.

But the government responded by passing retrospective legislation which re-wrote history and re-made the Court of Appeal’s judgement in their favour.   By ensuring that no-one could reclaim money taken away from them by unlawful sanctions, the government denied claimants access to justice and violated their human rights.  After this hearing at the Supreme Court, that legislation will be subject to judicial review.

The Supreme Court hearing is important, though.  Public Interest Lawyers, representing Jamie and Cait, will argue that the government’s approach to workfare continues to be unlawful.  If the Supreme Court agrees, the new Regulations, like the old ones, may be quashed and the government might be forced to take a different approach, publishing details of all workfare schemes.

During the cross-appeal, PIL will argue that the government has a responsibility clearly and publicly to tell claimants what is involved in each different workfare scheme and what the criteria are for deciding who is eligible.  Without this information, it is extremely difficult to to make a decision about whether or not to take part in workfare, or to know whether the decision is even one you can make. At the moment very little publicly available information exists that you can use to challenge your eligibility for workfare schemes – as anyone who’s ever been forced onto one knows.  The bits of information available have been collected over a long time, by many people making Freedom of Information requests. (At the Appeals Court, the DWP wasn’t even able to show that its own internal guidance was detailed enough or up-to-date.) At the moment it is unclear how to appeal against sanctions or against referrals to workfare schemes; it is almost impossible to know whether or not the things you’re forced to do while on workfare are the kind of things you can ‘legitimately’ be forced to do.

These arguments for the publication of information about workfare were part of the first appeal, but the Court paid them little attention.  PIL will draw upon a mass of examples to show that people have a public law right to know at least enough about the law that effects them to be able to challenge its application (for example, see here, paragraphs 34-36).

This right is underlined by judgements in the Court of Human Rights.  These are the concern of the second part of Cait and Jamie’s cross-appeal, since the Court of Appeal didn’t find that workfare breaches article four of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘no one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour’).  It sidestepped the question, also having no problem with unpaid work in general.   PIL will argue that workfare does breach article four rights.  None of the information about workfare is accessible, so none of its requirements or its consequences  are foreseeable and nothing about it is set out with precision.  It therefore cannot be work that is ‘part of normal civic obligations’ (which is exempt from article four). Also, since the 2011 and 2013 Regulations are outside the powers of the government (PIL will argue), workfare is also not a part of domestic law, further strengthening the argument that it is a breach of article four rights.
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Boycott Workfare call for sanction stories

Posted: June 12th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Boycott Workfare outside Policy Exchange after "ruining" their event

Boycott Workfare outside Policy Exchange after “ruining” their event

In return for supporting the passage of a retrospective law to steal £130 million from claimants who were illegally sanctioned, the Labour party were promised by the government that there would be an independent investigation into the sanction process. Of course, we expect little from an investigation that came at the price of justice for claimants. With no space for claimants to actually submit their concerns and experiences, the views of claimants will be not be represented.

With your help, Boycott Workfare would like to highlight the devastating impact that benefit sanctions are having on people’s lives. Collecting together your experiences of benefit sanctions we will be putting together a sanctions zine. Email us your words, however many or few you want to use. Things you may want to include may be:

– the length of the sanction

– the ‘reason’ the Job Centre gave for imposing the sanction and how they told you this ‘reason’

– how it affected your life, including its impact on your physical and mental health, your family and friendships

– how you coped during this time

– and how you are doing now e.g. still claiming JSA, stopped signing on, signing on to a different benefit, stress/worry about further sanctions etc.

– perhaps you have not been sanctioned, but have been bullied and threatened with sanctions

Email us at

Feel free also to submit drawings and get in touch if you have any other ideas or suggestions. We also welcome submissions from those who are indirectly affected by benefit sanctions, such as welfare activists, welfare advisors and those involved in the Civil Service Rank and File Network.

We look forward to reading your submissions!

Stop G4S’ Annual General Meeting

Posted: June 1st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Last years' Stop G4S protest outside G4S' AGM

Last years’ Stop G4S protest outside G4S’ AGM

G4S are holding their Annual General Meeting next week where they will boast about the profit they’ve made from exploiting unemployed people. A Prime Provider of the government’s failing Work Programme, G4S force people onto workfare and sanction benefits for millions of pounds of government money.

G4S are in the business of force. As well as making claimants lives miserable through coercion and bullying, G4S also profit from detention, imprisonment, and the exercise of force on behalf of oppressive regimes. Join the Stop G4S demo next Thursday in London and link up with others to stop them ‘securing your world’.

Read the call out from the Stop G4S campaign here

Join the facebook event here

Government Lies In Response To Workfare Petition

Posted: January 29th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

If You Exploit Us We Will Shut You DownAn anti-workfare petition setup on the governments petition site reached 10,000 signatures, meaning that the government has to issue a written response to the petition. Their response begins with a barefaced lie:

We do not have Work for Your Benefit or Workfare schemes in this country. Workfare is an American term used to describe employment programmes which force all jobseekers to work at a certain point of their claim in order to continue to receive benefit

So according to the DWP, Mandatory Work Activity – which if you say no to the “offer” you can have your benefits stopped for up to three years – is not forcing people to work in order to continue to receive benefits. Or maybe it also isn’t workfare when on your first day of signing on your are forced to work for 3 months unpaid or be threatened with up to 3 months of withdrawn benefits?

But we’re dont just take our word that the DWP are lying. Take the DWPs whose own guidance states that:

.. mandatory work programmes, such as the MWA and ESE schemes fall within the
meaning of “Work for your benefit” schemes

It is typical of this government to respond to a petition with a lie, after all they have been lying about benefits all the time, and both Ian Duncan-Smith and the former employment secretary Chris Grayling make a habit of it. Perhaps they think that lying about the existence of unemployed and disabled people being used as forced labour is the only way they can stop protests from bringing down the schemes – this is the reason they gave the information commissioner for refusing to tell us which organisations take part in workfare schemes.

If you thought that this petition would change the governments mind over workfare, it should be clear that it won’t – instead, why not follow the DWPs instructions, and join groups around the UK taking action against the charities and companies that take advantage of free labour from these schemes.
This Saturday sees Bradford Against Workfare demonstrating, meeting at 12noon in Centenary Square. Actions happen every weekend in different places, and there will be a week of action in March.

Workfare in Shoe Zone this Christmas

Posted: November 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

This week, Boycott Workfare has been contacted by a concerned member of staff working at high street retailer Shoe Zone. Their first hand experience, which they bravely wanted to share with us all, provides yet more evidence that workfare is replacing paid jobs. As with Argos and Superdrug, Shoezone are using ‘work experience’ from the job centre to cover the busy Christmas period instead of employing temporary staff or giving current staff the option of over-time. Here is their story:

“I work in Shoe Zone in the south east. This week our manager has held three ‘interviews’ with people sent from the job centre. They are to help us for up to 30 hours a week for 8 weeks over the Christmas period. One of them stated he would only be getting his bus fare paid by the job centre. This is to be called ‘work experience’. If there is work to do over Christmas surely we could hire staff for 8 weeks in a proper fashion? I am sickened that my manager imagines they are doing these people a favour of some sort to ‘let them experience work’. I get the feeling that head office will be very pleased with themselves too to keep a store running smoothly over Christmas without actually using any extra resources, when these work experience placements can pick up the slack.

The three people start today on this ‘work experience’ and I am terrified by the idea that head office think they don’t need to pay their staff and can run a store with people from the job centre. i myself am on part-time minimum wage and if they can have workers for free now what is to stop them making my position redundant and using job centre people to run the store at no cost to themselves? If my hours are cut next year, i shall know why.

I do not feel its right these people will be expected to do the same work as our usual staff. Even worse, i will be expected to keep an eye on them to make sure no mistakes are made when pulling stock and writing labels etc- extra work we could do without at Christmas time. They will not be authorised to use the tills or ordering system but everything else including dealing with customers, they will be expected to do. Its a disgrace. I fear for the safety of my job at the moment and in the future if this ‘work experience’ continues.”

If you would like to contact Shoe Zone about this:
Twitter: @shoezone
Facebook: click here

Also Birmingham are taking action against the use of workfare in high street stores over Christmas on the 8th of December during the week of action.

Workfare shutdown!

Posted: October 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Hundreds of people paid a visit to workfare providers on and around Oxford Street on 20 Oct! Thanks to all the different groups that took part and the great samba band! Watch this space for a day of action on 8 December…

outside M&s

M&S: Specialising in forcing single parents to work without pay

Dorothy Perkins shuts its shutters

Several stores shut down as the demo approached. This one seems to confirm the word on the streets: Arcadia hasn’t in fact ended its involvement?

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Workfare and welfare: It’s up to us

Posted: October 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

It’s a simple message and we’re going to keep pushing it until workfare is no more.

Today was a sad day for anyone hoping that a change of government might revive a commitment to social justice, and do away with workfare. Instead Liam Byrne announced that Labour would continue to cut welfare on top of the further £10 billion cuts the coalition government plans to make by 2016.

With 2.6 million unemployed, all at risk of being forced to work unpaid on one of the many workfare schemes, basic economics tell us that workfare will continue to force wages down and increase poverty for everyone. Even those in work will continue to see their living standards decline. When Universal Credit is introduced, its regime of conditionality could see people who are in part-time work forced to work unpaid to claim their existing welfare top-up payments.

All three main political parties have sent out a clear message: if you are claiming any kind of welfare, whether you are in work, or out of work, not to mention if you are carrying out forced unpaid work for Poundland (whose profits are up following their use of workfare) then too bad.
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