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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.

Workfare nipped in the bud at Debenhams Colchester

Posted: December 21st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Pledge to boycott workfare, Pulled out! | Tags: | 5 Comments »

Workfare nipped in the bud at Debenhams Colchester 1As a gloomy year comes to an end, we’re glad we can offer a ray of seasonal cheer with this tale of holiday workfare averted at the Colchester branch of Debenhams.

At the beginning of October we received tip-offs that eight-week workfare placements were under consideration at the Debenhams Colchester branch, organised with the local job centre. These would take place over the Christmas peak period as job centre ‘work experience’.

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Mustard Tree: from workfare exploiter to workfare refuser

Posted: January 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Charities, Pulled out! | 2 Comments »

12265661_1515689348749285_1701812175792048410_o (1)Mustard Tree is a charity that works with homeless and other disadvantaged people in Greater Manchester. Until recently, it participated in workfare. But thanks to a sustained campaign by Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester, they’re no longer involved!  

Mustard Tree had been part of the government’s Mandatory Work Activity Programme (MWA)  –  4 weeks’ full time unpaid work, carried out under threat of sanctions.   Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester first picketed Mustard Tree in December 2014.  Then again at the end of January 2015, again on March 21st, and again in November.  On January 13th, Mustard Tree updated their position on MWA:

Following further consideration, the board of Trustees of Mustard Tree have decided to withdraw our offer of the 4 week work placements associated with the Mandatory Work Activity element of the Welfare to Work Programme.

This updates their earlier stance. In the previous position statement, from March 2015, they said that:

We believe that the 4 week work experience placement [i.e. MWA – unpaid work] is a wholly proportionate and effective tool for accessing sustainable employment.

Like Haringey Solidarity Group’s campaign against North London Hospice, it shows that sustained campaigns against charities using workfare are effective.  BW Greater Manchester put pressure on Mustard Tree in different ways:

  • they wrote to supporters of the charity, like FC United
  • they kept a dialogue going with Mustard Tree throughout the process,
  • they continued picketing their shops and offering information to people passing about what workfare is and how it links to sanctions.  

On all the demonstrations, people from BW Manchester had a massively positive response from passers by.  Even people who were hearing about workfare for the first time very quickly understood what is wrong with workfare, and especially what is wrong with a charity participating in it.

Protest report: MUSTARD TREE: STOP USING WORKFAREMustard Tree’s Eccles shop, Saturday (14/11/15) at 12 noon.As usual…

Posted by Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester on Saturday, 14 November 2015

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Win, win & win on workfare

Posted: April 1st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Pulled out! | 3 Comments »
Know your rights sanctions advice

Get in touch to order our new sanctions leaflets to give out in the week of action on 25 April-2 May – info@boycottworkfare.org

Just over three months into 2015 and your campaigning against workfare continues to pay off.

Win: In January, the charity Wandsworth Oasis publicly stated that they have now pulled out of workfare. Then in March, following your campaigning, charity Starter Packs Glasgow announced that they too had pulled out of workfare. It would also appear that the charity Changing Lives may have quietly used workfare and then quietly pulled out. Maybe they know this is a campaign that can…

Win. The charity Papworth Trust have taken the step of emailing Boycott Workfare to say…

“…that as of 31 March 2015 Papworth Trust will no longer be delivering Mandatory Work Activity as we have not renewed our contract with the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Although they remain a subcontractor for the work programme, they now say they won’t mandate people to work experience on the scheme. For a charity of this size to decide not to renew a workfare contract is another massive blow to the DWP, and another success for this campaign. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised given workfare’s culture of bullying, sanctions and fraud is finally becoming common knowledge.

However, your campaigning successes do not stop there. Read the rest of this entry »


Make sure Cancer Research keep to their word

Posted: January 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Charities, Pulled out! | Tags: | 3 Comments »
Cancer Research have told the Guardian they are pulling out of Mandatory Work Activity - but what about the other schemes?

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.
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Pushing workfare closer to collapse: 2014 a year of successful actions

Posted: January 1st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Pulled out! | 4 Comments »

crowd with boycott workfare banner

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.

Guardian, 3 November 2014

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:

[EXPAND Winning: Community Work Placements delayed and undermined]
no one wants workfare (IDS and war memorials, CWP)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…

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[EXPAND Keeping volunteering voluntary: Charities say no to workfare and sanctions]
Logo of Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign - hands raisedIn 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!
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[EXPAND Turning the tide: Councils refuse workfare]

A park in Scarborough

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.

Since then, 24 more councils have pledged to boycott workfare. You can ask your council to do the same here.
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[EXPAND Winning the argument: Workfare in the courts]
real crime is workfareAs 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.

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[EXPAND Challenging psychological coercion]

“Employers the world over agree: it’s all about the right mindset” – James Reed, Chair of workfare providers  Reed

“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.
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[EXPAND Direct action: Weeks of action get the goods]

blockade of salvation army shop

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!
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[EXPAND Making connections: Growing grassroots action to challenge workfare and sanctions]

Effigy of the manager of the forced labour centre made out of the sponges that people on workfare are forced to cut

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!
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[EXPAND Ending hundreds of placements: Local action works]

bulky bobs furniture store

Bulky Bobs stepped back from workfare saying “we are happy to support Liverpool IWW in their efforts to persuade the DWP to scrap Workfare”

Workfare is weakest where we are strongest. When people mobilise in response to workfare placements in their area, it makes a huge impact.

In 2014, football fans in Dulwich persuaded their club to drop workfare. In Liverpool, Bulky Bobs not only stepped back from workfare but signed a joint statement with IWW calling on other businesses to do the same! Bristol’s May Day workfare protest persuaded St Werburghs City Farm to end its Mandatory Work Activity placements.

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.
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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!


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.


Big thanks to all who took part: Week of action gets results!

Posted: October 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Pulled out! | 8 Comments »
crowd with boycott workfare banner

Three workfare providers – Urban Futures, LearnDirect and Avanta – faced occupations and blockades

So, what did last week show us? When you take action, you get results.

Scope, Barnardos and British Heart Foundation have cancelled their involvement with CWP 6-month workfare. Traid pulled out too when an action was called outside its store in Wood Green. That’s four national charities who were forced to respond following pressure from you.

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

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.”

The Trades Union Congress was bombarded with tweets and emails, while claimants from Kilburn demonstrated, asking the TUC how it can march for a “pay rise” while actively supporting “no-pay” Traineeships for young people and sanctions.

outside the tuc

“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 info@boycottworkfare.org 


Fans’ success – Dulwich Hamlet Football Club end workfare!

Posted: April 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Guest blog, Pulled out!, Uncategorized | No Comments »
Dulwich Hamlet FC end workfare

Out of workfare!

Pressure by Dulwich Hamlet football fans has resulted in the club pulling out of using workfare in its grounds. Boycott Workfare were contacted through a Name and Shame form by someone who was forced to work at DHFC as part of Mandatory Work Activity. They told us how they had received a 3 month sanction after they asked questions about the health and safety forms Seetec told them to sign.

Dulwich Hamlet FC fans were quick to respond – as soon as we told them about this they contacted their club to find out what was going on and call for an end to workfare at their club. After talks with the new management, who had inherited the workfare contract from the previous owners, fans managed to get the following statement that workfare would no longer be used:

It has become apparent that the previous owners were using mandatory work activity programmes, and that local ‘long-term unemployed’ people have been assisting on site without payment. We want to support the community in as many ways as possible, but do not feel this is a suitable option. Dulwich Hamlet are willing to speak to any service providers regarding apprenticeships and training programmes”

We welcome that Dulwich Hamlet FC acknowledge that forced unpaid work under threat of benefit sanctions is at odds with supporting the community and that they will not be involved in such schemes. Apprenticeships and training programmes involve poverty wages. To truly support the local community, paying at least a living wage for all work at the club is a good place to start.

Boycott Workfare have received numerous reports of workfare being used in football clubs, and other sports clubs. We encourage others fans to follow the impressive example set by Dulwich Hamlet FC fans in their dedication to workfare free football.

Here, one fan outlines the situation at Dulwich Hamlet FC and their personal response to hearing about its use of workfare:
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