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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.

The list of shame: Court tells DWP to reveal workfare users

Posted: July 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Name and shame | 8 Comments »
Osborne visited Byteback to promote his new workfare scheme. Following a huge public response, a week later that company pulled out!

Two weeks ago, Osborne visited Byteback to promote his new workfare scheme. But following a huge public response, a week later that company pulled out!

“It is to be expected that some charities find it difficult if not impossible to defend themselves against the actions of Boycott Workfare.”Upper Tribunal Judge Wikeley (reaffirming the First Tier Tribunal decision)

The DWP has lost its appeal to try and keep the list of those using workfare out of the public domain. The Upper Tribunal judgement was dismissive of the DWP’s arguments, making it clear that the DWP is just playing a delaying game – anything to slow down the release of the list of all the businesses and organisations  profiting from the use of workfare.

But that’s because there’s a lot at stake. In the DWP’s own words: “put simply, disclosure of the information in relation to the MWA scheme would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA scheme” (point 12 of the decision).

It’s great news. Once again the DWP has been wrong-footed: the great work of everyone campaigning against workfare continues to pay off. The judge defended people’s right to challenge schemes with effective democratic action.

However its not over just yet: there are still a few more delaying tactics available with further avenues for appeal that the DWP might use.  Frank Zola, one of the people who put in the original requests for the names of workfare placement providers, says:

“The decision of the Upper Tribunal, on the names of Mandatory Work
Activity (MWA) hosts, has taken two and half years and throughout this
period the ICO issued 3 similar decision notices that the DWP should
disclose the names of MWA workfare hosts and the Work Programme . It
seems clear to me that the DWP has been using these appeals to frustrate
the public’s right to know who hosts workfare placements, more as an
affront to the right-to-know principles of the Freedom of Information
Act and the rights of campaigners, bloggers and members of the public
to free speech and legitimate democratic protest.”

Luckily, we don’t have to wait for the government to name and shame workfare exploiters. Everyday people forced onto workfare schemes are exposing who is profiting. The list is growing. Have a look, pick a few and let them know why they’ve made the wrong decision. This information is a tool to take workfare apart with.

And with or without the full list, we are successfully stopping the spread of workfare. Two weeks ago, Chancellor George Osborne visited Byteback, an IT firm in Bristol, to showcase his flagship new brand of punitive 6-months’ full-time workfare, “Community Work Placements” (CWP). A week later, Byteback had heard from enough members of the public to realise it had made the wrong decision and pull out. It thanked people for explaining the issues around workfare, and said:

“From tomorrow, we will have no further involvement ever with this scheme. We had the best of intentions, both of us started this company as a result of a similar scheme back in 2002. Clearly we were wrong to get involved with workfare.”

That’s a PR disaster for workfare, and just one more blow to CWP, which already has more than 400 charities and 22 councils boycotting it, and missed its deadline for roll out by a mile.

We’re winning and workfare is being pushed back, but there are still those willing to profit from people forced to work without pay. It’s up to us to name and shame them, and make them know that the public won’t tolerate exploitation, job replacement and sanctions.

Let workfare users know what you think and take part in the next workfare week of action on 4-12 October – more on this soon!


DWP in court: challenged to reveal list it fears could make workfare “collapse”

Posted: June 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Charities, Info on schemes, Name and shame | 7 Comments »

Update 13/6/14: Read about what happened at the hearing here. Judgement is expected in 4-8 weeks.

Media release, 11 June 2014

Tomorrow, 12 June, the Information Commissioner will challenge the DWP to reveal a list of organisations which have used Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placements for jobseekers at an Upper Tribunal hearing [1]. The DWP will argue that due to widespread public opposition, the controversial workfare scheme could collapse if the names are revealed [2]. If it loses the appeal, the decision could become a landmark ruling on the obligation of the DWP to reveal details of the private companies delivering government contracts [3].

It is thirty months since the original Freedom of Information request was made, and the second time that the DWP has appealed the Information Commissioner’s decision that it must reveal the names of MWA workfare placement providers [1].

Despite the government’s own evidence showing that one month MWA placements have “zero effect” on helping people into work [4], the government launched an extended six month version on 28 April, “Community Work Placements”. Like MWA, these placements rely on the participation of public and voluntary sector “host organisations” to deliver placements for “community benefit” [5].
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Peacocks exposed: Apply for a job – get workfare!

Posted: February 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Personal accounts | 13 Comments »
group of protesters outside peacocks

Hundreds of leaflets were given out and there was a great response from passers-by to the demos on 1st March!

Another high street chain has now been exposed as using workfare: Peacocks have taken on workfare placements instead of hiring staff. 

Two stores faced protests on 1 March and their Facebook moderators have been very busy deleting people’s messages for days now. London Boycott Workfare invites other groups to pay a visit to your local store too and put the pressure on for Peacocks to pay its staff! Download our leaflet template here.

This person’s story shows how this practice means job applications are ignored when free labour is on offer instead. Another report has come in that the Sutton store has 10 workfare placements at one time. Please find out what’s going on at your local store too and let us know!

Can’t make it to a store in person?

Peacocks’ code of conduct claims: “Employment is Freely Chosen. There is no forced, bonded or involuntary prison labour. This includes forced labour due to peer pressure…”

Let Peacocks know what you think about their use of workfare on their social media channels:
Facebook | Or via their website |

Or contact the company which owns them – Edinburgh Woollen Mill:
On Facebook |

I started claiming in last August, and since then have been sent on several work placements.

In December of last year I had an interview for Christmas temp work at Asda (though in the end I didn’t undertake it). One of the interviewees was someone who had been on a work placement there. At the start of the placements, people are told they will take you on a temporary contract after completing the placement, but this person had to go through the same process as everyone else.

In December I also undertook a work placement within a local Holiday Inn branch that was tied into a ‘Sector Based Work Academy’ I was referred onto and that was organised by a local college and I believe jobcentre supported. They have also now however been placed onto the ‘work experience’ list available from my jobcentre.

A few months later, I was asked to put my name down for work experience again. Our local branch of Peacocks hadn’t long reopened. They had been advertising vacancies for some time and so within the first week of the shop being open I had put my CV into the store for consideration.

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UK councils use half a million hours of workfare

Posted: December 28th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Info on schemes, Name and shame | 10 Comments »
Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now.

Boycott Workfare’s research revealed half a million hours of unpaid work in councils

New research by Boycott Workfare, covered in The Mirror and The Guardian, reveals that UK councils have used over half a million hours of unpaid work through the government’s workfare schemes, which compel people to work without pay on threat of benefit sanctions. Click here to see if your council is involved!

In a Freedom of Information request to all councils in the UK, 38% of the 271 councils who responded and held the information had taken a workfare placement at some point in the last two years. These placements include schemes with direct benefit losses, benefit losses if you drop out after starting, or referral to a scheme with direct benefit losses if you refuse to take part. Also, with all these schemes, Boycott Workfare has heard of people being told it is compulsory by their job centre advisor, even if officially you can choose to take part.

In total 1,929 placements were reported to have taken place across the 106 councils involved since June 2011, with 15 councils reporting use of the schemes but not saying how many placements they had taken. This is over 500,000 hours of unpaid work.  Half of these reported placements were on the Work Experience scheme, but nearly 300 placements were on Mandatory Work Activity where people can receive a benefit sanction for up to 3 years for refusing to take part in the 4 week placements. Almost 300 people were also sent to work at councils through the Work Programme (or Northern Ireland’s equivalent Steps to Work) where placements were lasting up to 26 weeks.

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Amazon, zero hours and now the Work Programme?

Posted: August 13th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Welfare to work industry | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

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It was a matter of time. Amazon – which tags its workers, use zero hours contracts, practices tax avoidance, and received loans totaling £2.5 million from the UK government – look like they could also be involved in some way with the benefit sanction ridden work programme.

An employee for the HR company Transline Group who finds staff for Amazon, tweeted her thoughts on the unemployed and the power she has to ruin lives, “I get so much pleasure knowing what i can do if people mess me around” and have their “benefits stopped forever” – the photo shows more of her vile views. In doing so, she has revealed what many of us who have experienced A4e or SEETEC or REED know is true. Our lives are controlled and they relish in using sanctions to bully and punish people, whilst providing big businesses with cheap or unpaid labour.

Although the employee in question has now been suspended this raises questions of what is going on? Are Transline a subcontractor for the work programme as well as managing recruits at an Amazon store? If not what is their relationship with the local work programme provider?

Earlier this year in email correspondence passed onto Boycott Workfare, regional manager of Maximus, Jamie Guest, said “We have placed people into work in Amazon Distribution Centres in Slough, Milton Keynes and Hemel Hempstead”. This was after someone had already been pressured about taking a low paid job there with unspecified hours with the ‘justification’ that “you’re not even working 16/20 Hrs per week” – at Amazon you’re not even guaranteed one hour. This appears that Amazon who are renowned for using zero hour contracts and firing people every 3 months are getting the many staff they need, due to the high turnover, from the work programme where people have no choice – although through a confusing chain of companies.

This all means that claimants can be referred for sanction by people such as @DietQueen (the sanction happy tweeter in the photo) for not going to interviews, or taking jobs at Amazon, with no guarantee of hours or a ‘job’ longer than 3 months. Meanwhile the Work Programme ‘supply chain’ could be cashing in on the ‘job outcome’ of someone forced to work on a zero hour contract. At present Boycott Workfare cannot tell you how many people are being sanctioned or if anyone has been sent to Amazon on workfare, or elsewhere, as the government are currently refusing to make this information public.

Boycott Workfare would ask people not to target the person in question. Given the facts we would ask people to instead concentrate their anger at Amazon and Transline Group, or at anyone from this growing list of workfare providers.

Transline can be contacted on Twitter (@translinegroup), on Facebook or by phone: 01422 349423. Amazon can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@amazonuk).

Thank you to @robotincognito for the screen grabs and finding out the story!

Also, here’s a reminder of the DWP’s rules on zero hour contracts: “Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are not required to apply for zero hours contract vacancies
and they will not face sanctions for turning down the offer of a zero hours contract.”


Homes for Haringey still using workfare

Posted: June 3rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Name and shame, Public Sector | 1 Comment »
Two years ago a third of Haringey Council parks department gardeners were made redundant. Now people on workfare are being forced to work unpaid on their estates.

Two years ago a third of Haringey Council parks department gardeners were made redundant. Now people on workfare are being forced to work unpaid on their estates.

A new report from Haringey Solidarity Group highlights the problem of workfare being used to fill the gaps left by local authority cuts. If you’re in London, join the protest on Tuesday!  If not, please support the local campaign by raising your concerns with the council.

Groundwork is one of a number of green ‘charities’ involved in workfare.  Like The Conservation Volunteers they think that by remaking the natural environment, we remake ourselves (into more attractive workers).  But their message is the same one always pedalled by the DWP: unemployment is the fault of unemployed people. People must work for free and under threat of being sanctioned into destitution to learn things like ‘confidence’ and ‘positive thinking’.  Though Groundwork tried to claim their scheme was ‘not mandatory’, we now know it’s part of the Work Programme, which is definitely not volunteering, no matter how much the definition is mangled.

Homes for Haringey is the borough’s arms-length management organisation, set up to manage council housing. Tenants on their estates have found out that local unemployed people are being forced to work on their estates for no pay and with no workplace rights.

Groundwork, a national registered charity working in partnership with Haringey Council, has been using the Government’s workfare schemes – in which unemployed people are forced to work with no pay or workplace rights – to maintain some Homes For Haringey estate gardens.

Initially Homes for Haringey denied any involvement with workfare, but after a recent Freedom of Information request they have now acknowledged that 27 people on the Work Programme (one of the Workfare schemes) have been used to maintain Homes for Haringey gardens. Job Seekers have been sanctioned for refusing to work for no pay under the Groundwork workfare scheme, losing all entitlement to benefits for several weeks.


Two years ago a third of Haringey Council parks department gardeners were made redundant. They used to maintain all the Council estate gardens. It is unacceptable that these paid jobs are now being replaced with unpaid labour. People should be paid a living wage for the job they are asked to do. Poverty levels are already very high in Tottenham, being forced to work for no pay just makes things worse.
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Two more major retailers – Argos and Homebase – out!

Posted: May 28th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame | Tags: , , | 9 Comments »
Argos: still exploiting people with workfare

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.
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‘They could refer me to it whenever they liked’

Posted: May 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Personal accounts | Tags: | 3 Comments »
Occupied Times infographic. information available in text form on know your rights page on our website.

Know your rights! Read more here.

Job Centre Advisors routinely ignore their own rules; the process for challenging bad decisions is sometimes so obscure and long-winded that someone’s time on a placement is served before they get far enough to have the decision overturned. This person’s story highlights what a deeply frustrating process this can be.

I was referred to Mandatory Work Activity in March 2013 by an adviser who, until the day I was referred, I had never met before. No adviser told me I was being considered for MWA, nor were any concerns about my job search raised, and the reason given was the period of time that I had been unemployed and needed work experience.

Having been referred I researched what MWA entailed and found that this adviser had failed to follow several of the guidelines set by the DWP for referral (failure to use the Customer Assessment Tool, the rule about the referral never coming as a surprise to a claimant and eligibility amongst other things) so made a phone call the next day to express my displeasure at this. I raised these concerns with the adviser who referred me, who fairly flippantly told me that they could refer me to it whenever they liked.
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Government must reveal workfare exploiters!

Posted: May 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Info on schemes, Name and shame | 13 Comments »

Salvation Army International and UK HQs were paid a surprise visit to launch the week of action. [Photo: Sinister Pics]

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 (info@salvationarmy.org.uk). More background on their involvement and contact details can be found here, or you can tweet at them:


What they didn’t tell you at the Age UK’s For Later Life Conference

Posted: April 30th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities, Name and shame | 1 Comment »

Age UK shop

Age UK: still using workfare

Workfare: silence is consent

Does Age UK support workfare or not? They certainly didn’t want to discuss the issue at their For Later Life Conference although they had plenty to say about poverty, inequality and equal rights in ‘tough times’.

Back in 2012, Age UK head office said there was ‘no involvement’ in workfare schemes and that they were now advising their stores to wind up their association with government employment programmes. But in recent weeks Boycott Workfare has had a spate of tweets from people saying they’re being forced to ‘volunteer’ at Age UK or face sanctions. Age UK in East Sussex appears to be taking part in MWA (Mandatory Work Activity), which requires people to work unpaid for 4 weeks or lose benefits.

Contact Age UK to raise your concerns now!
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