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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’.

Read the rest of this entry »

Check out a charity!

Posted: August 7th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities, Pledge to boycott workfare | No Comments »

Workfare hasn’t gone away (as evidenced by the number of name & shame posts we still get). But the recent press coverage of the court ruling revealing workfare exploiters is an opportunity to ask some tough questions of charities that may still be involved with workfare. We would like to encourage people to contact charities on that list to find out whether they are currently using workfare, and their position on workfare.

First check at KVV to see whether they have since signed the agreement not to use workfare.
Here is a template letter to charities about workfare which you can use – modify it as you wish.

Part of an organisation? Pledge to Boycott Workfare

Posted: July 15th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Pledge to boycott workfare | No Comments »

transparent-red-no-circle-md copyThe government continues to try and push workfare with numerous work for benefits schemes in spite of a groundswell of opposition across the UK.

Already nearly 400 voluntary sector organisations have pledged to Keep Volunteering Voluntary, and over 20 councils have pledged to avoid workfare too. It’s important that other sectors also firmly turn their back on workfare: will your organisation sign the pledge to Boycott Workfare too?

Why organisations should sign:

  • There is huge public opposition to workfare schemes, with thousands boycotting those involved. Signing the pledge will reassure people that your organisation is not taking part.
  • Workfare schemes are backed by a punitive regime of benefit stoppages, sanctions, which have driven the need for foodbanks in the UK and put people at risk of destitution for up to three years.
  • Replacing motivated and decently paid workers with people facing destitution from often arbitrary sanctions will not be of benefit to your organisation or the claimant.
  • Evidence shows workfare does not help people find work.
  • Signing the pledge will make it clear in advance that your project won’t participate in or police any of these schemes.

Let’s pre-empt any expansion of workfare – and bring it to its long overdue end!

Get your organisation to sign the Boycott Workfare pledge:

“We the undersigned commit to refusing to participate in compulsory work-for-benefits placements. We want volunteering to remain just that!”

Email to add your organisation to the growing list below!

Union member? Approach your employer to sign the pledge with support from your trade union branch! Please download the Union motion – boycott workfare to bring to your trade union branch and a leaflet to bring to meetings and events.

See the full list of organisations that have already signed the pledge here. 

Flagship workfare scheme floundering due to voluntary sector opposition

Posted: June 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities, Info on schemes, Pledge to boycott workfare, Public Sector | 1 Comment »
On Saturday, this demo in Sheffield persuaded tens of people to boycott workfare users TCV.

On Saturday, this demo in Sheffield persuaded tens of people to boycott workfare users TCV.

Today, 2 June, is the deadline by which Community Work Placements – the flagship policy announcement at last year’s Conservative Party conference – were required by contract to be up and running (see 1.22 &1.23 here). Community Work Placements are six month forced unpaid work placements for unemployed people which require local council and charity participation to claim to be of “community benefit”.

However, thanks to massive opposition to this draconian new workfare scheme, CWP is floundering. Here’s how: 350 voluntary sector organisations have so far signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement not to take part since the campaign launched a month ago. The list includes household names Shelter, Oxfam, Crisis, Scope and many others.

These organisations point to the impact of benefit sanctions on food poverty and homelessness and believe mandatory work undermines the value of freely given volunteering.  Over 15 councils have also pledged not to take part, many through signing Unite the Union’s new pledge. Read the rest of this entry »

Stop workfare in its tracks – Take action 29 March – 6 April

Posted: March 3rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities, Pledge to boycott workfare, Welfare to work industry | 10 Comments »
blockade of salvation army shop

Workfare: If you exploit us we will shut you down!

Tens of organisations have already quit workfare. The government will not reveal which organisations are still using it for fear the schemes will collapse. Its contractors complain that they have lost hundreds of placements due to public pressure.

But they’re trying it again with a new scheme – “Community Work Placements” – launching in April 2014 which will force claimants to work for six months without pay. Six months – 780 hours – is more than twice the maximum community service sentence. Workfare does not help people find jobs and being unemployed is not a crime.

This new workfare scheme is part of a raft of draconian measures, misleadingly called “Help to Work”, which are designed to increase sanctions (benefit stoppages) and undermine wages still further.

For the workfare schemes to happen, they need places to send people, but tens of large charities have already quit. Oxfam stated that the schemes were incompatible with its goal of reducing poverty in the UK. Liverpool Volunteer Centre has condemned the scheme in the strongest possible terms.

Our action can stop companies, charities and councils from exploiting forced unpaid work and make sure this new scheme falls flat on its face. Wherever you are, however you can contribute, take action on 29 March-6 April.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Facts About Boycott Workfare and the Unions

Posted: June 17th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Pledge to boycott workfare, Unions | 2 Comments »

We feel we should publicly state the facts as they are at present regarding relations between Boycott Workfare and a number of trade unions. This follows the recent appearance of some misleading reports which suggest that the GMB, PCS, and Unite trade unions are affiliated to the campaign or working with us. 

IMAG0715One of the first actions the campaign ever launched was a pledge for unions to sign which states: “We the undersigned commit to refusing to participate in compulsory work-for-benefits placements. We want volunteering to remain just that!”

Some unions have been quick to recognise that workfare is an attack on employed as well as unemployed people.  The Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union signed the pledge last year and have called for industrial action to challenge workfare. Many branches have also offered their support and challenged workfare in their workplaces: for example, GMB and UNISON members prevented workfare being used by Brighton City Council.

But the picture elsewhere is much less heartening: the TUC has supported sanctions along with Labour’s form of workfare. The PCS leadership blocked motions to challenge sanctions at their conference, claiming action against sanctions would be illegal and voting only to ‘explore the possibility’ of non-cooperation with sanctions as part of ‘an appropriate and legitimate trade dispute’. Despite recently beginning to recruit unemployed members, Unite’s general secretary last week welcomed a speech in which Ed Milliband promised a cap on the benefit bill, more sanctions and workfare.

The facts are as follows: the GMB have voted to affiliate with Boycott Workfare, but have at no stage been in touch with the campaign to discuss this with us. Whilst we welcome the good news that GMB members have voted to support our campaign, we must point out that we do not operate an affiliation scheme: the GMB is not affiliated with us, nor do we currently work with them.  We hope the vote at the GMB congress marks a definitive break in the union’s policy: in the past they have promoted workfare.  We hope that the GMB will commit its resources and energy to challenging workfare and we look forward to working with them if they do.

The PCS do not work with Boycott Workfare, or support the campaign. Neither does UNITE. Boycott Workfare, again, is not affiliated with either union. Motions condemning workfare have been passed by them. However, beyond individual branches’ actions, in reality no concrete action against workfare or sanctions has ever been taken by any of these organizations. Aside from the individual branches listed on our website, no unions have ever donated money or resources to the Boycott Workfare campaign. In the coming weeks we will clarify what role, if any, we think Unions have played in opposing workfare and sanctions.

We feel we have to state this, given what appear to be recent attempts to co-opt Boycott Workfare into anti-austerity campaigns that are funded and backed by those whose stated public policy position means they in fact  support the use of both workfare and sanctions.

Boycott Workfare is a totally independent grassroots campaign.We are not a front for any political party, or affiliated with any party. We will not be not part of any official ‘anti- austerity’ campaign that does not condemn all sanctions and compulsion – both of which in fact are central to austerity.  We will only work with organisations whose actions demonstrate their opposition to all forms of workfare and sanctions.

Workfare replaces paid jobs, it does not create them. Sanctions are used to force people to do workfare: they lead to hunger and destitution. Workfare and sanctions combined are destroying jobs, lives and the welfare state on an unprecedented scale. When Universal Credit is introduced, sanctions will be extended to millions of low-paid workers – including trade union members – who claim in-work benefits.  All three political parties support workfare and sanctions.

Actions are needed, not motions.

We thank all those individual trade union members, and branches – and importantly the wider general public – for their continued work and their active, ongoing support of this campaign. We welcome and encourage the participation of all individual union members and branches who want to work with us to end workfare and sanctions. A motion for Union branches to pass opposing workfare can be found here.

A view from the voluntary sector

Posted: February 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Charities, Pledge to boycott workfare | Tags: | 3 Comments »

“Hello, I’ve been told I have to volunteer.”

I still remember clearly hearing these words on the phone at work one morning, even though it was over a year ago, because it led me to meet a group of people who went on to organise the Boycott Workfare campaign.  This phone call set off my alarm bells straight away. By definition, nobody has to volunteer.  People volunteer for many different reasons.  For some, it is a way of gaining work experience, while for others it can be therapeutic activity or a chance to socialise.  It can simply be an opportunity to do something creative or worthwhile.  The one thing all volunteers have in common is a freely made choice to work unpaid.  What will my job as a volunteer coordinator become, if I ignore the distinction between volunteering and mandatory workfare?  Will I have to help organise and police compulsory, unpaid, involuntary labour?  Will I have to manage ‘volunteers’ who are reluctant to work? Read the rest of this entry »

Why We’re Supporting Boycott Workfare Campaign In Birmingham

Posted: January 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Pledge to boycott workfare | Tags: | No Comments »

Since the beginning of the year, Birmingham Trades Council and Brighton GMB Branch have signed the pledge to Boycott Workfare. The campaign also has the support of Birmingham Against Cuts who have written this statement…

Workfare is a government scheme where people who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for 6 months or more are made to take a “work experience” position at a company for a period of up to 6 weeks.Common placements are at Poundland, Tesco and other retail businesses, where people will do jobs such as sweeping/cleaning and shelf stacking.

Workfare was first brought in as part of the Flexible New Deal, under Labour, and is being expanded by the ConDem coalition. Worryingly, there are now moves being put into place to create placements of up to 6 months for long term unemployed.
During the period you are working for the company, you receive your benefits and travel expenses. There is no extra pay, and people on the work experience do a full 30-35hour week for up to £67.50 of benefits (younger people will get less, with £53.75 being a lower rate). This means that people are often earning less than £2/hr for their work – well below the minimum wage.

The companies they are working for do not pay anything, instead the taxpayer covers the cost of their “wages”.

Boycott Workfare are a campaign group who have been working to end these schemes. They approached us before Christmas as they will be starting to campaign around the West Midlands this year. This coincided with the start of a legal challenge to Workfare by local firm Public Interest Lawyers (who regularly attend Birmingham Against The Cuts meetings), and a story in the Guardian about workfare, which included details from Cait Reilly, who was made to give up her voluntary position at the Birmingham Pen Museum, in order to do a placement at Poundland in Kings Heath.

We have decided to support the campaign in Birmingham, and will be helping to organise a meeting in the city centre sometime in March, along with Birmingham Trades Council and Boycott Workfare. We will of course publicise this meeting when there are firm details. There will also be meetings held around Birmingham and the West Midlands.

If you want to get involved with the campaign, or want to know if there will be a meeting near you, please email us at and we’ll pass your details on / get back to you.

Read the full statement of support here.

Why we signed the pledge

Posted: October 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Pledge to boycott workfare | No Comments »

A nice quote from the Managing Director of about why they’re signing the pledge to boycott workfare:

We at are happy to sign the pledge. We commit to refusing to participate in compulsory work-for-benefits placements. We want volunteering to remain just that! We are a small company and we feel that there are two effects from the work-for-benefits placements that are not fair to either workers or other companies who do not use these practices. For workers who are being exploited, the concerns are obvious. For other companies, they are not necessarily competing on a level playing field because the government is subsidising the cost of their competitor’s employees and the competitor gains because they have lower labour costs.

Please sign your workplace or trade union branch up to the pledge as well!

A call for organisations to boycott workfare

Posted: February 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities, Pledge to boycott workfare, Public Sector, Unions | 7 Comments »

As workfare, i.e. compulsory work for benefits, is being rolled-out across the country, we call on public sector bodies, non-profits, trade unions and all other organisations  being offered these placements to join others in signing a pledge to boycott the scheme.

We have knowledge of claimants being inadequately trained for the work they do (particularly health and safety training), working exceedingly long shifts, and bullying in the workplace. Claimants are often not given any choice as to where they work or the sort of work they do.

Workfare placements will not benefit your organisation:

  • Signing the pledge will improve your public image
  • Workfare will create a two tier system in your work places, where people are not treated equal, which is contrary to the council’s equal opportunities policies and the law.
  • Forced volunteers will not have had to the necessary in-house training or other training opportunities
  • Single parents will be forced to leave their children unattended and unprotected when they are forced to work, which is illegal.
  • People will be prevented from seeking proper work with a proper wage and employment rights. They will also be prevented from training or studying for better work.
  • Compulsory unpaid labour will create an atmosphere of resentment as existing public workers are sacked as they are under-cut by the Single Work Programme.
  • No organisation wants to be seen to be using forced labour.

We want decent work, training and income for everyone. Workfare will not provide any of these. It is being rolled out at a time when education and training schemes, housing benefit and other public services are being cut. Unpaid work inevitably replaces paid jobs and pushes wages down.

You may be asked to accept workfare placements for anything from a month to six months as part of the new ‘Single Work Programme’.  Something similar is already in place under The Flexible New Deal.

Many claimants wish to contribute to their communities and learn new skills through freely choosing to. However, under workfare arrangements public sector bodies will end up having to police the very people they want to help. Public sector bodies will be expected to monitor the attendance of people on these work programmes, report on their behaviour, and provide other information to the DWP that can result in severe penalties for recipients.

There have been ‘679,820 New Deal Sanctions’ since the year 2000 creating great hardship for the poorest of those amongst us

We are asking you to refuse to participate in compulsory work placements and to do so publicly.  Even if your council or department has no intention of accepting workfare placements it would help us prevent the imposition of workfare elsewhere if you would sign the pledge.

In addition we are asking you not to enter into contractual relationships with companies, groups or organisations who are using people who are on these compulsory work programmes. You should not grant trading licences or planning permission to organisation or companies who are signed up to the Single Work Programme.

Signed by:

Arts Against Cuts
Diary of a Benefit Scrounger
Disabled People Against Cuts
Kilburn Unemployed Workers
Kilburn Boycott Workfare
London Coalition Against Poverty
Notts IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, Nottingham & Notts General Membership Branch)
Precarious Workers Brigade
Single Mother’s Self-Defence
Welfare Action Hackney

Please contact us if your organisation or union branch will sign the following pledge, so we can add your name to the list:
We the undersigned commit to refusing to participate in compulsory work-for-benefits placements. We want volunteering to remain just that!

Please download materials to bring to your relevant organisation: