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.
When donating to charity this festive season, many people will wish to avoid charities such as Salvation Army which put people at risk of destitution by using workfare.
Today’s the launch of #GivingTuesday in the UK when charities encourage people to share their festive cheer with donations. This month is one of the most important of the year for charity fundraising. Boycott Workfare encourages people to think twice before giving to organisations that use workfare.
To view a list of those charities you may wish to avoid donating to, click here. Sadly the list of those still willing to put poor people at risk of destitution through benefit sanctions still includes big names such as Salvation Army, YMCA, RSPCA and others, as well as many local charities and hospice shops.
If you’d like to know which charities are committed to avoiding workfare and to Keeping Volunteering Voluntary, see the list of nearly 500 voluntary organisations that have signed the pledge here.
And if you’d like to donate to help bring down workfare, your donation will go a long way. Please feel free to do so by clicking on the Donate button below.
Previous conferences of workfare profiteers have faced occupations, disruption and twitterstorms to challenge their business of carving up welfare for profit. Take action online on Monday 1 December!
Monday 1st December is conference time for the ‘Employment Related Services Association’ whose speciality is ‘Championing the welfare to work industry’, i.e. lobbying and spin for workfare profiteers.
The profiteers have a luxury hotel booked for this annual celebration of all the money they are making from workfare. An opportunity to hear Esther McVey describe her plans to psychometrically test the unemployed for ‘resistance to work’. Not to be outdone, she’ll be joined by shadow employment minister Stephen Timms; just to prove that Labour and the Con/Dems are as one when it comes to their commitment to workfare, sanctions and the dismantling of labour rights.
If you don’t have the £450 registration fee to hand, you could always find other ways to let ERSA know your views on people whose profits depend on forced unpaid labour and the no pay/low pay economy that workfare sustains.
If you haven’t come across this lot before, here’s a helpful glossary for the language they use from Another Angry Voice:
Voluntary = Forced
Support = Punishment
Opportunity = Compulsion
Help = Hindrance
Let them know what you think of people who make money from ‘help to work’ contracts designed to annihilate workers’ rights and plunge those who resist into poverty and destitution.
Tweet them:Tweet to @ersa_news Phone: 0203 757 9415 (always worth asking for a senior manager – the person answering the phone could well be on workfare themselves. The Chief Executive is Kirsty McHugh) Email: email@example.com
It’s no surprise to find support for this festival of workfare exploiters coming from the Shaw Trust, the Papworth Trust, Tomorrow’s People and Groundwork. But it’s disappointing to find Julia Unwin from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the programme – in a session headed ‘better together’. Even more troubling that she’s on the platform with Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham Council and responsible for evicting the Focus E15 Mothers.
Then on 3rd December, the Institute of Employability Professionals (making a career out of delivering workfare) is holding a leadership event at the Olympic Park, London. Book your place at firstname.lastname@example.org They say you are welcome to bring a friend.
Previous workfare profiteers’ conferences have faced occupations, disruption and twitterstorms to challenge their business of carving up welfare for profit. We know that taking action is effective! Workfare is falling apart – as more and more organisations refuse to take on forced labour. Without placements, the ‘employability’ sector will collapse.
Today we’re supporting the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign’s call for people to contact the charities and voluntary organisations you support to invite them to pledge to shun workfare too. Read on for more info and a template letter, and follow Keep Volunteering Voluntary on twitter and facebook.
There are a lot of organisations who have said they won’t take workfare, but still a lot who do. We want all voluntary work to be freely chosen, not a means for private companies to make profits or Jobcentres to force people off benefits. Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV) have set up a pledge and already 430 organisations have signed!
You can help to encourage organisations to sign up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary in several ways. Firstly check whether they are already on the list of sign-ups.
If you use or support a charity, try to find out whether they use workfare, and in any case ask them to sign up to KVV.
If there is a local charity shop, go in and talk to the people there: find out whether there is anyone there on workfare, and ask the organisation to sign up to KVV.
If you work or volunteer at a voluntary organisation, try to get them to sign up.
If a place you work or volunteer at has any links with a voluntary organisation, try to contact them too.
“We’ve already signed up.” – great, well done! “We don’t have anyone on workfare.” – so you won’t mind signing up to KVV then. “We’re helping the unemployed gain experience.” – that’s not of much value if they don’t want to be there. “What’s wrong with (unpaid) volunteers.” – there’s no objection to genuine volunteers, but to compulsory schemes and coercion. “The people on placement want to be here.” – that’s fine, but they shouldn’t be threatened with sanctions.
If you can get any kind of statement from an organisation, that’s always useful – a way in to further dialogue, or good publicity for the campaign. Let Boycott Workfare know and we’ll pass it on to KVV as well.
Some charities – such as Age UK – have a national office but each local area branch is ‘independent’ and may sign up separately. So if you see a local branch signed up but not your area, that’s an added incentive for your local to sign up too.
Without charity’s support, workfare schemes will collapse. That’s why every extra new organisation to sign up is so important – helping build consensus in the voluntary sector that workfare is completely at odds with its aims and values.
A massive thanks to everyone who has taken part online and organised demonstrations throughout the week of action! There are more protests in Amsterdam and Peckham today, and in Bristol, Haringey and Sheffield tomorrow!
Update: The action was a success – Scope has been removed from the list and Barnardos and BHF have said they will no longer be involved!
Community Work Placements would collapse without support from major charities. Today, as part of our week of action, we are contacting the major charities who provide CWP placements for Groundwork in the North East of England (six months’ workfare for 30 hours per week). We’re asking them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.
Yesterday, the website of Groundwork North East listed all the charities providing them with placements. These include Cheshire Homes, British Heart Foundation, Barnardo’s and Scope, as well as over 15 more local voluntary agencies in Redcar or who are part of Redcar Voluntary & Community Sector. As Groundwork also say, as well as having a ‘fantastic working relationship with the local job centres’, they work in close partnership with Christians against Poverty and local food banks.
What they don’t say is that workfare is a major cause of poverty and a major reason why people end up depending on food banks for food. We know how Community Work Placements are being marketed to employers as a way of replacing paid jobs.
Groundwork have since removed the webpage – but we’ve got a screenshot (click on the image above to enlarge it).
The involvement of well known national charities is disappointing. BHF have previously stated “We are not involved in the Help to Work scheme.Barnardo’s have said “Barnardo’s does not take part in any mandatory work activity. We have been clear that we are against the principle of benefits sanctions”. Scope are signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement, which commits them to not taking part in any government workfare scheme.
So what’s going on? It looks like the culture of secrecy surrounding workfare (e.g. the refusal of Freedom of Information requests, redaction of placement providers from contracts on the grounds of ‘commercial sensitivity) is enabling placement brokers like Groundwork to mis-sell forced labour as volunteering.
We have to ask: is this secrecy compatible with the duty of charities to be open and honest about their activities? To ensure that the public, who donate to charities, are fully aware of whether they do, or do not, support forced unpaid labour in any guise?
We understand that because all aspects of workfare are cloaked in secrets and lies, some charities providing placements may well have been misinformed. It can be especially difficult for small, local charities to avoid being deceived. But if an organisation gets a letter that refers to the same group of people as ‘unpaid employees’, ‘volunteers’, and ‘unemployed people’ – and emphasises that the organisation won’t have to pay anything for them (even travel costs) – then alarm bells should start ringing. And when well known workfare fixers like Groundwork get in touch, it’s more than likely it’s for placements for JSA claimants who’ve already been unpaid on the work programme and are now being sent on CWP for up to six months more unpaid labour.
As for British Heart Foundation, Barnado’s and Scope: you can let them know that the public expect them to honour their commitments not to take part in workfare. And expect them to remember that they have a duty of care towards those on current placements: these organisations must ensure that they do not face sanctions or suffer as a result of the organisation withdrawing.
You can send a message to BHF via their website or phone their head office on 020 7554 0000. You can tweet at them Tweet to @TheBHF
And Groundwork UK are on Facebook and Twitter as well Tweet to @groundworkuk. Or you could contact them through their website, or on the phone (0121 236 8565). They have other local branches throughout the UK. To find contact details for the nearest one to you, look here.
Please feel free to contact the other placement hosts listed on the Groundwork North East website as well. There’s not many, and if half pulled out, Groundwork’s CWP contract would be ruined.
Groundwork boasts of its involvement in workfare. Join in with an online blockade of their social media and let them know what you think of their prolific and unashamed use of forced unpaid labour.
Take online action today against Groundwork, the green charity using unpaid labour. Branches of Groundwork up and down the country openly advertise their involvement in all kinds of workfare, including the latest and most exploitative programmes.
Charities and voluntary organisations should know the value of volunteering. Instead Groundwork is taking thousands of unemployed people on workfare placements with no pay and putting people at risk of sanctions. According to their own statistics they forced 4,500 people through workfare last year alone. They trade on the goodwill of their ‘volunteering’ projects to secure government money for unpaid labour schemes.
Groundwork is also taking part in the latest draconian scheme, Community Work Placements (CWP), as a sub-contractor of G4S in Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria. CWP is a six month long placement – twice the length of the maximum community service sentence for committing a crime. Workfare criminalises unemployed people and then punishes them more harshly than other people who are forced to work for free. It does this without even the appearance of judicial process: people are punished just because they’re unemployed.
More than 400 charities and 22 councils have rejected CWP and other workfare schemes by signing the Keep Volunteering Voluntary pledge. They understand that workfare is punitive and that it doesn’t help people find jobs.
A lot of green charities and recycling companies are involved in workfare schemes. The environment is a useful alibi for forcing people to work for free, because it makes it easy to claim that the work unemployed people are doing is for “community benefit” – which it is supposed to be, if the scheme is one that people can be directly forced to do, like CWP or Mandatory Work Activity. This is why there’s so many environmental charities, city farms, and recycling firms on our list of workfare exploiters.
Workfare schemes cannot operate without charities that are willing to take on unpaid workers, but Groundwork’s involvement is deeper: they help organise the schemes as well. Groundwork say they recognise that Jobcentre Plus is enforcing a “stricter application…of conditions and sanctions”, but they continue to help to run this punitive system anyway. Let them know about the hardship and destitution that benefit sanctions are causing. Let them know that forcing people to work under threat of destitution for no pay is wrong.
On 1 August 2014, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) made a joint statement with Confederation of British Industries (CBI) to back Traineeships for 16-23 year olds and “show support” for the businesses that benefit from the unpaid labour on this scheme.
Traineeships involve training and “work placements” for up to six months – all unpaid. The TUC’s Assistant General Secretary Paul Nowak hails Traineeships as “an important first step towards the world of work”. But in giving a green light to a new layer of unpaid work in the economy, the TUC is in fact helping to shrink opportunities for young people, undermine the going rate, and replace paid work with workfare.
Traineeships mean that young people are now expected to work unpaid for six months before even qualifying for an interview for an apprenticeship. The lucky few who make it through the interview can look forward to a minimum wage of £2.73 an hour, as an apprentice.
If a young person does not take part in the training, they face punitive sanctions. The work placement segment itself may not be backed with the direct threat of sanctions, but, between the economic coercion of a jobs market with so few footholds and the draconian job centre regime, few people will feel able to turn them down.
Instead of demanding decent wages, the TUC is supporting McDonalds, Toyota, Virgin Media, BT, Vodafone, Phones4U, Siemens, Capita, local councils and many more being supplied with unpaid staff for up to 6 months on benefits alone, without any obligations to hire them!
The TUC plans to march behind the slogan “Britain needs a payrise” on 18 October. It seems to have chosen to ignore the millions of us who do not have paid work and instead face workfare and sanctions.
The TUC’s support for benefit sanctions is totally unacceptable. It has recommended that ‘claimants who turn down a job guarantee job without good cause should face benefit sanctions’. Let the TUC know that punishing people by taking away their means to survival can never be okay.
With the week of action against workfare coming up on 4-12 October, we wanted to share some of the things your action and active support has already achieved. With so much impact already, the week of action is the next step where you can help put an end to workfare altogether.
We have helped each other to defend our rights
The job centre and workfare providers rely on misinformation, lies and bullying to push people around. That’s why finding out and claiming our rights is so important. We find out our rights, spread the word and have helped cancel workfare placements for many who have contacted us. Our Welfare Action Gathering in February brought together tens of groups of people from around the country who take action against workfare and who support each other to get their rights on workfare, rights at the job centre and in navigating Atos’ tests.
Over 20,000 people support this campaign. The more people who know their rights the more people can say no to workfare – or help expose who is using workfare…
Our actions make workfare exploiters pull out
Workfare relies on placement providers – every time we get them to pull out is another step to ending workfare. Many big names including Argos, Holland & Barrett and PDSA have pulled out.
A highlight this year: George Osborne was publicly humiliated after a visit to promote his new 6-month brand of workfare (CWP) backfired when Byteback IT pulled out just a week later, following a backlash against workfare from the public.
The list goes on, and we’ve been keeping track of it here (where you’ll also find the crowd-sourced list of the organisations still exploiting people on workfare).
The government fears workfare could “collapse”. We want to make it do just that. On 4-12 October, take part in the week of action against workfare. The list of events is growing…. read on to find one near you, and if you can’t find one, why not plan your own? We can help – get in touch! There’ll be mass online actions on Mon-Fri of the week of action too. Get involved and help show workfare profiteers and exploiters “If you exploit us we will shut you down!”
4 Oct, SLSF calls anti-workfare picket in Lewisham Saturday 4 October, Lewisham Clocktower at 1pm.
Join the South London Solfed roaming anti-workfare picket in Lewisham this Saturday, 4th October, in solidarity with Boycott Workfare’s week of action.
We will be targeting a number of organisations on Lewisham High Street who continue to exploit unemployed people as free labour.
4 Oct, Stroud Against the Cuts leafleting about workfare Saturday 4th October, 10am outside the 99p Store
Advice for claimants and information about the affect on us all.
6 Oct, Brighton Benefits Campaign picket of Avanta Monday 6 October at 11am, Meet at Brighton Station forecourt
Join us in picketing Avanta, private provider and bully of unemployed and disabled people, sending them out as unpaid labour or forcing them into unsuitable badly paid work, and referring them for sanctions. See the Facebook event.
6 Oct, TUC Backs Workfare: protest at Congress House! Mon 6 Oct 1 – 2 pm, TUC Congress House, 23-28 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3LS, (nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road), Then 3 – 4 pm at CBI, 78 Cannon St, London EC4N 6HN (tube: Bank)
On 1 Aug 2014, the Trade Union Council (TUC) made a joint statement with Confederation of British Industries (CBI) to back Traineeships for 16 – 23 year olds.
Knowing first hand how unemployed people get harassed into workfare, get declined lunch & travel expenses to such workfares, get sanctioned or threatened with sanctions either during workfares or if they oppose them, we knew (despite TUC denying this) that TUC was now backing Workfare.
Join our protest to end this shoddy deal with Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group (KUWG) – members of Unite Community Union. Listen to your members TUC!
8 Oct, Barnet, Rename the Job Centre the Sanctions Centre! Wednesday 8 October, 9am-3pm, Jobcentre Plus, Finchley Lane, London NW3 8DP
Come and join us in a protest against sanctions on claimants and targets for staff! and take part in a mock ceremony and sign replacement when we re-name the job centre WITH ITS TRUE PURPOSE – THE SANCTION CENTRE
9 Oct, Edinburgh Shut down LearnDirect! Let’s make workfare unworkable! Thursday 9 October, at 12 noon, Learndirect, Conference House, 152 Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8EB
Learndirect are the workfare providers for the compulsory “work-for-your-benefits” schemes Mandatory Work Activity and the new Community Work Placements scheme, which forces jobseekers to work for nothing for six months. Learndirect profit from the forced labour schemes and shamelessly refer jobseekers for sanctions, making people penniless to try and intimidate jobseekers to submit to forced labour.
But resistance to workfare is winning. To date 422 organisations have rejected the compulsory schemes and signed the “Keep Volunteering Voluntary” agreement – including the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Christian Aid, Shelter and the Edinburgh Volunteer Centre. This month Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty approached Cancer Research UK to urge them to withdraw from workfare – they have now told Learndirect in Edinburgh that they will not take any more of their workfare “placements”.
10 Oct, Amsterdam: action against workfare during meeting of minister with aldermen
On October 10, the action committee Dwangarbeid Nee (No to Workfare) will demonstrate during a regional meeting of Social Affairs aldermen from the west of the Netherlands. State secretary Jetta Klijnsma invited the aldermen to talk about the labour market. The committee Dwangarbeid Nee seizes the opportunity to demand the immediate abolishment of workfare, or “forced labour” as the unemployed call it.
Outside Peckham Job Centre, Friday 10 October, 12 noon-3pm
Please join us to protest against sanctions and workfare. Bring noise, banners, speeches, friends… and ideas! We plan to liven up the street again in a noisy and direct protest to tell Peckham JCP, Southwark council and the DWP that we will not stay quiet whilst Peckham Job Centre continues to sanction job seekers at over double the London average. Come and say NO to cuts and attacks on the poor, and build the fight back!
11 Oct, Bristol – Bristol Day Of Action Against Workfare! Saturday 11 October at 12:30pm, meeting point tba
Following on from successful actions against workfare in Bristol over the past few years (no more forced unpaid labour at: St Wherburghs City Farm, Homebase, Argos, Holland & Barratt…) We will be taking to the streets again, along with others across the country.
11 Oct, Sheffield, Demonstration against forced labour/workfare and Exploitation at Savers Saturday at 12:00pm, Savers Health & Beauty, 8-10 Haymarket, S1 2AX Sheffield
Last month this community branch demonstrated against the exploitation and abuse of workfare victims at Savers store Sheffield. After it was brought to our attention that workers and workfare victims were being mistreated. We had a great response from Savers customers who are mostly as disgusted by savers exploitation and mistreatment of workfare victims and members of staff. This Branch calls on Savers to withdraw from any government schemes that force people to work for benefits. We will return again and again and damage your businesses reputation unless you withdraw. If you Exploit us we will shut you down.
11 Oct, Haringey: 6 month workfare: No way! Picket North London Hospice Saturday 11 October, 12 noon, North London Hospice shop, 19 High Road, N22 6BH – Three minutes’ walk from Turnpike Lane tube station
This Saturday, we’ll be picketing North London Hospice’s Wood Green shop, as part of Boycott Workfare’s week of action against workfare.
Hundreds of people in Haringey are being forced to work for six months with no pay under threat of sanctions. Urban Futures have the contract for Community Work Placements in Haringey and are busy finding placements in charities and “community benefit” projects across north London. But these schemes cannot work without charities making the placements possible – charities like North London Hospice.
We hold the work that North London Hospice does in high regard. Their aims include improving the lives of local people with terminal illnesses. So how can they reconcile their objectives with a scheme that puts people at risk of destitution?
Forcing people to work for free through the threat of removing people’s benefits (sanctions) is unfair, unjust and wrong. In the week of action, tell the companies and charities who are profiting from this exploitative regime what you think of their involvement! Email, Tweet, use Facebook, phone them, protest, organise a flashmob: for a week of piling the pressure on workfare exploiters.
Resistance is paying off: the launch of the CWP scheme was massively delayed. Instead of using ‘big name’ national charities, the DWP has had to resort to small local charities and businesses to provide these Workfare placements. So local actions are all the more important! See Boycott Workfare’s list of Workfare users to find one near you.
All this means it is getting harder and harder for the government to find new employers willing to risk taking on Workfare placements. In fact the government is desperately doing all it can to avoid revealing the organisations using Workfare out of fear the schemes will collapse!
Workfare undermines real paid jobs and wages; results in sanctions for thousands; does nothing to improve the chances of finding a job; and exploits those forced to take up these placements. Our actions can stop companies, charities and councils from exploiting this forced unpaid work. Wherever you are, however you can contribute, take action on 4-12 October.
Whatever you’re planning – let us know and we’ll help spread the word!
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.
“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.”
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!