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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.

Take action this week to stop workfare in North London Hospice shops

Posted: January 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | No Comments »
Pickets and protests meant North London Hospice promised to pull out of workfare. But  they still have 50 placements and have taken on at least one new placement too!

Pickets and protests meant North London Hospice promised to pull out of workfare. But they still have 50 placements and have taken on at least one new placement too!

Please support Haringey Solidarity Group’s call for action this week!

  • From Mon 2 Feb – in a “communications conga” – social media / email / phone action
  • Sat 7 Feb, 6.15pm – join our protest at North London Hospice’s Dancing Strictly fundraising event in North Finchley to ask “Waltz going on with workfare?”

“If we want them to tap dance, then they will tap dance”

- a Whitehall official on government plans for benefit claimants (Sunday Times, 2012)

Since August last year, Haringey Solidarity Group has been campaigning for North London Hospice to stop taking on people on 30-hour a week workfare schemes in their shops. (For more info, see our full web article ‘Why North London Hospice should keep its word and pull out of workfare‘). These six-month Community Work Placements (CWP) are backed by the threat of sanctions, i.e. having your benefits cut off for four weeks or more.

We tried contacting the hospice, to let them know that CWP is not voluntary, and we leafleted passers-by outside their shops. Finally, in December, North London Hospice’s Chair of Trustees wrote to us, stating their intention to stop using workfare once current placements came to an end. He refrained from giving a date for their withdrawal from the scheme, leading some of us to fear that their “intention” could mean another six months’ misery for claimants on CWP.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, we found out that, contrary to the letter, North London Hospice had taken on a new placement. Furthermore, it has been over a month and a half since their letter to us, and not one of the shop managers we have spoken to is aware of the proposed withdrawal from the scheme, and the chair of trustees has to refused to give any indication of a date for withdrawal.

So our campaign against workfare at North London Hospice continues.
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2014 was a year of successful action. What should 2015 hold?

Posted: January 25th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action | 5 Comments »

tea and leaflets outside cardiff job centre

Share your ideas about how to take on workfare and sanctions in 2015

In 2014, your actions helped push workfare closer to collapse. The disgusting new Community Work Placement scheme struggled to get off the ground; 500 charities and voluntary organisations pledged to avoid workfare and Keep Volunteering Voluntary; and direct action and pressure across the UK brought an end to hundreds of placements.

Read more about how we all helped push workfare closer to collapse.

What does 2015 hold?

Over the next few weeks, we’re having a proper think about the most effective ways to take on workfare and sanctions in 2015. We’d like your ideas and creativity to help us plan ahead!

Please email info@boycottworkfare.org or comment on this article by Wednesday 4th February. We’ve got some thoughts on the questions below and would love to hear your thinking on any of them too. Please feel free to think wider as well! Read the rest of this entry »


Challenging the Sanctions Inquiry

Posted: January 20th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Sanctions | 4 Comments »
Job centres have become "sanctions" centres

Job centres have become “sanctions” centres

Last year David Clapson died because benefit sanctions left him unable to pay for electricity to refrigerate his insulin. His story meant hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition opposing the current sanctions regime. The petition had an impact and an inquiry into sanctions was announced.

Championed by Debbie Abrahams MP, who has previously stated, “I support the principle of a sanctions regime. If somebody consistently fails to turn up for work experience or a Work programme scheme, sanctions should be applied”, the inquiry looks set to stay within a framework which assumes some sanctions are necessary or even beneficial. Though it’s clear the inquiry won’t come to the conclusion it should – that all sanctions should be abolished – we think it’s important that our voices are heard.

On January 7th, the government held the first of its three evidence hearing sessions for the inquiry. It was important because some views that the DWP doesn’t agree with, some very good arguments against the sanction system itself, went on record, as well as some of the usual toxic workfare rhetoric.

Boycott Workfare has also submitted evidence to the sanctions inquiry. In contrast to the narrative that the DWP, the media or workfare industry representatives use to justify sanctions, we think another story needs to be heard. Our story of sanctions is that they are part of a shift from a supportive welfare state to a punitive workfare state. We highlight how many sanctions are not only petty and unfair, but how they also cause harm to mental and physical health and deliberately threaten and impose poverty and destitution.
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Take part in the Manchester Boycott Workfare Action Against Mustard Tree

Posted: December 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | 2 Comments »

Workfare is forcing people to work for free using the threat of sanctions (removal of welfare benefits).  DWP Workfare schemes have already led to thousands relying on food handouts, caused or aggravated mental health issues, suicides and homelessness. Yet unbelievably, despite this being well documented and researched, a charity who work with homeless people are using Workfare!

Come along to let a charity that works with the homeless understand that it’s unacceptable to use workfare – an exploitative programme that causes poverty and destitution.

Where and when? December 22nd, 12pm at Mustard Tree, 110 Oldham Rd, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6AG

Unlike most users in the voluntary sector, who do their best to snidely disguise or hide their involvement, Mustard Tree have openly defended their use of this forced labour. This, despite acknowledging the fundamental injustices of  workfare and the sanctions regime that underpins it.

Some classic quotes from Mustard Tree:

”On one hand the jobless should not be forced to undertake work or to work for their benefits…”

“Increasingly the good people that Mustard Tree has traditionally supported are trapped in WorkFare.”

“we oppose some of the core elements of Workfare”

Mustard Tree, if you want to offer valuable and genuinely voluntary placements, then do. But don’t actively support a regime of forced labour that punishes and starves those who choose not to be involved or turn up late one day. Using workfare means being part of a system that contributes to homelessness, that takes financial resources away from this exact community. It makes a mockery of the concept of volunteering and a mockery of the idea of a charity who help the homeless.

If you can’t make the demonstration in Manchester on Monday, then you can . And Mustard Tree can be reached on the phone (01612287331) and by email (info@mustardtree.co.uk).

Come out and stand in solidarity with homeless people and all those forced to undergo this exploitative regime. Show Mustard Tree that we will not tolerate this in our city: that there can be no place for unpaid and forced labour anywhere, let alone in a homeless charity.


Make sure your festive charity giving doesn’t support workfare

Posted: December 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | 2 Comments »
Salvation Army band

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.





Take action online: Workfare Profiteers’ annual get together

Posted: November 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Welfare to work industry | 2 Comments »
Boycott Workfare banner

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:
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: membership@ersa.org.uk

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 events@iemployability.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.


Take action: Invite organisations to Keep Volunteering Voluntary

Posted: October 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | 3 Comments »

KVV logoAll week we’ve been inviting people to take part in online action to challenge workfare. If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, please take a minute to:

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.

Download this template letter you can take to a charity shop, or adapt as an email to send to a voluntary organization.

Some responses you may get and how to reply:

“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!


Take Action: bring down Groundwork’s CWP in the North East

Posted: October 9th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | No Comments »

groundwork ne cwp placement hosts

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 

You can phone Barnado’s North East regional office on 0191 240 4800, contact them on Facebook and tweet at them

Scope – details removed since they are no longer on the list. Well done everybody!

Groundwork North East can be reached on the phone (01388 662 666), on Facebook, and on Twitter

And Groundwork UK are on Facebook and Twitter as well .  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.


Take action: No grounds for greenwashing workfare

Posted: October 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | No Comments »

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.  

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 19.11.59Take 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.

Following the latest attacks from the government on unemployed people, in which the Tories are promising to cut benefits and roll out more of the harsh schemes like the ones Groundwork provides, we need to show those involved in workfare just how unacceptable it is.

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.

Groundwork are on Twitter  and on Facebook here.

Or you could contact them through their website, or on the phone (0121 236 8565).  They have local branches throughout the UK.  To find contact details for the nearest one to you, look here.


Take action: Challenge the TUC’s support for workfare

Posted: October 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Unions | No Comments »

traineeshipsChallenge the TUC’s support for workfare, on the first day of online action for the Boycott Workfare week of action

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.

TUC A5 Protest

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.

Today as Kilburn Unemployed Workers protest this shoddy deal outside the TUC HQ in London, please contact the TUC via the details below, or through your union networks.  

When challenging their support for Traineeships, you might also like to point out that:

  • The TUC’s support for Labour’s Job Guarantee means undermining the going rate and minimum wage too.
  • 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.

Contact the Assistant General Secretary who issued the statement with CBI by email: pnowak@tuc.org.uk or send him a tweet:

Tweet at Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC

Tweet at “Britain needs a Payrise” or post on its Facebook

Post on the TUC’s Facebook page

Or get in touch with the TUC’s press officers who released the statement:

Rob Holdsworth    T: 020 7467 1372    M: 07717 531150     E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Tim Nichols   T: 020 7467 1337   M: 07876 452902   E: tnichols@tuc.org.uk

If you’re a member of a trade union, please download and adapt this motion to challenge the TUC’s support for sanctions and workfare.