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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 part in the Manchester Boycott Workfare Action Against Mustard Tree

Posted: December 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | No 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 (you have to appreciate their sense of humour though in calling it the “Freedom Project”). 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: 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: stop workfare in hospice charity shops

Posted: October 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Charities | 4 Comments »

This week is #HospiceCareWeek.  Today, as part of our week of action, we want to contact hospices and ask them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.

SDH-logo-HCW14-3Hospices offer palliative care, social support, and practical advice – and help families through mourning and bereavement. They help people with illnesses which would otherwise massively curtail their freedom of movement be as independent as possible. This is vital and valuable work, transforming the quality of people’s lives.

Help the Hospices, the charity for hospice care in the UK, says that

 ‘A hospice is not just a building, it is a way of caring for people. Hospice care aims to improve the lives of people who have a life-limiting or terminal illness, helping them to live well before they die.’

But why are so many hospices willing to stop other people living well,  by forcing them to work for no pay under threat of sanctions?

Many hospices have local charity shops which take people through workfare schemes – especially Mandatory Work Activity.  If you’re unwilling to take part in MWA, which involves 30 hours unpaid work per week, for four weeks at a time, you’ll be hit with a minimum sanction of 13 weeks for a ‘first failure’. The maximum sanction is 3 years: 3 years of hunger, hardship and destitution.  We’ve also heard from people at hospice charity shops on mandatory work placements from the Work Programme and six-month Community Work Placements.

We know hospice shops and care centres need volunteers to run them.  And we know that hospice care across the UK relies on the work of tens of thousands of volunteers to carry on their valuable activities.  But that is no justification for forcing unemployed people to work in charity shops for weeks at a time for no wages.  Charities that take part in workfare not only undermine genuine volunteering, but are also instrumental in claimants being sanctioned and left with no income.

Plenty of volunteering organisations realise that ‘Approaches like this are demeaning, counterproductive and undermine genuine volunteering’ (in the words of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations).  They know that workfare doesn’t help people find jobs. That is why the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement has more than 430 organisations signed up to it at the moment.

One hospice, The Hospice of St Francis has already signed the agreement, pledging never to take part in any workfare scheme. We want lots more to sign, and join with the carers support organisations, parents’ support charities and many others – all of whom know that forced work is not the same thing as volunteering.

Here are four hospices you could encourage to sign up to the KVV agreement as part of #HospiceCareWeek.

If there’s a hospice near you that you know is using workfare, or that you think should sign the KVV agreement, then please get in touch with them as well! Many, many more hospice charity shops are under ‘local charities’ in our list of workfare providers.  And if you’re in London, watch out for the picket of North London Hospice by Haringey Solidarity Group at noon on Saturday.

But please remember, if you call one of their charity shops: it’s definitely worth trying to speak to a manager, or someone involved in fundraising and volunteer organising. The person who answers the phone may well be low paid admin staff, or possibly on workfare themselves.

[1] This sentence was amended on 8th October 2014, because it mistakenly suggested that St David’s Hospice had been taking part in Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) as well as taking placements from the Work Programme.  It was pointed out to us that we had conflated St David’s Hospice in North Wales (@StDavidsHospice) with St David’s Foundation Hospice Care (@SDFHC) in South Wales.  We know SDFHC have taken part in MWA in 2014.


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.


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 | 8 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].
Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


How voluntary organisations messed up the launch of Help to Work

Posted: May 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Call to action, Charities | 16 Comments »

no one wants workfare (IDS and war memorials, CWP)On Monday, David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith launched a new workfare scheme called Compulsory Work Placements – part of a bundle of punitive measures called Help to Work. It ran into a lot of trouble on launch day and hasn’t been doing well since then.

Over 150 voluntary organisations have signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign to say they won’t take part in any workfare scheme, including Oxfam, Anti-Slavery International, Unison, Unite, and NCIA.  And the government won’t be able to fall back on the public sector: Liverpool City Council say they won’t be taking part.

The pledge was launched on the same day as Help to Work. Already more than twice as many organisations have said they’ll never take part in CWP as the 70 that the government claims are signed up to deliver it.  It’s not clear how those 70 organisations are going to be able to arrange for more than 120,000 people to do 780 hours of unpaid work.  They’d have to accept more than 1,800 placements each.

And it turns out that even the unpaid work the DWP especially suggested unemployed people should do – like cleaning war memorials – won’t work.   No-one in government bothered to check this with the War Memorials Trust. They say that they can’t actually take part in CWP, because each memorial is the responsibility of one of a hundred thousand custodians, who’d have to be asked individually.  And anyway, the work is usually done by ‘specialist contractors or conservators’.
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Osborne’s flagship sinking as voluntary sector rejects role in scheme

Posted: April 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Charities | 5 Comments »
Logo of Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign - hands raised

Follow the new Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign on Twitter and Like it on Facebook to help spread the word!

Today’s new workfare scheme will fall apart if voluntary sector organisations refuse to take part. Help make it happen my contacting charities and groups you support to ask them to sign up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary!

Osborne’s headline policy of “Community Work Placements” is already in jeopardy as it is launched today, having failed to generate enough voluntary sector participation. Instead, organisations such as Oxfam and the umbrella body National Association for Voluntary and Community Action are marking the date by launching the “Keep Volunteering Voluntary” campaign.

Community Work Placements are six-month unpaid work placements for unemployed people, part a set measures branded as “Help to Work”. The £300 million Help to Work programme is aimed at 200,000 Jobseekers Allowance claimants. Studies into existing UK workfare schemes in the UK have found them to have zero effect on helping people find work.
Read the rest of this entry »