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.
Saturday 27th June saw an inspiring nation-wide Day of Action against B&M Bargains, a notorious user of workfare.
In a very short space of time the action snowballed, with autonomous groups organising actions against B&M in at least 20 towns and cities across the UK (let us know if we’ve left you off the list below!). It was truly a moment of solidarity: “If you exploit us we will close you down!”
Many of these groups were new or recently formed, which shows the exciting beginnings of campaigns against sanctions and workfare in even more localities. It also shows that such groups can get going almost anywhere. They can have immediate impacts and that there are many, many people out there who want to take direct action to bring an end to the exploitation, misery and poverty caused by workfare and sanctions.
The impact on B&M was clear – almost no one entered their shops while protests were taking place. And as always on anti-workfare protests, the response from the public was hugely supportive. Passers-by were shocked and appalled at a company not paying its workers. Many had never even heard of workfare and sanctions, and this shows how much the imposition of these schemes rely on maintaining unawareness in the wider public. It also points to serious questions around mainstream media’s coverage of these issues.
At the Norwich protest, a manager admitted that he, like all managers, are given a fixed amount to spend on wages. Therefore, he can only only cover all the tasks to be done during opening hours by using workfare – while B&M Bargains made about £100 million profit last year.
Elsewhere, another manager argued that those on workfare were on “work experience”. A month of full-time work in a low-skilled job is not work experience. It is only work. But instead of a wage paid in exchange for labour as in the classic understanding of a job, compulsion is used that forces those on workfare to work for free or face sanctions.
With other companies, keeping up the pressure through monthly or even weekly pickets can be incredibly effective. Norwich has already had a follow-up protest the weekend after!
Contact B&M - Remind B&M of the reasons that workfare is unfair and the impact it could have on the company if it continues to exploit its workers.
Main Telephone: 0151 728 5400 (or search the B&M website for a local store contact) If there is interest, there could also be another National Day of Action, perhaps to coincide with the opening of a new B&M store.
Some example slogans from protests around the UK:
Workfare = Claimant Trafficking
Fair Work, not Workfare
B&M: Big Profits, No Wages
They say work, we say pay us!
Workfare = Exploitation
Don’t shop where they don’t pay wages!
Workfare = Not Fair
If you exploit us we will shut you down!
List of actions that took place:
Actions in Wales - pictures and updates on the joint Facebook page:
- Rheidol Retail Park, Aberystwyth
- Y Coed Duon/Blackwood
- Merthyr Tydfil
- Caerdydd, Heol Casnewydd/Cardiff, Newport Road
- Casnewydd/Newport – 2 branches (Maesglas, and the Kingsway Centre)
- Ceredigion (near Aberystwyth)
- Cwmdu (Swansea)
Edinburgh (Musselburgh) – organised by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty; a write-up of the action is at: http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/177
Haringey Solidarity Group (HSG) picketed a North London Hospice (NLH) shop two days running on Saturday and Sunday. Though smaller numbers than usual, it was an effective picket, handing out leaflets and talking to passers-by on a busy high street. There are still many people unaware of what workfare really means for claimants, and they are rightly disgusted when they hear of people forced to work for benefits and the punitive sanctions.
Though NLH show signs of pulling out of the Community Work Placement scheme, HSG will continue their actions until there is a definite commitment from NLH. They are also leafleting local Job Centres each day this week as part of the week of action – see here for details of when and where. And have a look at HSG’s website for more info on NLH and workfare provider Urban Futures.
Direct action and online pressure meant thousands of workfare placements were prevented in 2014
At the tribunal, the DWP argued that if the public knew exactly where people were being sent on placements political protests would increase, which was likely to lead to the collapse of several employment schemes and undermine the government’s economic interests.
Get a mirror. Got it? Good! Now take a look at yourself. Yes you. The amazing person looking back at you has made a real difference. A massive difference in fact. In the last year, people who know instinctively that workfare and sanctions are just plain wrong have pushed workfare closer to collapse. That’s the government’s own view, given as evidence in court in October 2014.
Here are just a few of the ways amazing people like you have helped make it happen:
A new, punitive, six-month workfare scheme to launch in April 2014 was the headline policy from the previous Conservative Party conference. But the scale of public opposition to workfare means that rolling out more forced unpaid work wasn’t going to be easy for them.
The War Memorials Trust rapidly rebutted Cameron’s headline claims that the unemployed would be put to work “restoring war memorials”.
Our opposition helped to delay the scheme’s roll-out by several months.
The Boycott Workfare week of action at the start of April persuaded major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA to say that the new CWP scheme was one step too far even for them.
George Osborne’s first PR visit for the scheme backfired when it prompted such a huge public response that a week later, Byteback IT pulled out, thanking people for bringing the issues around workfare to their attention.
Encouraged by hundreds of supporters on social media and elsewhere, charities came out en masse to say no to workfare…
In 2014 – thanks to the great work of the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign – over 500 charities have come out against workfare, pledging publicly not to take part. This is important: many workfare schemes rely on placements for so-called “community benefit”, so need the co-operation of the voluntary sector. 500 organisations which will not take part in workfare removes thousands of potential placements. The growing consensus that charities want no part in workfare and benefit sanctions is a huge huge blow to the welfare to work industry and workfare.
The KVV list already includes many household names – such as Shelter, Oxfam, Crisis, Scope and the Trussell Trust – as well as umbrella bodies and local organisations.
As Oxfam put it “These schemes involve forced volunteering, which is not only an oxymoron, but undermines people’s belief in the enormous value of genuine voluntary work.”Help invite more organisations to sign up!
120 Mandatory Work Activity Placements took place for Scarborough Borough Council, but the scheme has now been cancelled!
This time last year, the Guardian and the Mirror covered our research showing that councils in the UK had used more than half a million hours of workfare. Within days, Scarborough Council, one of the worst workfare-using councils in the UK pulled out! It had taken 120 Mandatory Work Activity placements in its Parks Department, where cuts to staff had recently been proposed. This success should mean jobs are now a little more secure.
As the unprecedented retrospective workfare legislation passed with the help of Labour in 2013 showed, the government considers itself above the law when it comes to workfare. But that doesn’t mean that workfare schemes were compatible with human rights law nor that the government has the right to withhold information from the public. In 2014:
On 5 July, the High Court ruled that emergency workfare legislation in 2013 was not compatible with the human right to a fair trial.
In June, an Upper Tribunal judge ruled that the DWP must reveal the list of organisations using workfare. The DWP fears that the public response to this list could make the schemes “collapse” and has appealed again.
In October, the DWP was back in the courts again, trying keep information on workfare out of the public domain, this time revealing just how fearful of public opposition to the schemes it is. Once again, it lost its case and was ordered to reveal workfare users.
“Employers the world over agree: it’s all about the right mindset” – James Reed, Chair of workfare providers Reed
Ever been forced to attend a course laced with “positive thinking” mumbo-jumbo or referred to a psychologist for ‘asking too many questions’? If so, you’ll understand why it’s so important to push back against the government and workfare industry’s attempts to blame unemployed people for the state of the economy.
In 2014, we won an important step in challenging the psychological coercion used by the workfare industry. After a prolonged effort from Boycott Workfare members, with support from academics and mental health activists, the new president elect of the British Psychological Society (BPS), Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, has agreed to launch an enquiry into the misuse of psychology in workfare and the role of BPS. You can tweet BPS to keep up the pressure here.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty shut down a workfare-using Salvation Army shop for three hours
When charities and businesses realise the brand damage and disruption that involvement in workfare brings, it often doesn’t take long for them to reconsider their involvement.
Direct action at the start of April persuaded major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA to say they would not take part in the new Community Work Placement scheme, although it remains to convince them to withdraw from workfare altogether.
In October, the week of action against workfare led to four major charities (Scope, Barnardos, BHF and Traid) cancelling their involvement in Community Work Placement schemes too!
Effigy of the manager of a forced labour centre in the Netherlands made out of the sponges that people on workfare are forced to cut
In February, our Welfare Action Gathering brought together over a hundred people from 12 different groups to share information and strategies and plan co-ordinated action. It sowed the seeds for the launch of the hugely successful Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign. As more and more welfare action groups emerge across the UK, find a group taking action against workfare near you here.
In the year when workfare in New York City was finally brought to an end, we built links with anti-workfare campaigners across Europe too: Boycott Workfare members have met people from the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland who are campaigning to stop workfare and sanctions in their countries too.
In 2015, watch this space for more workshops, gatherings and international links!
People taking action in Sheffield picketing Savers and TCV described passers by as “without exception” sympathetic. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty’s impressive blockades of workfare profiteers like Salvation Army were an important deterrent to other potential workfare users.
When John McArthur was sent to work unpaid for his former employer, he chose instead to picket the recycling plant on a daily basis. His action inspired hundreds of people to contact LAMH Recycling and it pulled out too!
Haringey Solidarity Group (HSG) have kept their ear to the ground with weekly “know your rights” and “blow the whistle” leafleting sessions outside Community Work Placement provider Urban Futures. As well as showing solidarity with people facing bullying and mistreatment on the punitive scheme, HSG have discovered who the local workfare users are. Their actions have brought placements at Traid, Cancer Research and Marie Curie to an end, and they are working hard to end the 50 placements at North London Hospice shops.
As major charities and high street shops boycott workfare, placements increasingly take place in local businesses and charities which is why this kind of local action is really important. Every placement we end makes it more difficult and expensive for workfare providers to profit from these schemes. And our impact can be seen in the numbers: Figures published in May 2014 showed a significant decrease in Mandatory Work Activity referrals.
Many people who follow and support our campaign are claiming some form of social security. They may have suffered the scapegoating of the media; abuse and terrible treatment at the sanction-obsessed Jobcentre; or been subject to the positive-thinking, double-speak thought police at workfare providers. If you are one of these people, then you should be especially proud. Whilst the media, millionaire politicians, and workfare profiteers tell us we are to blame, they have failed to break us. With every action you have taken, or workfare user you have named and shamed, you have given others hope.
So look back over the year and see what you have helped to achieve in the campaign against workfare and be very proud of yourself. Together we have made a massive impact. To win on workfare is to defeat those waging war on living standards and the welfare state. We can do it: just look at what you have helped to achieve already.
Help make a difference this coming year too! Join our email list and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Share this blog on social media to inspire others to get involved too!
Bulky Bobs and LAMH Recycling have both stepped back from workfare in the last few weeks!
It’s been a bad month for workfare: anti-workfare protests and campaigns in various parts of the country have been gaining ground at the expense of the DWP’s schemes. Campaigners are causing myriad problems for the Department for Work and Pensions: it is increasingly difficult for them find and keep placement providers for their Community Work Placements (CWP) scheme.
As Shiv Malik reported in the Guardian earlier this month, even the DWP admits that our actions are working. At the Information Commission tribunal hearing – where the DWP are challenging court orders telling them to release the list of organisations that are involved in workfare schemes – they argued, “that if the public knew exactly where people were being sent on placements political protests would increase, which was likely to lead to the collapse of several employment schemes”. Well, it would be a shame not to prove them right.
Successful attempts to get charities and other organisations to stop their involvement in workfare this month have taken many forms. There have been online actions; the work of the campaign urging charities to Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV); persistent one-man protests outside placement providers; and actions which didn’t even have to take place to get Bulky Bob’s to stop using workfare!
By some accounts, it was merely the threat of Liverpool IWW arriving at local household waste recycling firm Bulky Bob’s for the protest they had planned for the 12th of November that moved them to withdraw from workfare – although online actions by Liverpool IWW and others helped to pile pressure on the company’s management. Bulky Bob’s have also agreed to sign the KVV pledge, promising not to get involved in further unpaid work schemes. You can see their statement on their website here.
John MacArthur protested on his own for 2 hours a day outside the Motherwell (Scotland) charity ‘LAMH’ (Lanarkshire Association for Mental Health). He had been employed by the association at minimum wage in 2010-11, but recently was referred to them for unpaid work as part of the 6 month Community Work Placement programme. He was sanctioned in August – his Jobseeker’s Allowance was stopped until January for refusing to work for no wages at LAMH, leaving him “living on 16p tins of spaghetti”. But John made sure his former employers were aware of his situation and the negative publicity LAMH received induced them to drop out of the CWP scheme.
Sustained campaigning against workfare schemes has been destabilising the DWP’s schemes at every level this month, and clearly they’ve been feeling it. Let’s all support each other to keep up the good work going forward.
If you have any actions planned you’d like us to publicise, or any recent actions you’d like us to mention, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With over 17 actions in the UK and beyond, and hundreds of people taking action online, we stepped up pressure on workfare which is unpopular and vulnerable.
In Edinburgh, compulsory courses at workfare provider Learndirect were cancelled when 60 people blockaded its office. In London, provider Urban Futures faced an occupation at the same time, exposing managers’ nasty attitudes towards claimants. In Brighton, people invaded provider Avanta and handed out leaflets.
Job centres were rebranded “sanctions” centres
Actions took place at job centres, which were rebranded “sanctions centres” instead. This report from the demo in Peckham shows why: “They appear to be sanctioning people at the rate of between 30 and 45 people per day. Some people have received sanctions of 10 months for a ‘first offence’! They seem to be ignoring the official guidelines about sanctions periods entirely and making up as they go along. We also heard about a 6 month pregnant woman with child who was sanctioned for two months for being one minute late.”
“Welfare woman” and others challenged the TUC’s support for sanctions and workfare
With the government set on extending workfare and sanctions to the working poor next, the huge level of support in the week of action shows that the public are with us. In Sheffield “shoppers were, without exception, sympathetic” to the picket outside workfare exploiter Savers. “Some people had experienced workfare schemes themselves and were pleased that we were making the issue a public one.” People know that workfare means increased poverty via sanctions, and replaces paid work.
In the Netherlands, the anti-workfare campaign Doorbraak also took part in the week of action, pushing the mayor of Amsterdam to pledge to end to workfare next year. Austrian unemployed group “Aktion Arbeitslose” helped build support as well.
By holding those who profit from workfare to account and having a massive impact – at a time when permanent austerity and social injustice are the policy order of the day – your actions bring hope. We show each other that we are not alone. People’s actions in New York have brought workfare to an end in the city where it began. Whilst claimants have been abandoned by the Coalition Government, Labour and sadly even the TUC – they have not been abandoned by you. So let’s keep the pressure up!
A massive thank you to everyone who took part in any way in the week of action. If your action isn’t mentioned here, but you’d like it to be, please email email@example.com
Today members of Haringey Solidarity Group and Boycott Workfare paid a visit to workfare provider Urban Futures in Wood Green. Fifteen people occupied the office with banners and a soundsystem – challenging Urban Futures on their treatment of claimants and speaking to people on enforced jobsearch about their experiences and sharing info on their rights.
We’d already heard that the managers are aggressive and bullying towards claimants, so expected the same. But the short occupation revealed the nasty attitudes throughout the staff team – about ten staff tried to hassle people out and came out with some revealing lines, taunting a number of us that we should “get a job” (yawn). When one of us replied that he had a job, they replied, “I can’t believe you have a job, looking like that.” Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Hospices 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.
‘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.
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.
St Ann’s Hospice have a number of sites and charity shops around Manchester and Cheshire. Their website says they’re Greater Manchester’s largest hospice. The phone numbers of all their charity shops and departments are listed here. Most recently, in July, we heard of them taking people on mandatory placements from the Work Programme, for at least six weeks at a time. As well as the contact details on their website, they are on Facebook and Twitter: Tweet to @StAnnsHospice
North London Hospice are filling their charity shops with people on six-month mandatory Community Work Placements. Please contact NLH and politely ask them to stop using workfare. 0208 343 8841, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook and on Twitter: Tweet to @NLondonHospice
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.
 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.
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.
London Boycott Workfare paid a surprise visit to YMCA HQ and performed their own version of the YMCA song “Forced to work at the Y-M-C-A”
In Glasgow, the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network took action vs workfare, Atos and sanctions as part of the national day of action vs Atos on Tuesday
In Glasgow, the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network took action vs workfare, Atos and sanctions as part of the national day of action vs Atos on Tuesday
Leeds Hands off our Homes ran this visual info stall!
Liverpool IWW launched with a walking tour of shame vs workfare
In Liverpool, the Primark manager denied involvement in the scheme – but his company remains involved.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty shut down their workfare-using Salvation Army shop for three hours!
Protest by @slavenationarmy at the Salvation Army’s headquarters
Protest at Salvation Army's Walworth Road shop in London.
Poster left on the wall at Salvation Army
In Weston-Super-Mare, people challenged Atos, the bedroom tax, workfare and sanctions as part of the national day of action vs Atos on Tuesday
Amidst all the success of the week, this twitter exchange between a workfare manager and his friend provided as sobering reminder of what we’re up against. As the friend put it “4 weeks free labour – nice! Just keep getting new ones for zip all”.
A massive thank you to everyone who tweeted, picketed, blockaded, occupied, or sent messages to workfare exploiters this week. With just weeks to go until Osborne’s punitive new six month “Community Work Placement” (CWP) scheme is due to launch, its future is looking pretty uncertain. Freedom of information responses suggest that the guidance is behind schedule and the government have yet to even confirm some providers. Now our action has created some even bigger hurdles: major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA say they will not offer placements on the CWP scheme.
Salvation Army felt the pressure this week with pickets at their stores in Cardiff and South London, a huge banner unfurled at their head office, and a three hour blockade which shut down one of their workfare-using shops in Edinburgh. YMCA faced a surprise visit to their head office, where an alternative YMCA song “Forced to work at the YMCA” was performed. Promising a meeting with a manager responsible for their workfare policy, they soon began telling people who contacted them that they too would not be involved in 6-month workfare – especially interesting since their excuse for continuing to use other workfare schemes is that they can’t impose policy like this on their branches.
The “green” charities who make thousands of workfare placements possible also faced the heat with massive online pressure. The Conservation Volunteers, who have previously boasted of the 20,000 workfare placements they have hosted, will not take part in CWP. Groundwork – a major workfare user – decided to lie to the charities’ press about their involvement, claiming that they had not bid to run a CWP contract, despite boasting about doing so here.
Coverage in the charities’ trade press in England and Scotland, and in Christian media will mean that other organisations see the cost to their reputation of getting involved in any workfare scheme. With impressive and diverse actions in Cardiff, Glasgow, Weston Super Mare, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Brighton, London and Swansea during the week, and hundreds of people taking action online, any would-be workfare exploiter has reason to think twice. When even the Evening Standard is condemning CWP, this exceptionally punitive brand of workfare looks pretty doomed.
In a week which also saw mass mobilisations against zero hour contracts, Atos and the Bedroom Tax, we know that what we all do makes a difference. So however you supported the week of action, thank you!
Amidst all the success of the week, this twitter exchange between a workfare manager and his friend provided a sobering reminder of what we’re up against. As the friend put it “4 weeks free labour – nice! Just keep getting new ones for zip all”. Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA may be out of the 6-month CWP workfare but they’re still propping up other workfare schemes and forcing people into destitution through sanctions, so if you haven’t yet had a chance, please keep up the pressure with the actions below:
We say volunteering should remain just that, and that people shouldn’t be “made to volunteer” under threat of sanction.
The fight against workfare is more important than ever, with 74,000 people being sanctioned every month. Sanctions are one of the main reasons people are turning to food banks to feed themselves, and you can now be sanctioned for up to three years. This is forcing people to make the choice between heating their homes or eating.
Join us in a day of action against the YMCA’s use of workfare. Tell them what you think about them using forced unpaid work in their charity shops. Don’t let them ignore the devastating effect that sanctions are having on people up and down the country.
Phone them on 020 7186 9500 or their shops hotline on 0845 601 0728.
Find contact details of your nearest YMCA shop here
But please note: Whilst it’s well worth trying to speak to a manager or senior individual if possible please bear in mind most people taking calls/emails will be low paid retail/admin staff and could even be on workfare themselves. Be aware that is an offence to make telephone calls or send communications which are threatening, indecent or offensive.