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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.

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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Week of action success as workfare users step back from new punitive scheme

Posted: April 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report | 3 Comments »

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:

Keep up the pressure on YMCA!

Posted: March 31st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Call to action | 9 Comments »
Boycott Workfare inside YMCA HQ

Boycott Workfare inside YMCA HQ

Today boycott workfare paid a visit to the London headquarters of workfare exploiter YMCA. They’ve defended their use of unpaid, forced work in previous statements and we’ve called them out on it. Mandatory Work Activity forces people to work without wages under threat of sanction, and doesn’t help them find a job anyway. Whereas the Salvation Army have stated they will not get involved in the new 6 month long Community Work Placements starting later this month, the YMCA have yet to make a public statement on the issue.

The YMCA wants to have its cake and eat it. Their president, Bishop John Sentamu, has spoken against workfare. Yet, the organisation still takes part in some of the harshest schemes.  They’re also involved in delivering traineeships – workfare by another name.

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.

Facebook: YMCA England


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.

Anti workfare flying pickets rock Salvation Army in Edinburgh

Posted: March 4th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Charities | 13 Comments »
Four Salvation Army shops blockaded in one day by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty!

Four Salvation Army shops blockaded in one day by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty!

Thanks to Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty for this inspiring report of their action on 3rd March… a hint of what’s to come in the week of action?

Anti workfare campaigners swooped on four Salvation Army shops in Edinburgh on 3rd March, blockading them all and turning away customers and a delivery lorry. Salvation Army managers were visibly rattled as a giant banner proclaiming IF YOU EXPLOIT US WE WILL SHUT YOU DOWN blocked the entrance to their shops.

At the Bruntsfield Place shop the Salvation Army manager threatened: “I’m one of the more serious managers. I’ll get a group of people to come and kick your heads in if you don’t move from in front of my shop.” The demonstrators from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty maintained their blockade of the entrance and shortly afterwards turned away a lorry from Nathans Wastesavers textile recycling company. Animated debate continued in the street outside the shop as a pro-workfare passer-by was berated by another passer-by who recounted his experiences in the local Salvation Army hostel, where he said the management took half of residents’ benefits to pay for their accommodation.

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The truth is, it’s up to all of us!

Posted: February 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Info on schemes, Unions | No Comments »

No Benefit Sanctions No WorkfareLast week figures on how many people faced sanctions (benefit stoppages) were published. There were no surprises, only the disturbing reality that more people are facing the hardship, hunger and stress of sanctions than ever before.

What about the union of the job centre workers who are pushing poor people into these devastating situations? Last year its members voted for PCS union to look into means of non-cooperation with sanctions, but its leadership is point blank refusing to even consider this an option. This is despite the fact that over 4000 workfare placements have taken place in the DWP, undermining jobs and wages for PCS members.

Elsewhere, the TUC mustered a cynical statement condemning sanctions – cynical given they also support the use of sanctions (PDF – 3.6, pg 31) and have explicitly called for Labour’s ‘workfare-lite’, the so-called ‘job guarantee’, to be backed with this threat of destitution. Also taking the cynical “sanctions bad, but also necessary” line were charity Gingerbread, which seemed determined to have its cake and eat it, in a press statement which managed to both condemn and advocate sanctions. Read the rest of this entry »

2013: Our year of spanners in the workfare!

Posted: January 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Action report | 3 Comments »
Salvation Army blockade

In December’s week of action, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty shut the Salvation Army shop down for over two hours!

The workfare industry annual conference disrupted with a very loud noise demo. Salvation Army in Edinburgh – the main users of Mandatory Work Activity in the city – blockaded for two hours. An anti-sanctions action in Germany. Solidarity with claimants subject to the farcical pilot of Universal Credit. The petition for all sanctions to be scrapped hit 10,000 signatures. Tea and information outside job centres. Workfare users picketed in Wales, Scotland and England. All this in just one week in 2013 – a year in which ordinary people made workfare’s progress a whole lot more rocky.

Targeting workfare exploiters

In 2013, your actions online and on the streets meant these brands stepped back from workfare: Shoe Zone, The Red Cross, Capability Scotland, Marriott Hotels, Superdrug, Argos, Wetherspoons and Debenhams.

In April, we helped expose that at least one Homebase store was using 25 placements at a time to save hundreds of hours on their payroll, and cutting existing workers’ hours as a result. Thousands of people took action online and outside Homebase stores across the UK, and just one month later, the company withdrew from the scheme (though we’re chasing up reports that it’s since reappeared in their Willesden store).
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Workfare Week of Action Round-up

Posted: July 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Action report | 2 Comments »
'How to Avoid Workfare' leafleting in Bristol

‘How to Avoid Workfare’ leafleting in Bristol

Another successful Workfare Week of Action had a massive response, and grew as the week went on, with people all over the UK organising protests and pickets at workfare exploiters and Job Centres. In Manchester, people picketed the ‘welfare to work’ conference’s lavish dinner at the Hilton. Online actions saw the conference’s twitter feed hashtag #w2w2013 hijacked , causing many delegates and organisations to vent their frustration at being exposed as workfare profiteers. Conference delegates were however sadly not at their best for pushing new ways to profit from poverty: the hotel they were staying in had three unexplained fire alarms go off during the night!

Marks and Spencer became a focus of the UK wide protests after it was revealed that they are involved in workfare on a huge scale, as well as their continued involvement in Scotland where single parents are forced to work in their stores or face sanctions. Shoppers were outraged to hear M&S were using forced unpaid labour. Protests were held inside and outside their stores in Swansea, London, Hastings, Sheffield, Leeds, Glasgow, Brighton and Birmingham. Homebase, who claimed they were ending workfare placements, were also picketed in London after it was discovered that people were working unpaid in the Willesden store.

Importantly, thousands of ‘How to Avoid Workfare’ leaflets were given to people at Job Centres around the country. With a focus on informing people of their rights, numerous welfare infostalls and leafleting sessions at Job Centres were set up and met with a great response. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty’s action specifically targeted sanctions which are set to reach 1 million for this year. With the intensified threat of sanctions, sharing rights information and showing solidarity with people at Job Centres is a really important way to combat the government’s new hit squads - and to bring down workfare. Groups have made plans to continue such events beyond the Week of Action.

Elsewhere, pressure on the Salvation Army was kept up with a group in London leafleting a Sunday service in order to speak with a shocked congregation about the charity’s involvement with schemes that cause poverty. The week ended with the good news that the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union have joined the fight to actively work with this campaign to stamp out workfare.

Check out the links to action reports and photos from actions across the UK: Read the rest of this entry »

Launch of sanctions for people in work “ruined”

Posted: June 6th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Welfare to work industry | 6 Comments »

Workfare thinktank Policy Exchange got together with the DWP yesterday to announce the results of their call for ideas for bullying part-time workers off in-work benefits. When Universal Credit is launched, all claimants unable to secure full time jobs will have to continually look for ‘more or better paid work’ or face sanctions. But Boycott Workfare were there to make sure the event didn’t go to plan. One Policy Exchange organiser was overheard bemoaning “It’s just such a shame that the event has been ruined.” Now to ruin their plans to extend devastating sanctions to the working poor!

Three protesters infiltrate conference to disrupt Hoban’s speech

Posted: May 17th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Welfare to work industry | 2 Comments »

On 16th May, three protesters sneaked into an industry conference to make sure employment minister Mark Hoban’s lies didn’t go unchallenged. In the week where it was revealed that he has profited over £100,000 from the sale of his taxpayer-funded second home, we thought we should remind him about the £130 million he robbed from the poorest when he rewrote history so that unlawful sanctions didn’t have to be repaid.

GovKnow’s Employment, Apprenticeships & Skills conference was about using welfare reforms to create incentives to work. It aimed to show employers where to look for cheap, compliant and mandated workers and to show educators and recovery organisations how to create those workers.  It showed all those attending how to rebrand unpaid work as training, learning and recovery.

One protester spoke for five minutes until Mark Hoban had to leave the room; she was then evicted. When Hoban returned to the stage, another protester took up where she had left off. As he was evicted another one popped up again!

This is not the first time that industry conferences have been challenged. Others have been invaded, relocated and disrupted too. These events are all about the money to be made out of unemployment and out of the unemployed. It’s clear there’s no money to be made by the unemployed in the form of employment.

Workfare: we are the opposition!

Posted: March 28th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Action report | 3 Comments »
protesters outside bhf

Edinburgh’s actions shut two workfare exploiters down!

Last week thousands of people around the UK took action against workfare, and it’s already had results! Superdrug have declared that they are pulling out of workfare. The pressure on those charities and businesses still profiting from unpaid work stepped up massively. Online actions saw Debenhams decide to cancel a live Facebook Q&A, and the Salvation Army respond to visits to its headquarters and online pressure by claiming “workfare does not exist”!

Action on high streets across the UK saw shops that use workfare closed down, letters delivered to workfare users, and chalking appear on the street pointing out workfare profiteers. Read more about actions in Edinburgh, Bristol, BirminghamLondon and Nottingham – just a few of the many cities that took part in the week of action.

It was a week where, with the exception of only 57 MPs who voted against it, both the Government and the Opposition supported a bill which denied justice to 300,000 people. They rushed through a retroactive law to rob £130 million from people who were due repayments of unlawful benefit sanctions. Shamefully, the Labour Party are now lying to justify their actions: pretending that people could not have appealed wrongful sanctions without the bill; and that no sanctions were possible without it.
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