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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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, email@example.com, 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.
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.
Last 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.
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). Read the rest of this entry »
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!
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.