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.
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.
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!
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.
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, Birmingham, London and Nottingham – just a few of the many cities that took part in the week of action.
The Red Cross suspended workfare after just a few people got in touch! What you are doing works! [Photo: Andy Wilkes]
As 2012 came to a close we had reports of people being sent for 4 weeks workfare on the Mandatory Work Activity scheme (MWA) at British Red Cross. This was probably to fill the void left by the spate of charities that pulled out in early December when workfare was rolled out for people on disability benefit.
Whereas the British Heart Foundation required a full year of online pressure, pickets and occupations of their stores to finally begin “moving away” from workfare, all the Red Cross required was a letter from a customer who had witnessed workfare in her local store. The Red Cross replied:
“I am sorry that the atmosphere in your local Red Cross shop has been unhappy of late and that there have been ‘volunteers’ who were finding it difficult to cope…
“In line with our fundamental principles our aim has always been to support vulnerable people in crisis and as such we no longer feel that it is appropriate to participate in a programme where sanctions might be applied that could result in an individual losing their benefits.”
This shows holding workfare users to account in any way you can does help bring down workfare! Join events in the week of action on 18-24 March, start your own or join the online protests that week and let Sally Army, YMCA, TCV and all the other workfare users know that “if you exploit us we will shut you down”!
This is the banner one person has put together for the week of action. What are you planning?
As the week of action on 18-24 March approaches, people across the UK are planning to step up the pressure on workfare exploiters in their towns. From workfare ‘sleuthing’, to workfare walks of shame to pickets and sit-ins, the possibilities are endless. Lots of people have posted to find others in their town on the Facebook event wall, but if there’s just one of you, you can still have fun and make an impact on your high street! Here, one person describes how they did just that…
“After the excellent court result of Public Interest Lawyers on Tuesday the 12th of February for Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson (and let’s face it, for all of us), I was elated. I looked at this result and thought “How can I use this?”
By Thursday the 14th I had the answer. Serve them a notice!
This is the simplest one person action I can think of, no organising a mob to back you up, no great big banners to unfurl. Just a quick in and out! Read the rest of this entry »
It seems that the DWP is upset that charities keep pulling out of its forced work schemes. So upset that it has decided to lie to the Guardian about the campaign against workfare. Its spokesperson said:
“It is deeply regrettable that a small number of people have targeted charities and subjected them to intimidation and abuse in an effort to disrupt the operation of this scheme. In so doing they deny many people the opportunities and help they need to get back into work.
“We’re grateful for the continued support of charities in helping unemployed people re-engage with the system and move closer to employment through Mandatory Work Activity.”
The Boycott Workfare campaign has issued a short response:
“It is deeply encouraging that a large number of people have contacted charities and made the perfectly reasonable request that they withdraw from this scheme which does not help people into employment. In so doing they have denied the DWP the opportunity to intimidate and abuse claimants through workfare and sanctions.
“We’re grateful to those charities who have left the scheme for helping unemployed and disabled people to avoid forced unpaid work and the withdrawal of benefits.”
Keep up the good work people! In the last fortnight four charities have withdrawn from workfare, and even before that the government was complaining “The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements.” Let’s make the week of action on 18-24 March count!