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.
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!
Atos have forced thousands of sick and disabled people onto Jobseekers Allowance or into the “work related activities group”. These people now face workfare.
The Week of Action Against Workfare is coming up on 18-24 March and you may be wondering what you can do in your town or city. There’ll be lots more online action during the week, but if you want to take to the streets, this report of a two-person action in Newcastle shows you don’t need loads of people to have an impact!
If you’re tempted, head over to the Facebook event where loads of people have posted to find people in their area. Get in touch and order some leaflets, and let us know what you plan so we can help let others know about it!
Despite snow at home, Newcastle was rather more sheltered, which wrapped up or not, I was grateful for since I would be sitting down outside for a few hours. We’d picked ‘Grey’s Monument which is appropriately a monument to Charles, Earl Grey, the great 19th century political reformer and champion of civil liberties and which also acts as Newcastle’s answer to Speaker’s Corner. There were plenty of people about, and our placard with it’s bright blue disability logo got heads turning, even before my husband decided to start shouting slogans. David, who isn’t built like Brian Blessed for nothing, bawling in his best street-hawker’s manner, “Mandatory Workfare for disabled people starts today- Scrap it now!” got a fair few heads turning. Read the rest of this entry »
It is a fantastic testament to people power that the charity say they will be withdrawing from all “mandatory back-to-work schemes”. It means that the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, which relies on charity and public sector placements, is made even weaker: Sue Ryder are the third charity to pull out in the last fortnight, following hot on the heels of PDSA and Sense. Already before that the government had complained that “The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements.” Your actions are stopping workfare.
For Sue Ryder to end its dealings with workfare, it needs to make sure it doesn’t drop back to using the Work Experience scheme (as it is rumoured British Heart Foundation have done). The “Work Experience scheme” is only non-mandatory unless you turn it down, in which case this can be used as a reason to send you on Mandatory Work Activity. We know many people are wrongly threatened with sanctions if they do not take part: the Work Experience scheme is workfare.
We will of course be keeping an eye on Sue Ryder to ensure that they and their shops remain out of workfare, and if you are sent there or know a store which continues to use workfare please let us know. Read the rest of this entry »
Since workfare has been rolled out in the UK it has been found to be fraudulent, failing, and now, illegal. Yesterday, three judges unanimously agreed that almost all of Iain Duncan Smith’s back to work schemes which hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to take part in were unlawful (Mandatory Work Activity is sadly unaffected). Everyone who has been sanctioned on these schemes since they began two years ago should be entitled to be paid back; Newsnight last night said 130,000 people who have been unlawfully sanctioned are affected.
But it didn’t take long for the humiliated government to get forced unpaid work back on the road again. Last night, promising a “short sharp shock”, it rushed through regulations which mean that from today these schemes may be mandatory. We say may because the DWP doesn’t exactly have a good track record of following the law; the new regulations were rushed out in 24 hours and may not respect the judges’ ruling.
The new regulations haven’t yet been put in the public domain, so once again people are in a limbo where we have no way of knowing our rights. This is what we understand to be the case at the moment, and we’ll keep you posted as we hear more:
1. Until yesterday, all back to work schemes apart from Mandatory Work Activity were unlawful. This includes the Work Programme, Work Experience, Sector Based Work Academies, Community Action Programme and Trailblazer schemes. This means:
nothing was legally mandatory on those schemes
everyone who was sanctioned on them should be entitled to recoup their lost payments
2. The government plan to ask the Supreme Court for a right to appeal. Until they have done so, they say they will not accept requests for sanctions to be repaid. It is very unlikely they will win the appeal, but it does mean there will be a delay in repayments. We will stay in touch with Public Interest Lawyers to keep people posted on this, and whether there may be a case for compensation.
3. Job Centre staff have been advised to tell people that because of the new regulations brought in last night “nothing has changed”. This is not the case:
Unless the government wins the right to appeal and wins that appeal (which is unlikely), then everything you have been asked to do on these schemes in the last two years was unlawful.
Job Centres are issuing new letters to claimants from today which suggests that the previous letters about back to work schemes are no longer valid. This could mean that you are not mandated on these schemes until you receive a new letter.
Of the numerous workfare schemes introduced by this government, only Mandatory Work Activity remains lawful. With immediate effect, those on the controversial Work Programme, Sector Based Work Academies, Community Action Programme or other workfare schemes may leave without risk of sanction. Sanctions currently in place must immediately be brought to an end.
The government has however threatened to swiftly lay new regulations which may make the schemes mandatory and subject to sanctions. The impact of the ruling remains substantial, since unless the DWP wins the right to appeal in the Supreme Court and succeeds in that appeal, everyone who has been sanctioned on the schemes to date should be entitled to be paid back and all referrals to date will have been unlawful.
The viability of the remaining ‘lawful’ workfare scheme, MWA, is under question due to campaigners’ success in persuading charities and companies to withdraw. A DWP evaluation of Mandatory Work Activity in December 2012 noted that “The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements.”
Joanna Long, a member of Boycott Workfare, has said:
“Today’s ruling is a victory of the people against a government which thought it could compel unemployed and sick people to work without pay, backed by a vicious regime of sanctions which made the poorest far poorer.
“We are confident the end is in sight for workfare in the UK. The only scheme found lawful is wobbling due to public pressure on the charities profiting from free labour. If Iain Duncan Smith attempts to put in place new workfare regulations, he should know that the public response will be outrage. Tens of businesses and charities are already boycotting his schemes, and today’s ruling shows that workfare is not only wrong, it is also unlawful.”
Boycott Workfare’s UK-wide week of action on 18th-24th March will go ahead with the aim of bringing Mandatory Work Activity to an end and ensuring the government don’t bring workfare back. The campaign will do all it can to ensure all those who have been sanctioned on the schemes are repaid, so watch this space.
Campaigners celebrated when A4e lost some of its contracts following corruption investigations
In 2012, people power pushed back the spread of workfare. The campaign to stop workfare is a testament grassroots action: people doing what they can and supporting others. Whether you stood up for your rights or told others about theirs, tweeted, posted on facebook, emailed, leafleted, talked to people, or took to the streets for one of many creative actions, here’s a few highlights of what you helped achieve…
In August 2012, the Information Commissioner ruled that the names of all organisations involved in Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) should be released. The DWP has appealed this decision, revealing in its papers that it considers protests could make the scheme collapse:
“Previous targeted campaigns had resulted in the withdrawal of providers from MWA and WE [work experience]… Put simply, disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA scheme.”
In 2013, this information could well be released, but we can make the schemes collapse anyway. Every week, people use Boycott Workfare’s name and shame form to tell others who is using workfare and together we can keep up the pressure on those profiting from forced unpaid work.
A growing list of businesses and charities have pulled out of workfare schemes as result of public pressure. A few examples below…
HMV “I understand that some groups may be planning protests outside various retailers (who participate in the schemes) tomorrow and over the next few days. I don’t know whether you are in contact with anyone involved in this activity, but if you can kindly make them aware that we have now reviewed our policy and announced to national media as you requested that our stores locally are no longer taking part in government work experience scheme”
Oxfam “Oxfam does not offer placements for participants in the mandatory work activity, or compulsory elements of ‘work for your benefits’ schemes…We do this for two reasons: firstly, because these schemes impact unfairly on the support people receive, and so are incompatible with our goal of reducing poverty in the UK.”
Holland & Barrett Withdrawing on the eve of a UK-wide Boycott Workfare day of action, the Guardian reported: “A multinational company that was one of the pioneers of the government’s employment programme has pulled out of the scheme, saying it was no longer prepared to face further bad press and in-store protests and would now pay all its workforce.”
At the start of 2013, following a week of action in December, several large charities look set to join the list of those who will no longer take part.
In February 2012, there was a huge grassroots response to workfare, triggered by an advert for unpaid nightshifts in Tescos. As a result, sanctions on three of the five schemes were temporarily suspended:
“staff are asked to take immediate steps to ensure that no claimant of any age is sanctioned under the existing rules for failing to take up, attend or leaving the Jobcentre Plus Work Experience scheme, the Work Experience element of sector-based work academies and work experience arranged by Work Programme providers”
Guidance has now been issued which makes this suspension permanent for the Work Experience scheme, and for placements which are not for ‘Community Benefit’ from the Work Programme.
Given that the sanction regime has been intensified so that people now risk loss of benefits for up to three years, and that the number of sanctions has tripled under the new government, removing sanctions from any scheme is an important success. But we know people are still told that they will be sanctioned on these schemes or threatened with mandatory schemes if they don’t ‘volunteer’ which is why we will keep campaigning for an end to all workfare.
As highlighted by lawyers in Cait Reilly’s judicial review, many of the schemes have been rolled out without information being published in the public domain about them which would enable people to know whether their referral was mandatory or not, and whether the correct procedure has been followed.
We have worked with consent.me.uk and donotsign.com to discover what the regulations for the schemes are and to support people to access their rights. One person who successfully avoided workfare told us their story:
“My job advisor told me that I’ve been mandated to work inside a charity shop for which I was expected to work 30 hours a week just to receive my Job Seekers Allowance. When I asked “Is it mandatory, that I have to do it?” my job advisor said “Yes.” At first I believed what my job advisor told me until I found the Boycott Workfare website which had links to other websites like consent.me.uk which highlighted you shouldn’t be referred onto MWA if you’re already doing your own voluntary work, which I was. When I next had my appointment to sign on and see my Job advisor I brought a copy along… it was agreed that it wasn’t necessary for me to go onto the MWA.”
In 2013, let’s keep it up, let’s make workfare collapse!
2013 brings with it the threat of unprecedented attacks on ordinary people who need social security to survive. With the introduction of Universal Credit in 2013, low-waged and part-time workers will be sucked into the jobsearch and workfare conditionality which has until now usually been directed at the unemployed. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA now also face the threat of workfare. But your success in 2012 in campaigning against workfare shows what we can achieve when we all do what we can to challenge injustice. The government fears that workfare could collapse because of public pressure – let’s make sure it happens!