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.
“Workfare” has been a dirty word since its implementation in the US, so former DWP minister Chris Grayling was particularly annoyed that it has become the language of the debate in the UK.
He was quoted complaining:
“One word that kept recurring was ‘workfare.’ In none of our titles of our schemes or any of the principles of our schemes is workfare. It is all about job search.”
Published in December 2012, a DWP report into Mandatory Work Activity complained that it was unable to find placements for everyone because:
“The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements.”
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!