This week Boycott Workfare has been alerted to the use of workfare to fill the void in a heavily cut library service. The reported placement was for four weeks under the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme in Sydenham Community library, Lewisham, now run by “social enterprise” Eco Computer Systems, a computer recycling company. The outsourcing of the public library service, and now resulting workfare, is part of the Lewisham Council’s £88 million cuts programme that has seen nearly half their libraries outsourced.
Lewisham’s transfer of 3 public libraries to Eco Computer Systems was done under the premise of engaging the local community with the library service in the face of huge cuts. However there is no hiding the scale of the cuts as the outsourcing has seen a 66% fall in books issued at Sydenham community library. The only community engagement there now appears to be is forcing people to work for free.
On their website explaining the new “community” libraries Lewisham Council give no mention to workfare, instead stating that the libraries will be staffed “by a combination of Eco Computer Systems staff and volunteers”. With no mention of the forced nature of at least some of these “volunteers” we have to wonder where else Lewisham are allowing paid staff to be replaced with workfare.
Over the last year 75% of MWA placements were in charities. This dependence on charities combined with the recent high profile withdrawal of the larger charities is resulting in providers struggling to find placements. This placement in Sydenham could be a worrying indication that MWA providers will be increasingly pushing for workfare to replace severely cut local council jobs.