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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.

Another Public service filling the cuts with workfare

Posted: January 15th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Name and shame, Public Sector | 9 Comments »
Following cuts to the library service in Lewisham, MWA placements are being used. (Photo: Jeffrey Beall / Flickr)

Following cuts to the library service in Lewisham, MWA placements are being used. (Photo: Jeffrey Beall / Flickr)

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.


9 Comments on “Another Public service filling the cuts with workfare”

  1. 1 Patricia Richardson said at 11:46 am on January 16th, 2013:

    This is useful information.
    We asked questions of the council about this issue a couple of years ago, when it was rumoured that such practices existed. These rumours were denied by the council at the time.
    Please do not publish the name and address as it muddies the waters!

  2. 2 Round up | Alan Gibbons' Diary said at 6:40 pm on January 16th, 2013:

    […] BoycottWorkfare.org : 15th January Another Public service filling the cuts with workfare  This week Boycott Workfare has been alerted to the use of workfare to fill the void in a heavily cut library service. http://bworkfare.mayfirst.org/?p=1967 […]

  3. 3 Library News Round-up: 16th January 2013 | The Library Campaign said at 8:01 pm on January 16th, 2013:

    […] BoycottWorkfare.org : 15th January Another Public service filling the cuts with workfare  Workfare to fill the void in a heavily cut library service This week Boycott Workfare has been alerted to the use of workfare to fill the void in a heavily cut library service. 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. http://bworkfare.mayfirst.org/?p=1967 […]

  4. 4 Darren Taylor said at 2:04 pm on January 18th, 2013:

    Dear All,

    I am the CEO of Eco Computer Systems and I have just seen this article.

    I really wish people would talk to me before printing stuff, does anyone know what we do or how we help people.

    I even saw one twitter statement saying people should boycott donating computers to us.

    We are a charity and social enterprise, and these comments can be hard for us, actually sorry not us but the deprived families and elderly that we give free computers to. So these comments have meant that we are not able to give as many deprived families or a few sheltered homes will not be getting computers because supplies went down.

    Regarding the placement – we are working with placement on 13 weeks placement, and if they do not want to be with us, we do not force them.

    These placement are young people who have none or little experience, and this is not just work experience, it is also training. So for example five placement were on a certified food hygiene course today, and this did not cost any money to the person or the government and we then update their CV to help them get into work.

    In fact in the past two weeks we have helped two young people into work, in a time when I am being told there are no jobs and we will get many of these young into work because these young people we are getting are focused and really want to get off of the benefits systems, they just need a little help, advise and training.

    Has anyone asked the young people on the placement, most want to stay after their placement is finished, because they know it looks good on their CV.

    Next weeks they will be starting their eight weeks customer services NVQ level 2 – again at no cost to them or the council or the government.

    Again I state, if they don’t want to be at Eco and gain experience and qualification then we don’t force them to be with us.

    Kindest Regards

    Darren Taylor
    CEO of Eco Computer Systems
    if anyone would like to ask any question, I am on darren@ecocom.org.uk

  5. 5 Dazz said at 10:34 am on January 24th, 2013:

    This just proves you can’t even get your facts correct. You only show one side of the picture, your sad little story about how people on benefits are exploited. Well I for one am fed up with people on benefits exploiting the system and those that pay their taxes for them do search for work.
    Before you post anything get the true story, as your comments and what you write is simply a made up lie for the unemployed masses!

  6. 6 LabourNet Germany: Treffpunkt für Ungehorsame, mit und ohne Job, basisnah, gesellschaftskritisch » Workfare: Arbeit in der Hochsaison. Bei Lohn zero. said at 9:43 am on January 28th, 2013:

    […] “Another Public service filling the cuts with workfare“ am 15. Januar bei der “Boycott Workfare Campaign” (auf deren Seite auch darüber berichtet wird, wie die Kampagne geschafft hat, unter anderem einzelne Unternehmen dazu zu drängen, aus dem Programm auszusteigen) worin hervorgehoben wird, dass workfare ArbeiterInnen auch dazu ausgenutzt werden, die gekürzten Stellen im öffentlichen Dienst aufzufüllen, hier in einer Stadtbücherei. […]

  7. 7 Alisha said at 11:05 am on February 4th, 2013:

    I understand that you aim to “expose and take action” against companies that exploit the unemployed, but I think that you should look elsewhere. Eco Computer Systems (ECS) is NOT a big company that takes advantage of those in need. They offer a work placement, that you can go on if you choose to do so. OK, so not everyone here gets a job, but you get the experience to eventually get one.There is no “force” involved. If you don’t want to volunteer there, then don’t.

    Are you aware of how many people apply, daily, to get a position as a volunteer? These aren’t just everyday unemployed people, these are people with Masters Degrees and at least 5 years worth of experience! If anything, ECS is doing people a favour. I hear that some volunteers are able to manage and or assist in events at libraries and getting the libraries up and running again. How many organisations would allow VOLUNTEERS to do something like that?

    This is why good things don’t last, because when good things happen, comments like this are made. Why don’t you pick on someone else who actually FORCES people to work for nothing?!

    Start a thread on that!

  8. 8 boycottworkfare said at 4:46 pm on February 4th, 2013:

    Dear Darren Taylor,
    You describe 13 week placements that you believe people can leave voluntarily (we would need more details to know if this is true as you don’t know what happens at the job centre). However the blog post was talking about someone who was referred for a 4 week Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placement at Sydenham community library. From the name it is obvious this is not voluntary and the person has now had benefits stopped for 3 months as a result of not taking part in MWA. If you really cared about deprived families you would not be involved with these placements.

    You say that in the past two weeks you have helped two people into employment, which can only be a good thing. But knowing this doesn’t actually tell us whether the Mandatory Work Activity placement has helped. To know that we’d need to know whether they would have got jobs anyway. For individual cases we can’t know this, it’s not possible to create an alternate reality to find out. But when we look at the scheme as a whole, we can compare the results to what we see from similar people not sent on the scheme.

    And the fact is that Mandatory Work Activity does not help people get a job[1]. When compared against a group that was not forced into a work placement, we can see that there is no effect on employment levels. Looking more closely at outcomes from the scheme, we can see that there is an increase in the number of people claiming ESA disability benefits, suggesting that participation in MWA may actually may people sick enough that they can’t work.

    Even if your organisation does a good job, and overall does better for the people sent to you than they would have done on their own, you take part in and support a scheme which does not work, does not help people get a job, can force them to leave voluntary positions they have found themselves [2] and which has maximum of three years sanction attached to it – leaving people who refuse to take part in the scheme with no money and at high risk of homelessness. In Birmingham, Sifa Fireside who work with homeless people say that they have seen increasing numbers of people made homeless due to benefit sanctions[3]. Oxfam refuse to take part because of the poverty risks, and many other charities have withdrawn from the schemes due to the forced nature of them.

    [1]http://notthetreasuryview.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/dwp-analysis-shows-mandatory-work.html
    [2]http://bworkfare.mayfirst.org/?p=1573
    [3]http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/democracy/Pages/GetDoc.aspx?DocumentID%3Di7mYB2HOrMA%253d%26MimeType%3Dapplication%2Fpdf%26DocName%3D20120911+-+Welfare+Reform+Inquiry+-+Evidence.pdf
    [4]http://bworkfare.mayfirst.org/?p=533

  9. 9 miranda do douro said at 2:10 am on January 29th, 2014:

    Hi! I could have sworn I’ve visited this blog before but
    after browsing through a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me.
    Regardless, I’m definitely happy I stumbled upon it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back regularly!


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