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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.

Media enquiries: Please contact info@boycottworkfare.org or call 07840 381195. We are happy to provide information, comment and interviews.

31 March 2014 – Media release – For immediate release

Flashmob at YMCA headquarters launches week of action against workfare

Anti-workfare campaigners today paid a surprise visit to the headquarters of YMCA England on Farringdon Road, occupying with a flashmob to sing “Forced to work at the Y-M-C-A”. The action launched a week of action called by Boycott Workfare, which aims to make the new six-month forced, unpaid work ‘Community Work Placements’ [1] unworkable and to “stop workfare in its tracks”. 

Despite publishing research this month which showed that sanctions are forcing young people to cut back on essential items including food, housing costs, and toiletries [2], YMCA continues to defend its involvement in workfare schemes which see at least 10% of participants sanctioned [3].

Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England has described the impact of sanctions on young people as ‘disastrous’. Archbishop of York and President of the YMCA Dr John Sentamu has publicly criticised workfare. [4] Campaigners hope that their pressure will persuade YMCA to join the growing list of charities including Oxfam, Marie Curie, The Children’s Society and the Red Cross [5], who say they will have nothing to do with these schemes which can push people into absolute poverty.

The week of action aims to escalate pressure on those charities still using workfare ahead of the six month “Community Work Placements” (CWP) due to launch on 24 April. These will rely heavily on the voluntary and public sector to deliver mandatory placements for unemployed people, of more than twice the maximum community service sentence. However, the success of the scheme looks far from certain as even major workfare-user The Salvation Army has said it will not take part [6].

Jim McLaughlin, member of Boycott Workfare says: 

“The brutal impact of the sanctions regime is clear for all to see as the use of foodbanks and loansharks soars. Charities should play no part in punitive forced work schemes: being unemployed is not a crime and workfare does not help people find jobs. 

“Six months’ forced unpaid work seems to be too much even for some of the biggest workfare exploiters to stomach. As more and more charities refuse to take part, we can stop workfare in its tracks and undermine another devastating ‘flagship’ government policy.”

The week of action will also see protests Brighton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Swansea and Weston-Super-Mare. [7]

Notes to editor: 

1. Community Work Placements were announced by George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference in Sept 2013 and are due to commence on 24 April. See the provider guidance here.  

2. YMCA England published research on the devastating impact of sanctions at the beginning of March 2014.
YMCA has issued several statements defending its involvement in workfare schemes which enable sanctions. 

3. Corporate Watch research has found that approximately 1 in 10 people sent on Mandatory Work Activity are sanctioned, although some sub-contractors refer as many as 45% for sanction. 

4. Archbishop John Sentamu has been outspoken in his criticism of workfare schemes but has not apparently been able to persuade YMCA to change its policy. 

5. See a list of organisations who have pulled out (and those still involved) here.  

6. The maximum community sentence that a judge can hand out is for 300 hours, but claimants on six-month workfare schemes are already being forced to work without pay for 780 hours. The four-week Mandatory Work Activity scheme is already the equivalent of a medium level community service order that a person might receive if they were found guilty of drink driving or assault.

Salvation Army who last year were praised by the government for “holding the line” on workfare have said that they will not take part in Community Work Placements.  

7. See a full list of protests in the week of action here

Past press releases:

11th June 2014: DWP in court: challenged to reveal list it fears could make workfare “collapse”

31st March 2014: Flashmob at YMCA headquarters launches week of action against workfare

28th December 2013: UK councils use half a million hours of workfare

5th December 2013: Community Work Placement charities to face protests

30th September 2013: Osborne’s plans ‘criminalise unemployed people’

18th March 2013: Salvation Army HQ occupied by workfare protestors

15th March 2013: New workfare legislatio​n branded “unbelieva​bly disgusting​” as week of action commences

12th February 2013: Workfare regulations quashed in huge victory for ordinary people

7th December 2012: Forced work is wrong. Forced work for sick and disabled people is even worse.

6th August 2012: High Court finds workfare sanctions were unlawful and Boycott Workfare will continue to campaign against the schemes

6th July 2012: Major blow to government as Workfare Week of Action claims first success: Holland & Barrett pull out

5th July 2012: Workfare protests to take place across the UK

25th June 2012: Workfare in the Dock

16th May 2012: A4e loses workfare contract + Goodbye Emma Harrison = Boycott Workfare party at A4e

23rd March 2012: Protestors to target Grayling’s workfare conference – and other locations

2nd March 2012: Workfare protests to take place in thirty five locations on Saturday 3rd March

29th February 2012: Twenty six locations plan workfare protests this Saturday as government hides evidence.

20th February 2012: Grayling’s claims a simple lie says Boycott Workfare as government forced unpaid work scheme risks collapse

17th February 2012: Boycott Workfare statement on Tescos calling for sanctions to be removed from “Work Experience”

19th October 2011: Anti-poverty campaigners denied access to “welfare to work” conference

18th October 2011: Forced labour protest to target welfare to work conference

10th June 2011: Work Programme will replace paid workers with mandatory labour

7th June 2011: Workfare Conference cancelled due to protest

6th June 2011: Protest to target workfare conference

A selection of coverage:

December 2010 – Islington Tribune, Happiness Society will not bring us joy

August 2011 – Corporate Watch

August 2011 – Guardian

September 2011: Corporate Watch exposes Matalan, Savers and Newham Council amongst others as profiting from workfare

October 2011: Morning Star – Forced labour scheme activists vow to defy gag

October 2011: Islington Tribune – Protest against ‘forced labour’ reforms at the Business Design Centre

November 2011: Corporate Watch exposes Holland & Barrett and Tescos

November 2011: Red Pepper – All Work and No Pay

November 2011: The Guardian – Young Jobseekers told to work without pay or lose unemployment benefits

November 2011: Public Interest Lawyers – Legal Challenge to Government’s Forced Labour scheme

January 2012: The Guardian – Why the Government was wrong to make me work in Poundland for free

January 2012: The Guardian – Who pays the Tesco CEO’s wages of £6.9 million a year? We do

February 2012: The Guardian – Waterstones ends unpaid work placements