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.
Boycott Workfare members recently met Irish activists challenging workfare from young people’s organisations We’re Not Leaving and #WorkMustPay, and Paul Murphy TD, who set up the Scambridge website. Here’s what they learnt.
The Irish government’s response to huge unemployment rates of over 10% (and more than double that for young people) follows the same disastrous blueprint as many others in Europe: more sanctions, more conditionality and the introduction of workfare.
Its “Gateway” scheme puts claimants to work in public sector jobs for twenty hours a week for nearly two years, all for a bonus €20/week on top of the ‘dole’. With a thousand placements already having taken place and a further 3000 planned, it’s clear unpaid work on this scale is plugging the gaps left in a public sector which has already lost over 45,000 jobs in austerity’s squeeze.
The fact that workfare clearly replaces jobs has been no deterrent to the Irish government, who also continue to push the JobBridge scheme as a solution to unemployment: This despite the fact that 200 employers (3% of the total) have admitted to displacing paid workers with claimants on JobBridge. A further 29% admitted they would have advertised a paid role if free labour hadn’t been on offer. Read the rest of this entry »
Direct action and online pressure meant thousands of workfare placements were prevented in 2014
At the tribunal, the DWP argued that if the public knew exactly where people were being sent on placements political protests would increase, which was likely to lead to the collapse of several employment schemes and undermine the government’s economic interests.
Get a mirror. Got it? Good! Now take a look at yourself. Yes you. The amazing person looking back at you has made a real difference. A massive difference in fact. In the last year, people who know instinctively that workfare and sanctions are just plain wrong have pushed workfare closer to collapse. That’s the government’s own view, given as evidence in court in October 2014.
Here are just a few of the ways amazing people like you have helped make it happen:
A new, punitive, six-month workfare scheme to launch in April 2014 was the headline policy from the previous Conservative Party conference. But the scale of public opposition to workfare means that rolling out more forced unpaid work wasn’t going to be easy for them.
The War Memorials Trust rapidly rebutted Cameron’s headline claims that the unemployed would be put to work “restoring war memorials”.
Our opposition helped to delay the scheme’s roll-out by several months.
The Boycott Workfare week of action at the start of April persuaded major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA to say that the new CWP scheme was one step too far even for them.
George Osborne’s first PR visit for the scheme backfired when it prompted such a huge public response that a week later, Byteback IT pulled out, thanking people for bringing the issues around workfare to their attention.
Encouraged by hundreds of supporters on social media and elsewhere, charities came out en masse to say no to workfare…
In 2014 – thanks to the great work of the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign – over 500 charities have come out against workfare, pledging publicly not to take part. This is important: many workfare schemes rely on placements for so-called “community benefit”, so need the co-operation of the voluntary sector. 500 organisations which will not take part in workfare removes thousands of potential placements. The growing consensus that charities want no part in workfare and benefit sanctions is a huge huge blow to the welfare to work industry and workfare.
The KVV list already includes many household names – such as Shelter, Oxfam, Crisis, Scope and the Trussell Trust – as well as umbrella bodies and local organisations.
As Oxfam put it “These schemes involve forced volunteering, which is not only an oxymoron, but undermines people’s belief in the enormous value of genuine voluntary work.”Help invite more organisations to sign up!
120 Mandatory Work Activity Placements took place for Scarborough Borough Council, but the scheme has now been cancelled!
This time last year, the Guardian and the Mirror covered our research showing that councils in the UK had used more than half a million hours of workfare. Within days, Scarborough Council, one of the worst workfare-using councils in the UK pulled out! It had taken 120 Mandatory Work Activity placements in its Parks Department, where cuts to staff had recently been proposed. This success should mean jobs are now a little more secure.
As the unprecedented retrospective workfare legislation passed with the help of Labour in 2013 showed, the government considers itself above the law when it comes to workfare. But that doesn’t mean that workfare schemes were compatible with human rights law nor that the government has the right to withhold information from the public. In 2014:
On 5 July, the High Court ruled that emergency workfare legislation in 2013 was not compatible with the human right to a fair trial.
In June, an Upper Tribunal judge ruled that the DWP must reveal the list of organisations using workfare. The DWP fears that the public response to this list could make the schemes “collapse” and has appealed again.
In October, the DWP was back in the courts again, trying keep information on workfare out of the public domain, this time revealing just how fearful of public opposition to the schemes it is. Once again, it lost its case and was ordered to reveal workfare users.
“Employers the world over agree: it’s all about the right mindset” – James Reed, Chair of workfare providers Reed
Ever been forced to attend a course laced with “positive thinking” mumbo-jumbo or referred to a psychologist for ‘asking too many questions’? If so, you’ll understand why it’s so important to push back against the government and workfare industry’s attempts to blame unemployed people for the state of the economy.
In 2014, we won an important step in challenging the psychological coercion used by the workfare industry. After a prolonged effort from Boycott Workfare members, with support from academics and mental health activists, the new president elect of the British Psychological Society (BPS), Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, has agreed to launch an enquiry into the misuse of psychology in workfare and the role of BPS. You can tweet BPS to keep up the pressure here.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty shut down a workfare-using Salvation Army shop for three hours
When charities and businesses realise the brand damage and disruption that involvement in workfare brings, it often doesn’t take long for them to reconsider their involvement.
Direct action at the start of April persuaded major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA to say they would not take part in the new Community Work Placement scheme, although it remains to convince them to withdraw from workfare altogether.
In October, the week of action against workfare led to four major charities (Scope, Barnardos, BHF and Traid) cancelling their involvement in Community Work Placement schemes too!
Effigy of the manager of a forced labour centre in the Netherlands made out of the sponges that people on workfare are forced to cut
In February, our Welfare Action Gathering brought together over a hundred people from 12 different groups to share information and strategies and plan co-ordinated action. It sowed the seeds for the launch of the hugely successful Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign. As more and more welfare action groups emerge across the UK, find a group taking action against workfare near you here.
In the year when workfare in New York City was finally brought to an end, we built links with anti-workfare campaigners across Europe too: Boycott Workfare members have met people from the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland who are campaigning to stop workfare and sanctions in their countries too.
In 2015, watch this space for more workshops, gatherings and international links!
People taking action in Sheffield picketing Savers and TCV described passers by as “without exception” sympathetic. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty’s impressive blockades of workfare profiteers like Salvation Army were an important deterrent to other potential workfare users.
When John McArthur was sent to work unpaid for his former employer, he chose instead to picket the recycling plant on a daily basis. His action inspired hundreds of people to contact LAMH Recycling and it pulled out too!
Haringey Solidarity Group (HSG) have kept their ear to the ground with weekly “know your rights” and “blow the whistle” leafleting sessions outside Community Work Placement provider Urban Futures. As well as showing solidarity with people facing bullying and mistreatment on the punitive scheme, HSG have discovered who the local workfare users are. Their actions have brought placements at Traid, Cancer Research and Marie Curie to an end, and they are working hard to end the 50 placements at North London Hospice shops.
As major charities and high street shops boycott workfare, placements increasingly take place in local businesses and charities which is why this kind of local action is really important. Every placement we end makes it more difficult and expensive for workfare providers to profit from these schemes. And our impact can be seen in the numbers: Figures published in May 2014 showed a significant decrease in Mandatory Work Activity referrals.
Many people who follow and support our campaign are claiming some form of social security. They may have suffered the scapegoating of the media; abuse and terrible treatment at the sanction-obsessed Jobcentre; or been subject to the positive-thinking, double-speak thought police at workfare providers. If you are one of these people, then you should be especially proud. Whilst the media, millionaire politicians, and workfare profiteers tell us we are to blame, they have failed to break us. With every action you have taken, or workfare user you have named and shamed, you have given others hope.
So look back over the year and see what you have helped to achieve in the campaign against workfare and be very proud of yourself. Together we have made a massive impact. To win on workfare is to defeat those waging war on living standards and the welfare state. We can do it: just look at what you have helped to achieve already.
Help make a difference this coming year too! Join our email list and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Share this blog on social media to inspire others to get involved too!
Come along to let a charity that works with the homeless understand that it’s unacceptable to use workfare – an exploitative programme that causes poverty and destitution.
Where and when? December 22nd, 12pm at Mustard Tree, 110 Oldham Rd, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6AG
Unlike most users in the voluntary sector, who do their best to snidely disguise or hide their involvement, Mustard Tree have openly defended their use of this forced labour. This, despite acknowledging the fundamental injustices of workfare and the sanctions regime that underpins it.
”On one hand the jobless should not be forced to undertake work or to work for their benefits…”
“Increasingly the good people that Mustard Tree has traditionally supported are trapped in WorkFare.”
“we oppose some of the core elements of Workfare”
Mustard Tree, if you want to offer valuable and genuinely voluntary placements, then do. But don’t actively support a regime of forced labour that punishes and starves those who choose not to be involved or turn up late one day. Using workfare means being part of a system that contributes to homelessness, that takes financial resources away from this exact community. It makes a mockery of the concept of volunteering and a mockery of the idea of a charity who help the homeless.
If you can’t make the demonstration in Manchester on Monday, then you can Tweet to @themustardtree. And Mustard Tree can be reached on the phone (01612287331) and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Come out and stand in solidarity with homeless people and all those forced to undergo this exploitative regime. Show Mustard Tree that we will not tolerate this in our city: that there can be no place for unpaid and forced labour anywhere, let alone in a homeless charity.
When donating to charity this festive season, many people will wish to avoid charities such as Salvation Army which put people at risk of destitution by using workfare.
Today’s the launch of #GivingTuesday in the UK when charities encourage people to share their festive cheer with donations. This month is one of the most important of the year for charity fundraising. Boycott Workfare encourages people to think twice before giving to organisations that use workfare.
To view a list of those charities you may wish to avoid donating to, click here. Sadly the list of those still willing to put poor people at risk of destitution through benefit sanctions still includes big names such as Salvation Army, YMCA, RSPCA and others, as well as many local charities and hospice shops.
If you’d like to know which charities are committed to avoiding workfare and to Keeping Volunteering Voluntary, see the list of nearly 500 voluntary organisations that have signed the pledge here.
And if you’d like to donate to help bring down workfare, your donation will go a long way. Please feel free to do so by clicking on the Donate button below.
Previous conferences of workfare profiteers have faced occupations, disruption and twitterstorms to challenge their business of carving up welfare for profit. Take action online on Monday 1 December!
Monday 1st December is conference time for the ‘Employment Related Services Association’ whose speciality is ‘Championing the welfare to work industry’, i.e. lobbying and spin for workfare profiteers.
The profiteers have a luxury hotel booked for this annual celebration of all the money they are making from workfare. An opportunity to hear Esther McVey describe her plans to psychometrically test the unemployed for ‘resistance to work’. Not to be outdone, she’ll be joined by shadow employment minister Stephen Timms; just to prove that Labour and the Con/Dems are as one when it comes to their commitment to workfare, sanctions and the dismantling of labour rights.
If you don’t have the £450 registration fee to hand, you could always find other ways to let ERSA know your views on people whose profits depend on forced unpaid labour and the no pay/low pay economy that workfare sustains.
If you haven’t come across this lot before, here’s a helpful glossary for the language they use from Another Angry Voice:
Voluntary = Forced
Support = Punishment
Opportunity = Compulsion
Help = Hindrance
Let them know what you think of people who make money from ‘help to work’ contracts designed to annihilate workers’ rights and plunge those who resist into poverty and destitution.
Tweet them:Tweet to @ersa_news Phone: 0203 757 9415 (always worth asking for a senior manager – the person answering the phone could well be on workfare themselves. The Chief Executive is Kirsty McHugh) Email: email@example.com
It’s no surprise to find support for this festival of workfare exploiters coming from the Shaw Trust, the Papworth Trust, Tomorrow’s People and Groundwork. But it’s disappointing to find Julia Unwin from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the programme – in a session headed ‘better together’. Even more troubling that she’s on the platform with Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham Council and responsible for evicting the Focus E15 Mothers.
Then on 3rd December, the Institute of Employability Professionals (making a career out of delivering workfare) is holding a leadership event at the Olympic Park, London. Book your place at firstname.lastname@example.org They say you are welcome to bring a friend.
Previous workfare profiteers’ conferences have faced occupations, disruption and twitterstorms to challenge their business of carving up welfare for profit. We know that taking action is effective! Workfare is falling apart – as more and more organisations refuse to take on forced labour. Without placements, the ‘employability’ sector will collapse.
Bulky Bobs and LAMH Recycling have both stepped back from workfare in the last few weeks!
It’s been a bad month for workfare: anti-workfare protests and campaigns in various parts of the country have been gaining ground at the expense of the DWP’s schemes. Campaigners are causing myriad problems for the Department for Work and Pensions: it is increasingly difficult for them find and keep placement providers for their Community Work Placements (CWP) scheme.
As Shiv Malik reported in the Guardian earlier this month, even the DWP admits that our actions are working. At the Information Commission tribunal hearing – where the DWP are challenging court orders telling them to release the list of organisations that are involved in workfare schemes – they argued, “that if the public knew exactly where people were being sent on placements political protests would increase, which was likely to lead to the collapse of several employment schemes”. Well, it would be a shame not to prove them right.
Successful attempts to get charities and other organisations to stop their involvement in workfare this month have taken many forms. There have been online actions; the work of the campaign urging charities to Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV); persistent one-man protests outside placement providers; and actions which didn’t even have to take place to get Bulky Bob’s to stop using workfare!
By some accounts, it was merely the threat of Liverpool IWW arriving at local household waste recycling firm Bulky Bob’s for the protest they had planned for the 12th of November that moved them to withdraw from workfare – although online actions by Liverpool IWW and others helped to pile pressure on the company’s management. Bulky Bob’s have also agreed to sign the KVV pledge, promising not to get involved in further unpaid work schemes. You can see their statement on their website here.
John MacArthur protested on his own for 2 hours a day outside the Motherwell (Scotland) charity ‘LAMH’ (Lanarkshire Association for Mental Health). He had been employed by the association at minimum wage in 2010-11, but recently was referred to them for unpaid work as part of the 6 month Community Work Placement programme. He was sanctioned in August – his Jobseeker’s Allowance was stopped until January for refusing to work for no wages at LAMH, leaving him “living on 16p tins of spaghetti”. But John made sure his former employers were aware of his situation and the negative publicity LAMH received induced them to drop out of the CWP scheme.
Sustained campaigning against workfare schemes has been destabilising the DWP’s schemes at every level this month, and clearly they’ve been feeling it. Let’s all support each other to keep up the good work going forward.
If you have any actions planned you’d like us to publicise, or any recent actions you’d like us to mention, get in touch at email@example.com.
With over 17 actions in the UK and beyond, and hundreds of people taking action online, we stepped up pressure on workfare which is unpopular and vulnerable.
In Edinburgh, compulsory courses at workfare provider Learndirect were cancelled when 60 people blockaded its office. In London, provider Urban Futures faced an occupation at the same time, exposing managers’ nasty attitudes towards claimants. In Brighton, people invaded provider Avanta and handed out leaflets.
Job centres were rebranded “sanctions” centres
Actions took place at job centres, which were rebranded “sanctions centres” instead. This report from the demo in Peckham shows why: “They appear to be sanctioning people at the rate of between 30 and 45 people per day. Some people have received sanctions of 10 months for a ‘first offence’! They seem to be ignoring the official guidelines about sanctions periods entirely and making up as they go along. We also heard about a 6 month pregnant woman with child who was sanctioned for two months for being one minute late.”
“Welfare woman” and others challenged the TUC’s support for sanctions and workfare
With the government set on extending workfare and sanctions to the working poor next, the huge level of support in the week of action shows that the public are with us. In Sheffield “shoppers were, without exception, sympathetic” to the picket outside workfare exploiter Savers. “Some people had experienced workfare schemes themselves and were pleased that we were making the issue a public one.” People know that workfare means increased poverty via sanctions, and replaces paid work.
In the Netherlands, the anti-workfare campaign Doorbraak also took part in the week of action, pushing the mayor of Amsterdam to pledge to end to workfare next year. Austrian unemployed group “Aktion Arbeitslose” helped build support as well.
By holding those who profit from workfare to account and having a massive impact – at a time when permanent austerity and social injustice are the policy order of the day – your actions bring hope. We show each other that we are not alone. People’s actions in New York have brought workfare to an end in the city where it began. Whilst claimants have been abandoned by the Coalition Government, Labour and sadly even the TUC – they have not been abandoned by you. So let’s keep the pressure up!
A massive thank you to everyone who took part in any way in the week of action. If your action isn’t mentioned here, but you’d like it to be, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Today we’re supporting the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign’s call for people to contact the charities and voluntary organisations you support to invite them to pledge to shun workfare too. Read on for more info and a template letter, and follow Keep Volunteering Voluntary on twitter and facebook.
There are a lot of organisations who have said they won’t take workfare, but still a lot who do. We want all voluntary work to be freely chosen, not a means for private companies to make profits or Jobcentres to force people off benefits. Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV) have set up a pledge and already 430 organisations have signed!
You can help to encourage organisations to sign up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary in several ways. Firstly check whether they are already on the list of sign-ups.
If you use or support a charity, try to find out whether they use workfare, and in any case ask them to sign up to KVV.
If there is a local charity shop, go in and talk to the people there: find out whether there is anyone there on workfare, and ask the organisation to sign up to KVV.
If you work or volunteer at a voluntary organisation, try to get them to sign up.
If a place you work or volunteer at has any links with a voluntary organisation, try to contact them too.
“We’ve already signed up.” – great, well done! “We don’t have anyone on workfare.” – so you won’t mind signing up to KVV then. “We’re helping the unemployed gain experience.” – that’s not of much value if they don’t want to be there. “What’s wrong with (unpaid) volunteers.” – there’s no objection to genuine volunteers, but to compulsory schemes and coercion. “The people on placement want to be here.” – that’s fine, but they shouldn’t be threatened with sanctions.
If you can get any kind of statement from an organisation, that’s always useful – a way in to further dialogue, or good publicity for the campaign. Let Boycott Workfare know and we’ll pass it on to KVV as well.
Some charities – such as Age UK – have a national office but each local area branch is ‘independent’ and may sign up separately. So if you see a local branch signed up but not your area, that’s an added incentive for your local to sign up too.
Without charity’s support, workfare schemes will collapse. That’s why every extra new organisation to sign up is so important – helping build consensus in the voluntary sector that workfare is completely at odds with its aims and values.
A massive thanks to everyone who has taken part online and organised demonstrations throughout the week of action! There are more protests in Amsterdam and Peckham today, and in Bristol, Haringey and Sheffield tomorrow!
Today members of Haringey Solidarity Group and Boycott Workfare paid a visit to workfare provider Urban Futures in Wood Green. Fifteen people occupied the office with banners and a soundsystem – challenging Urban Futures on their treatment of claimants and speaking to people on enforced jobsearch about their experiences and sharing info on their rights.
We’d already heard that the managers are aggressive and bullying towards claimants, so expected the same. But the short occupation revealed the nasty attitudes throughout the staff team – about ten staff tried to hassle people out and came out with some revealing lines, taunting a number of us that we should “get a job” (yawn). When one of us replied that he had a job, they replied, “I can’t believe you have a job, looking like that.” Read the rest of this entry »
Update: The action was a success – Scope has been removed from the list and Barnardos and BHF have said they will no longer be involved!
Community Work Placements would collapse without support from major charities. Today, as part of our week of action, we are contacting the major charities who provide CWP placements for Groundwork in the North East of England (six months’ workfare for 30 hours per week). We’re asking them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.
Yesterday, the website of Groundwork North East listed all the charities providing them with placements. These include Cheshire Homes, British Heart Foundation, Barnardo’s and Scope, as well as over 15 more local voluntary agencies in Redcar or who are part of Redcar Voluntary & Community Sector. As Groundwork also say, as well as having a ‘fantastic working relationship with the local job centres’, they work in close partnership with Christians against Poverty and local food banks.
What they don’t say is that workfare is a major cause of poverty and a major reason why people end up depending on food banks for food. We know how Community Work Placements are being marketed to employers as a way of replacing paid jobs.
Groundwork have since removed the webpage – but we’ve got a screenshot (click on the image above to enlarge it).
The involvement of well known national charities is disappointing. BHF have previously stated “We are not involved in the Help to Work scheme.Barnardo’s have said “Barnardo’s does not take part in any mandatory work activity. We have been clear that we are against the principle of benefits sanctions”. Scope are signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement, which commits them to not taking part in any government workfare scheme.
So what’s going on? It looks like the culture of secrecy surrounding workfare (e.g. the refusal of Freedom of Information requests, redaction of placement providers from contracts on the grounds of ‘commercial sensitivity) is enabling placement brokers like Groundwork to mis-sell forced labour as volunteering.
We have to ask: is this secrecy compatible with the duty of charities to be open and honest about their activities? To ensure that the public, who donate to charities, are fully aware of whether they do, or do not, support forced unpaid labour in any guise?
We understand that because all aspects of workfare are cloaked in secrets and lies, some charities providing placements may well have been misinformed. It can be especially difficult for small, local charities to avoid being deceived. But if an organisation gets a letter that refers to the same group of people as ‘unpaid employees’, ‘volunteers’, and ‘unemployed people’ – and emphasises that the organisation won’t have to pay anything for them (even travel costs) – then alarm bells should start ringing. And when well known workfare fixers like Groundwork get in touch, it’s more than likely it’s for placements for JSA claimants who’ve already been unpaid on the work programme and are now being sent on CWP for up to six months more unpaid labour.
As for British Heart Foundation, Barnado’s and Scope: you can let them know that the public expect them to honour their commitments not to take part in workfare. And expect them to remember that they have a duty of care towards those on current placements: these organisations must ensure that they do not face sanctions or suffer as a result of the organisation withdrawing.
You can send a message to BHF via their website or phone their head office on 020 7554 0000. You can tweet at them Tweet to @TheBHF
And Groundwork UK are on Facebook and Twitter as well Tweet to @groundworkuk. Or you could contact them through their website, or on the phone (0121 236 8565). They have other local branches throughout the UK. To find contact details for the nearest one to you, look here.
Please feel free to contact the other placement hosts listed on the Groundwork North East website as well. There’s not many, and if half pulled out, Groundwork’s CWP contract would be ruined.