Today, 2 June, is the deadline by which Community Work Placements – the flagship policy announcement at last year’s Conservative Party conference – were required by contract to be up and running (see 1.22 &1.23 here). Community Work Placements are six month forced unpaid work placements for unemployed people which require local council and charity participation to claim to be of “community benefit”.
However, thanks to massive opposition to this draconian new workfare scheme, CWP is floundering. Here’s how: 350 voluntary sector organisations have so far signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement not to take part since the campaign launched a month ago. The list includes household names Shelter, Oxfam, Crisis, Scope and many others.
These organisations point to the impact of benefit sanctions on food poverty and homelessness and believe mandatory work undermines the value of freely given volunteering. Over 15 councils have also pledged not to take part, many through signing Unite the Union’s new pledge.
The widespread opposition to the scheme appears to be taking its toll, as an initial launch date of 28 April was replaced by “late May”, despite the contract specifying that only in “very exceptional circumstances” could commencement be delayed to 2 June. While some referrals appear to have been made to the scheme, we are not aware of a single placement yet starting.
Even before the number of charities boycotting the scheme grew to the hundreds, the pilot of this incredibly punitive form of workfare failed to find placements for 37% of participants. The huge number of organisations pledging to boycott workfare sends a clear message that it is not compatible with voluntary sector values. This will deter many other organisations from accepting placements.
It is also speculated that the timetable for placements to roll out has been delayed because the government needed to wait until G4S was no longer barred from bidding before it could be awarded the lion’s share of Community Work Placement contracts.
Charity participation in workfare schemes will be further jeopardised if the DWP loses its appeal at the Upper Tier information tribunal on 12 June and is forced to reveal the list of organisations hosting placements. As the government put it: “Put simply, disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme”. Even without this, resistance is paying off, with MWA referrals in steady decline.
Organisations like Salvation Army, Groundworks UK, YMCA and The Conservation Volunteers who continue to use workfare and collaborate in sanctions are facing protests. On Saturday, a claimant’s demo in Sheffield reported that “Most people boycotted The Conservation Volunteers shop when they found out at today’s protest that TCV profit from workfare”.
These are hard earned successes won by the thousands of claimants, campaigners and now voluntary organisations who are taking action to challenge workfare. As the successful campaign against workfare continues to grow, and as ever more people and organisations say no to workfare, we are reminded we are not alone. We have each other, and by taking action together against workfare, we are winning.
Help keep the campaign growing!