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.
We feel we should publicly state the facts as they are at present regarding relations between Boycott Workfare and a number of trade unions. This follows the recent appearance of some misleadingreports which suggest that the GMB, PCS, and Unite trade unions are affiliated to the campaign or working with us.
One of the first actions the campaign ever launched was a pledge for unions to sign which states: “We the undersigned commit to refusing to participate in compulsory work-for-benefits placements. We want volunteering to remain just that!”
Some unions have been quick to recognise that workfare is an attack on employed as well as unemployed people. The Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union signed the pledge last year and have called for industrial action to challenge workfare. Many branches have also offered their support and challenged workfare in their workplaces: for example, GMB and UNISON members prevented workfare being used by Brighton City Council.
But the picture elsewhere is much less heartening: the TUC has supported sanctions along with Labour’s form of workfare. The PCS leadership blocked motions to challenge sanctions at their conference, claiming action against sanctions would be illegal and voting only to ‘explore the possibility’ of non-cooperation with sanctions as part of ‘an appropriate and legitimate trade dispute’. Despite recently beginning to recruit unemployed members, Unite’s general secretary last week welcomed a speech in which Ed Milliband promised a cap on the benefit bill, more sanctions and workfare.
The facts are as follows: the GMB have voted to affiliate with Boycott Workfare, but have at no stage been in touch with the campaign to discuss this with us. Whilst we welcome the good news that GMB members have voted to support our campaign, we must point out that we do not operate an affiliation scheme: the GMB is not affiliated with us, nor do we currently work with them. We hope the vote at the GMB congress marks a definitive break in the union’s policy: in the past they have promoted workfare. We hope that the GMB will commit its resources and energy to challenging workfare and we look forward to working with them if they do.
The PCS do not work with Boycott Workfare, or support the campaign. Neither does UNITE. Boycott Workfare, again, is not affiliated with either union. Motions condemning workfare have been passed by them. However, beyond individual branches’ actions, in reality no concrete action against workfare or sanctions has ever been taken by any of these organizations. Aside from the individual branches listed on our website, no unions have ever donated money or resources to the Boycott Workfare campaign. In the coming weeks we will clarify what role, if any, we think Unions have played in opposing workfare and sanctions.
Boycott Workfare is a totally independent grassroots campaign.We are not a front for any political party, or affiliated with any party. We will not be not part of any official ‘anti- austerity’ campaign that does not condemn all sanctions and compulsion – both of which in fact are central to austerity. We will only work with organisations whose actions demonstrate their opposition to all forms of workfare and sanctions.
Workfare replaces paid jobs, it does not create them. Sanctions are used to force people to do workfare: they lead to hunger and destitution. Workfare and sanctions combined are destroying jobs, lives and the welfare state on an unprecedented scale. When Universal Credit is introduced, sanctions will be extended to millions of low-paid workers – including trade union members – who claim in-work benefits. All three political parties support workfare and sanctions. Actions are needed, not motions.
We thank all those individual trade union members, and branches - and importantly the wider general public – for their continued work and their active, ongoing support of this campaign. We welcome and encourage the participation of all individual union members and branches who want to work with us to end workfare and sanctions. A motion for Union branches to pass opposing workfare can be found here.
Lord Freud – the ex-banker with an 8 bedroom mansion driving the welfare abolition agenda (Photo: CBI/Flickr)
David Freud, or Baron Freud of Eastry, is the coalition’s welfare reform minister. He’s been instrumental in bringing in privatization of the welfare system, increasing conditions on those claiming benefits and advancing the rotten cause of workfare at every step. This is why Boycott Workfare paid him and Minister Mark Hoban a visit last week when they wanted to talk about how wonderful the new ‘universal credit’ system was going to be. It’s also why UK Uncut stopped by his house in April to give him their very own eviction message.
Freud has been at the forefront of the ideological attacks and demonization of unemployed people and those struggling to make ends meet. Last November, he complained that “people are able to have a lifestyle off benefits and actually off conditionality.” In May, he was criticized for refusing to comment on the suicide of Stephanie Bottrill, who cited the government’s bedroom tax as the reason why she could no longer cope.
He had no answers to what the effect of the tax would be on the 220,000 families who face the changes to housing benefit and dismissed the extra charges as “relatively small”. When asked how social housing tenants would make ends meet he suggested they “could go out to work”, enforcing the myth that those in social housing or claiming housing benefits are not in work already. He also repeated his advice that separated parents who don’t want to pay the tax shouldn’t keep a bedroom for their children to sleep in. Instead they should downsize and put their kids on a sofa bed.
Freud was also a key adviser to the previous Labour government on the introduction and extension of workfare, before he joined the Tories and was made a Baron. His advisory report on workfare in 2007 recommended contracting out the ‘management’ of claimants to private companies on a massive scale. At the time, he noted that:
‘there is no conclusive evidence that the private sector outperforms the public sector on current programmes’. (p6)
What he was sure about was that:
‘this will be an annual multi-billion market. Such scale would attract commitment from a wide range of private service providers and voluntary groups.’ (p8)
With your help, Boycott Workfare would like to highlight the devastating impact that benefit sanctions are having on people’s lives. Collecting together your experiences of benefit sanctions we will be putting together a sanctions zine. Email us your words, however many or few you want to use. Things you may want to include may be:
- the length of the sanction
- the ‘reason’ the Job Centre gave for imposing the sanction and how they told you this ‘reason’
- how it affected your life, including its impact on your physical and mental health, your family and friendships
- how you coped during this time
- and how you are doing now e.g. still claiming JSA, stopped signing on, signing on to a different benefit, stress/worry about further sanctions etc.
- perhaps you have not been sanctioned, but have been bullied and threatened with sanctions
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Feel free also to submit drawings and get in touch if you have any other ideas or suggestions. We also welcome submissions from those who are indirectly affected by benefit sanctions, such as welfare activists, welfare advisors and those involved in the Civil Service Rank and File Network.
Workfare thinktank Policy Exchange got together with the DWP yesterday to announce the results of their call for ideas for bullying part-time workers off in-work benefits. When Universal Credit is launched, all claimants unable to secure full time jobs will have to continually look for ‘more or better paid work’ or face sanctions. But Boycott Workfare were there to make sure the event didn’t go to plan. One Policy Exchange organiser was overheard bemoaning “It’s just such a shame that the event has been ruined.” Now to ruin their plans to extend devastating sanctions to the working poor!
Two years ago a third of Haringey Council parks department gardeners were made redundant. Now people on workfare are being forced to work unpaid on their estates.
A new report from Haringey Solidarity Group highlights the problem of workfare being used to fill the gaps left by local authority cuts. If you’re in London, join the protest on Tuesday! If not, please support the local campaign by raising your concerns with the council.
Groundwork is one of a number of green ‘charities’ involved in workfare. Like The Conservation Volunteers they think that by remaking the natural environment, we remake ourselves (into more attractive workers). But their message is the same one always pedalled by the DWP: unemployment is the fault of unemployed people. People must work for free and under threat of being sanctioned into destitution to learn things like ‘confidence’ and ‘positive thinking’. Though Groundwork tried to claim their scheme was ‘not mandatory’, we now know it’s part of the Work Programme, which is definitely not volunteering, no matter how much the definition is mangled.
Homes for Haringey is the borough’s arms-length management organisation, set up to manage council housing. Tenants on their estates have found out that local unemployed people are being forced to work on their estates for no pay and with no workplace rights.
Groundwork, a national registered charity working in partnership with Haringey Council, has been using the Government’s workfare schemes – in which unemployed people are forced to work with no pay or workplace rights – to maintain some Homes For Haringey estate gardens.
Initially Homes for Haringey denied any involvement with workfare, but after a recent Freedom of Information request they have now acknowledged that 27 people on the Work Programme (one of the Workfare schemes) have been used to maintain Homes for Haringey gardens. Job Seekers have been sanctioned for refusing to work for no pay under the Groundwork workfare scheme, losing all entitlement to benefits for several weeks.
Two years ago a third of Haringey Council parks department gardeners were made redundant. They used to maintain all the Council estate gardens. It is unacceptable that these paid jobs are now being replaced with unpaid labour. People should be paid a living wage for the job they are asked to do. Poverty levels are already very high in Tottenham, being forced to work for no pay just makes things worse. Read the rest of this entry »
The government appears to have abandoned their previous plans for compulsory 6 month workfare placements for everyone finishing the 2 years on the Work Programme. There was no mention of it when they announced their post-Work Programme plans yesterday, which is a victory for all anti-workfare campaigns. By us all putting pressure on workfare providers there are no longer enough companies and charities who are willing to be involved to make such a huge scheme possible.
Unfortunately the government are planning to go ahead with their other plan of intensified Job Seeker Agreements and pointless activities for when we finish the Work Programme. They are threatening daily meetings with advisors and referrals to Mandatory Work Activity (which is already struggling to cope with current placements) – all coordinated by the sinister sounding “hit squads”. On top of this they are planning to throw another £30 million at the likes of A4e to provide “training schemes” which normally involve little training, and just provides another opportunity to sanction us.
Pushing people out of the welfare system is what this new scheme for people finishing the Work Programme is all about. As the Department for Work and Pensions admits:
“The programme comes after Jobcentres involved in a trailblazer found that claimants targeted by an intensive approach were much less likely to stay on benefit.”
They do not even pretend these measures are there to help people into work. Instead they are there to provide more opportunities to sanction us and to take away our only financial support.
G4S are holding their Annual General Meeting next week where they will boast about the profit they’ve made from exploiting unemployed people. A Prime Provider of the government’s failing Work Programme, G4S force people onto workfare and sanction benefits for millions of pounds of government money.
G4S are in the business of force. As well as making claimants lives miserable through coercion and bullying, G4S also profit from detention, imprisonment, and the exercise of force on behalf of oppressive regimes. Join the Stop G4S demo next Thursday in London and link up with others to stop them ‘securing your world’.
Argos: boasted about using workfare at its ‘busiest times’ but now appears to have pulled out of workfare. Photo: olishaw/flickr
In yet another massive blow to workfare, Argos – which has 740 stores nationwide – appears to have pulled out of workfare. Argos had previously boasted that it was using workfare to cover its busiest period at Christmas. In at least one store, workfare workers were doing ten hours a week more than paid staff. That they have now pulled out is a testament to the strength of feeling amongst the general public and shows the results we can get when we keep up the pressure!
It gets better. Remember how Homebase were exposed for using 25 workfare placements in one store and boasting about it? How we heard some people’s paid hours were cut from 48 a week down to 8 as a result? They faced such a huge response from the public that they took their Facebook Page down repeatedly. People protested at their stores across the UK. Now, they too, have apparently stopped using workfare. Their statement is full of doublespeak, but people protesting during the bank holiday at the store where the story emerged were told by the manager that the last workfare workers finished on Friday and they won’t be using any more.
These companies were saving thousands on their wages bill by exploiting the unemployed. This, despite the fact that the CEO of Home Retail Group – which owns Argos and Homebase – was paid £1.1 million last year. They didn’t ditch workfare out of the goodness of their hearts: it’s clear that your actions are making a massive difference, taking two big scalps! Please keep an eye on your local stores to check they don’t slip back into workfare when the pressure eases off. Read the rest of this entry »
Work Programme: proving there’s money to be made out of the unemployed, but none for the unemployed themselves. Photo: Howard Jones
Another week, another admission from politicians that the government’s Work Programme is failing (but obviously without any moves to bring it to an end). This open letter of complaint highlights just how useless the Work Programme really is, and concludes “I think the only solution to my complaints is for your company (and the Work Programme in general) to cease to exist.” For more stories of people’s experiences, read the comments on the blog where this letter was originally posted.
To whom it may concern
I am writing to lodge a formal complaint against Avanta. I do not wish to target any individual branch or person in my complaint but, rather, your organisation as a whole. My reasons for this are that I believe any branches or individuals are only acting in the interests of your company and their actions are a reflection of what is expected of them.
I will state, however, that my branch is the [removed] branch – but I’m fully aware my complaints are not limited to this one branch.
I am extremely dis-satisfied with what is supposed to be a service intended to help myself, and other jobseekers, back into work. There is nothing about Avanta which proves to me that Avanta are interested in anything more than filling their own pockets.
My complaints are as follows, and in no particular chronological order:
Job Centre Advisors routinely ignore their own rules; the process for challenging bad decisions is sometimes so obscure and long-winded that someone’s time on a placement is served before they get far enough to have the decision overturned. This person’s story highlights what a deeply frustrating process this can be.
I was referred to Mandatory Work Activity in March 2013 by an adviser who, until the day I was referred, I had never met before. No adviser told me I was being considered for MWA, nor were any concerns about my job search raised, and the reason given was the period of time that I had been unemployed and needed work experience.
Having been referred I researched what MWA entailed and found that this adviser had failed to follow several of the guidelines set by the DWP for referral (failure to use the Customer Assessment Tool, the rule about the referral never coming as a surprise to a claimant and eligibility amongst other things) so made a phone call the next day to express my displeasure at this. I raised these concerns with the adviser who referred me, who fairly flippantly told me that they could refer me to it whenever they liked. Read the rest of this entry »