Just two people can have a big impact

ON Tuesday, A boycott Workfare delegation paid a short but vocal visit to the Welfare to Work workfare industry convention. More on this soon!

Atos have forced thousands of sick and disabled people onto Jobseekers Allowance or into the “work related activities group”. These people now face workfare.

The Week of Action Against Workfare is coming up on 18-24 March and you may be wondering what you can do in your town or city. There’ll be lots more online action during the week, but if you want to take to the streets, this report of a two-person action in Newcastle shows you don’t need loads of people to have an impact!

If you’re tempted, head over to the Facebook event where loads of people have posted to find people in their area. Get in touch and order some leaflets, and let us know what you plan so we can help let others know about it!

So here’s what happened when two campaigners took to the streets in Newcastle to highlight that people on sickness and disability benefits can now be forced to do workfare.

Despite snow at home, Newcastle was rather more sheltered, which wrapped up or not, I was grateful for since I would be sitting down outside for a few hours. We’d picked ‘Grey’s Monument which is appropriately a monument to Charles, Earl Grey, the great 19th century political reformer and champion of civil liberties and which also acts as Newcastle’s answer to Speaker’s Corner. There were plenty of people about, and our placard with it’s bright blue disability logo got heads turning, even before my husband decided to start shouting slogans. David, who isn’t built like Brian Blessed for nothing, bawling in his best street-hawker’s manner, “Mandatory Workfare for disabled people starts today- Scrap it now!” got a fair few heads turning.

We had warned the police in advance that we would be there so there was no bother with officialdom – one bobby kept an eye on us for a bit, but meandered off once he realised we didn’t intend to set fire to any civic monuments.

The public were by and large very interested given there were just two of us and our cry of “Workfare is slavery” earned us the heartfelt response, “Damn right!” from a passer-by. Several people came up to to find out more about the protest, commiserate with the general attitude towards disabled people, or congratulate us for getting involved.

Most folk we spoke to seemed to know at least something about the iniquities of ATOS and the Work Capability Assessments and to be genuinely horrified at the possibility of sick and disabled people being mandated to Workfare or sanctioned for non-compliance, even though this ‘non- compliance’ might actually be due to an inability to do the work ‘offered’ by the DWP.

We wheeled out some of the more worrying statistics that exist even before disabled people have been mandated onto work schemes; the fact that 32 deaths a week in the Work Related Activity Group suggests that some very sick people who should clearly be in the Support Group of ESA could be potentially be forced into unpaid labour which could have fatal consequences and the fact that incurring a sanction would leave a disabled person with only £28 per week to live on.

Predictably we had the odd one or two who were largely sympathetic but excused the Government’s actions on the grounds that they were forced to it by the need to weed out fraud but in general, the folk we spoke to were extremely supportive and interested, those who were already aware of the ATOS assessments or even of proposed disability workfare listened avidly and we really felt that we got noticed by people who might otherwise barely have registered such a change.

At one point a rather belligerent chap on a mobility scooter threatened to get us moved on because we were telling lies about the DWP who had assured him that HIS disabled wife would not be made to work. I was more worried by the freelance photographer who wanted to take a picture of us to sell to the Daily Mail. I refrained from pointing out that the Mail don’t want pictures of real disabled people spoiling the myth of 75% scroungers and declined the offer of that sort of publicity as politely as possible!

We had a couple of coffee breaks in the indoor shopping centre to thaw out but got a good couple of hours in between our start at 11 and finish at 2pm. All in all, it was very relaxed and enjoyable and Newcastle’s usual spirit of goodwill and desire to chat to anyone and everyone, made us feel that the word really WOULD be passed on that Workfare Isn’t Working!

What will you do in the Week of Action Against Workfare?


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Wat: Exactly. And I'm going to go further than that and sgsegut this problem is rife throughout the job broking industry and far from confined to a 'few rogues' in Maatwerk. Mary's experiences with Remploy which we blogged about and she recaps above, plus previous of mine with a 3rd different job broker tell me this is standard practice to milk the govt cash cow. As do the sheer number of job broking companies (or whatever they are registered as)I personally don't care who provides such services, what is important is that they are provided well, that they actually work/have purpose and that they provide value for money. As we've already seen none of those criteria are really being met here. I'm not sure whether that is because of flaws in the conceptual idea of job brokers or as Faceless mentions problems with contracts. I suspect a mix of both.The fundamental flaws in the job brokers idea are as we've looked at before, that it's all about creaming off the easy to place candidates from the top and then going through the motions with the rest. You might say that's fair enough, but it isn't going to do anything about the numbers the govt wants off benefit. As they are flawed in the extreme anyway it's probably just an expensive PR exercise which the govt hope will detract from the real issue. Those who are fit, well and capable of work but who simply prefer to be supported by the state. The real con part of all this is that job brokers provide the service which used to be done by the DWP's own staff in jobcentres. Unfortunately in my experience all that expertise and good will which was to be found in the DWP 5+ years ago by the poorly paid job centre staff and advisors has disappeared in reshuffles and contracted out services. End result, job brokers scamming money this way and no expertise left to assist those desperate to enter the workplace. The real crime in all this is all the disabled people who want to work but are facing nothing but fear over losing their means to support themselves. Nowhere in the job brokers scheme are sensible solutions to this problem, no links with employers to encourage the use of (often highly qualified) disabled people, no advice to business on the money available to them for adaptations, and the real shocker to me in this day and age is that there is no system set up to encourage employers to allow disabled people to work remotely. Whilst basic equipment is still so limited and physical access is such a problem in many areas working from home is the obvious and ideal solution for many of those who want to work and is something job brokers are not set up to deal with. All this waste when those services were originally provided at a higher standard in all job centres. Faceless: Good point, well made. Remind me...what is someone with your insight doing there?!