Today’s new workfare scheme will fall apart if voluntary sector organisations refuse to take part. Help make it happen my contacting charities and groups you support to ask them to sign up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary!
Osborne’s headline policy of “Community Work Placements” is already in jeopardy as it is launched today, having failed to generate enough voluntary sector participation. Instead, organisations such as Oxfam and the umbrella body National Association for Voluntary and Community Action are marking the date by launching the “Keep Volunteering Voluntary” campaign.
Community Work Placements are six-month unpaid work placements for unemployed people, part a set measures branded as “Help to Work”. The £300 million Help to Work programme is aimed at 200,000 Jobseekers Allowance claimants. Studies into existing UK workfare schemes in the UK have found them to have zero effect on helping people find work.
The Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign, which has garnered support from tens of voluntary sector organisations, points out that six months is more than twice the maximum community service sentence. As organisations become more aware of how benefit sanctions affect homelessness, food poverty and rising use of food banks, they are rejecting schemes that threaten benefit stoppages for non-participation. Other signs that the Community Work Placement scheme is floundering include:
- Three of the largest supporters of other workfare schemes have said they will not accept placements: the Conservation Volunteers, Salvation Army and YMCA.
- A response to a Freedom of Information request dated 10 April said the tender for ‘Help To Work’ was still ongoing, suggesting that the government was struggling to recruit the private providers to run the scheme.
- The DWP has also said that the guidance for companies running the scheme will not be published until the launch date, 28 April, suggesting its production was running late.
- The government is refusing to reveal details of where placements will take place to journalists.
- Job Centre sources report that, at least in some areas, the framework for rolling it out is not yet in place.
- The Community Action Programme pilot – a workfare scheme similar to Community Work Placements – could only find placements for 63% of participants.
Dave Draper from Derby, who will soon finish two years on the Work Programme and face a possible Community Work Placement, said:
“On the Work Programme, you are made to feel like a criminal for being unemployed. These new schemes aren’t about helping people get jobs; they’re about getting people off benefits. Those of us who have to go through them get sick with worry that we can be sanctioned at any time for anything.”
Andy Benson of the National Coalition for Independent Action, which works to keep the voluntary sector free of government interference, said:
“With Community Work Placements, charities that have a genuine desire to help people could end up exploiting them instead. We must not be naïve. The CWP scheme is the latest attempt to co-opt voluntary groups into doing ministers’ dirty work for them. We want real jobs and real volunteering, not real exploitation.”
Daniel O’Driscoll, Head of Volunteering at Oxfam, said:
“These schemes involve forced volunteering, which is not only an oxymoron, but undermines people’s belief in the enormous value of genuine voluntary work. Oxfam does not offer placements for participants in the mandatory work activity, or compulsory elements of ‘work for your benefits’ schemes. These schemes impact unfairly on the support people receive, and so are incompatible with our goal of reducing poverty in the UK.”
Joe Irvin, chief executive of the umbrella body the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), said:
“NAVCA champions volunteering but volunteering must be voluntary. That is why we oppose any requirement for people who are unemployed to carry out compulsory unpaid ‘voluntary’ work in return for their benefits.”
If voluntary sector groups don’t take part, the scheme falls apart – let’s make it happen!
Organisations can affirm their commitment to genuine volunteering by signing the pledge circulated by the campaign. Over 25 groups have already signed, including Adur Voluntary Action, Anti-Slavery International, Asylum Education and Legal Fund, Boycott Workfare, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), Children England, Christianity Uncut, Communities Inc, Derman, Disabled People Against Cuts, Ekklesia, Faith 4 Change, Hackney CVS, Hackney Refugee Forum, Hull Children’s Adventure Society, Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project, National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA), National Community Activists’ Network (NatCAN), Neighbourhood Networks, Oxfam, Salford Star, Simon Jones Memorial Campaign, Student Christian Movement, Unite the Union, Voices of Youth, Voluntary Action Harrow (VAH), 42nd Street.
This is an impressive list, but let’s make it much longer. Please ask any voluntary sector organisations you know (however small) to sign up. The disarray of the Community Work Placements shows that opposition and non-participation by voluntary organisations is already proving effective in derailing this punitive scheme.
For more media enquiries or more information, please contact Symon Hill of NCIA on 07920 037 719.