Take Action: stop workfare in hospice charity shops

This week is #HospiceCareWeek.  Today, as part of our week of action, we want to contact hospices and ask them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.

SDH-logo-HCW14-3Hospices offer palliative care, social support, and practical advice – and help families through mourning and bereavement. They help people with illnesses which would otherwise massively curtail their freedom of movement be as independent as possible. This is vital and valuable work, transforming the quality of people’s lives.

Help the Hospices, the charity for hospice care in the UK, says that

 ‘A hospice is not just a building, it is a way of caring for people. Hospice care aims to improve the lives of people who have a life-limiting or terminal illness, helping them to live well before they die.’

But why are so many hospices willing to stop other people living well,  by forcing them to work for no pay under threat of sanctions?

Many hospices have local charity shops which take people through workfare schemes – especially Mandatory Work Activity.  If you’re unwilling to take part in MWA, which involves 30 hours unpaid work per week, for four weeks at a time, you’ll be hit with a minimum sanction of 13 weeks for a ‘first failure’. The maximum sanction is 3 years: 3 years of hunger, hardship and destitution.  We’ve also heard from people at hospice charity shops on mandatory work placements from the Work Programme and six-month Community Work Placements.

We know hospice shops and care centres need volunteers to run them.  And we know that hospice care across the UK relies on the work of tens of thousands of volunteers to carry on their valuable activities.  But that is no justification for forcing unemployed people to work in charity shops for weeks at a time for no wages.  Charities that take part in workfare not only undermine genuine volunteering, but are also instrumental in claimants being sanctioned and left with no income.

Plenty of volunteering organisations realise that ‘Approaches like this are demeaning, counterproductive and undermine genuine volunteering’ (in the words of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations).  They know that workfare doesn’t help people find jobs. That is why the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement has more than 430 organisations signed up to it at the moment.

One hospice, The Hospice of St Francis has already signed the agreement, pledging never to take part in any workfare scheme. We want lots more to sign, and join with the carers support organisations, parents’ support charities and many others – all of whom know that forced work is not the same thing as volunteering.

Here are four hospices you could encourage to sign up to the KVV agreement as part of #HospiceCareWeek.

If there’s a hospice near you that you know is using workfare, or that you think should sign the KVV agreement, then please get in touch with them as well! Many, many more hospice charity shops are under ‘local charities’ in our list of workfare providers.  And if you’re in London, watch out for the picket of North London Hospice by Haringey Solidarity Group at noon on Saturday.

But please remember, if you call one of their charity shops: it’s definitely worth trying to speak to a manager, or someone involved in fundraising and volunteer organising. The person who answers the phone may well be low paid admin staff, or possibly on workfare themselves.

[1] This sentence was amended on 8th October 2014, because it mistakenly suggested that St David’s Hospice had been taking part in Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) as well as taking placements from the Work Programme.  It was pointed out to us that we had conflated St David’s Hospice in North Wales (@StDavidsHospice) with St David’s Foundation Hospice Care (@SDFHC) in South Wales.  We know SDFHC have taken part in MWA in 2014.


Comments (4)

Leave a Reply

Jeff Smith

I was sent on the MWA at HospiceCare in Exeter. They have three shops in the city, and a large warehouse on a nearby industrial estate. The placements are made by Pinnacle People. Some of the staff where I was were clearly unhappy about the forced element of the MWA. But Pinnacle People do a hard sell, with their rep calling in from time to time to check on people, and telling the manager that its 'all about giving opportunity' etc.
HospiceCare make all their MWA 'volunteers' wear the official volunteer badge, so it looks to the general public as if you are volunteering.

HospiceCare, 9 Fore St, Exeter EX3 0HF
Phone:01392 876901


Hi Jeff,

Thanks for speaking up and providing the details of another organisation for Boycott Workfare to tackle. With enough support from people, hopefully we can get all hospices to pull out of workfare, but it relies on people like you to let us know who is using it and driving it (Pinnacle People in this case) first of all. Cheers!

Landless Peasant

St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) is a Catholic charity headed by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols, and Anne Widecombe. SVP is a Workfare Provider in the Bradford area, using unpaid work slaves as laccies. St. Vincent is/a patron Saint of the Poor and of Slaves! Hypocrisy, much?

Dean Edwards

Today I was supposed to meet someone from Learn Direct, at the Salvation Army shop in my town centre in Wigan. Rather than waste their time and mine, I didn't show up, rendering myself jobless and moneyless, but with some dignity in knowing I am not propagating such an Orwellian system. I have just sent an Email to the salvation army with information about workfare, a plea to sign the keep volunteering voluntary petition, and news that I will be making it public knowledge that the salvation army benefits from forced labour.