On Thursday there are actions taking place across the UK demanding an end to benefit sanctions. We’re asking you to target three charities – Samaritans, Scope, and Sue Ryder – who claim to be anti-workfare, but have been benefitting from the forced, unpaid work of unemployed people for years. (Community Work Placements, which finished in October 2016, involved six months’ full time unpaid work.)
We know this because more details have been revealed this month about thirteen charities and councils that have been using workfare, despite claiming to be anti-workfare. Thanks to this Freedom of Information request we now know all the locations at which these organisations were exploiting people on Community Work Placements between February and August 2016 – even though they had signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement and other anti-workfare pledges. For more information, see this post from Mr Frank Zola.
Last week, Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV) wrote to Sue Ryder, Scope, and Oxfam – all charities that appear on the FOI list. So far, only Oxfam have replied. (They were using workfare at 18 different locations.) They say that their policy is not to participate in workfare, and that they will be contacting the Department for Work and Pensions for more information. It’s likely that these placements were at charity shops, which can act independently of a charity’s central headquarters. So they will need to track these shops down. But KVV is keeping an eye on them, and have given them a time limit.
Workfare exploiters: Sue Ryder, Scope and Samaritans
I’ve seen several people coming direct from jobcentre under threat of sanctions (one young lad was sanctioned & still told to return, he is now at Halfords for 2 months on workfare). We also have people sent here from jobcentre that are ill, one of which was previously sent to Acomb’ Heart Foundation but was made to leave as insurance wouldn’t cover her. Another non-volunteer was also made to leave Scope to go to another charity shop to do the same for ‘learning experience’ but they had no places spare, so she was forced to attend a park for six months courtesy of G4S. Scope may not be claiming to use Workfare, but it clearly is.
Other names on the list will be familiar to Boycott Workfare supporters, like Samaritans (using CWP at 3 locations in the FOI). Back in August we published one person’s account of how they were sent on a workfare placement at a Samaritans shop, and ended up being sanctioned, because the manager decided they weren’t suitable. Our correspondence with the Samaritans about this got nowhere. Other groups have written to them about their use of workfare and got no reply. And we’ve heard about a placement in one of their shops in 2015. Again, Samaritans head office didn’t bother to respond to complaints about it. In Samaritans’ case, the offence is especially egregious: they are meant to be supporting people in distress, but at the same they time take part in workfare and sanctions, which we know cause debt, hunger, homelessness, and mental distress. (We know this, and there is research confirming it here, here, and here.)
— Boycott Workfare (@boycottworkfare) March 22, 2017
So as part of the day of action against sanctions, let these charities – Scope, Samaritans and Sue Ryder – know what you think of their hypocritical posturing. Workfare is an excuse for sanctions, as all these charities know, yet all of them are involved in workfare. Ask them how they can justify their involvement in workfare, given the aims of their charities. Ask them to confirm that they’ll never be involved in workfare again.
Tweet them using #WorkfareHypocrites:
Note: the Freedom of Information request that gives details of all the locations where these organisations were exploiting workfare conscripts only gives a snapshot of the full extent of their involvement. This is because it is based on an earlier FOI request, which gave the names of 1,674 charities, councils, businesses and housing associations who were using workfare in the 6 months from February to August 2016. For details and background on that request – which the DWP delayed and obstructed – see here.
Samaritans’ ambiguous position on workfare
A report from Samaritans – Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Suicidal Behaviour (March 2017) – has this to say about workfare:
Active labour market programmes (ALMP) aiming at reintegrating unemployed people as quickly as possible into the labour market should have a positive impact on shortening the duration of unemployment and reducing social isolation through involving participants in training or education measures. ALMP can replace employment as a source of social contacts, status and self-esteem and can accordingly play a mediating role in addressing psychosocial factors of unemployment by giving some purpose to job seekers. While so-called ‘activation’, i.e. policies getting working-age people off benefits and into work, is a common trend throughout Western welfare states, important differences exist. On the one hand, ‘enabling’ social investment state interventions aimed at upskilling or re-skilling unemployed people and other people out of work through education or training measures. On the other hand, punitive ‘workfare’ measures can be expected to dilute any beneficial effects on health and even worsen mental health. Positive effects of ALMP on both employment and health outcomes also hugely depend on the availability of good quality jobs. Otherwise, participation in training programmes can be expected to lead to frustration, de-motivation and anxiety. (pages 77-78)
So on one hand, they seem to be buying into the ‘work cure’: the idea that work is good for your health, whether it’s paid or not. On the other, they say that workfare is likely to have a bad effect on mental health. On page 87 they give a policy recommendation: ‘Taking into account mental health problems and other difficult personal circumstances before issuing sanctions.’ But just who are the people that sanctions are supposed to be good for? And while they criticise ‘stigmatising’ schemes, they have not called for abolishing sanctions and compulsion across the board. Because they don’t tackle conditionality, the border between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ workfare can be moved around as it suits them. No scheme is ‘enabling’ if it’s backed by sanctions. Besides, CWP definitely is not an ‘“enabling” social investment state intervention’: Samaritans’ involvement cannot be squared with their own analysis.