Here’s a report from today’s occupation of Community Work Placement provider Urban Futures!
Today members of Haringey Solidarity Group and Boycott Workfare paid a visit to workfare provider Urban Futures in Wood Green. Fifteen people occupied the office with banners and a soundsystem – challenging Urban Futures on their treatment of claimants and speaking to people on enforced jobsearch about their experiences and sharing info on their rights.
We’d already heard that the managers are aggressive and bullying towards claimants, so expected the same. But the short occupation revealed the nasty attitudes throughout the staff team – about ten staff tried to hassle people out and came out with some revealing lines, taunting a number of us that we should “get a job” (yawn). When one of us replied that he had a job, they replied, “I can’t believe you have a job, looking like that.”
Staff tried to make sure claimants didn’t access info on their rights. They confiscated leaflets and tore them up, and blocked the doors to rooms where claimants were doing job search. They grabbed phones and bags off people and tried to take the banner too.
But this didn’t stop us making our point: by the time ten police turned up, almost every claimant had a copy of the flyer, we’d had some good chats and staff had been taken away from their nasty work for some time! On our way out, we ran into people mandated onto training courses with Urban Futures. They were really pleased to see us there, until the manager came up and, treating them like children, tried to shoo them back into the building. “Don’t speak to them, they’re doing meaningful activity,” the manager told us, before adding contemptuously, “unlike you, who have time on your hands.”
Today’s occupation is part of ongoing action by Haringey Solidarity Group to expose and challenge Urban Future’s role in mass workfare in Haringey. At weekly leafleting sessions outside their offices, disturbing stories of bullying and mistreatment have emerged. So much so that it is rumoured that a local Jobcentre has suspended referrals to Urban Futures pending investigation into claimants’ treatment.
Community Work Placements shouldn’t exist, but Urban Futures don’t even seem to be following the rules: most placements appear to be in charity shops (this kind of placement is meant to be capped at 25%), claimants are told to make up time for hospital appointments, staff give people the answers in numeracy and literacy tests, and placements are rarely matched to people’s job goals.
But today’s action aimed to put Urban Futures on notice: we are watching, we will make sure people know their rights and we will do everything we can to discourage organisations from accepting forced work placements from them. Just last week, ten placements at Traid were cancelled. This Saturday, Haringey Solidarity Group will be calling on North London Hospices to do the same.