Does Age UK support workfare or not? They certainly didn’t want to discuss the issue at their For Later Life Conference although they had plenty to say about poverty, inequality and equal rights in ‘tough times’.
Back in 2012, Age UK head office said there was ‘no involvement’ in workfare schemes and that they were now advising their stores to wind up their association with government employment programmes. But in recent weeks Boycott Workfare has had a spate of tweets from people saying they’re being forced to ‘volunteer’ at Age UK or face sanctions. Age UK in East Sussex appears to be taking part in MWA (Mandatory Work Activity), which requires people to work unpaid for 4 weeks or lose benefits.
Contact Age UK to raise your concerns now!
Age UK local shops
Age UK says that ‘national policy’ does not apply to 170 local independently run stores using the Age UK name, as they ‘make their own decisions, based on the needs of their local communities’. It’s difficult to see whose needs are being served by forcing people to volunteer for 30 hours a week, or else lose their unemployment benefit (Job Seekers Allowance is £71 per week for people aged 25 or over; or just £56 for under 25s).
People are being forced to work at far below the minimum wage – on threat of sanctions of up to three years. For a 30 hour week, minimum wage at £6.19 an hour would be £185.70 per week. If people were paid a living wage, the rate would be £256.50 in London or £223.50 elsewhere in the UK.
What forced volunteering really means
Volunteering for a charity should be a choice. Forcing people to volunteer undermines the value of genuine volunteering, which is by definition, voluntary. In fact, using mandatory workfare placements means that Age UK is using forced unpaid labour. Given that they are advertising a wide range of paid jobs – how about offering those to people, instead of workfare?
Using unpaid labour further reduces wages and increases the gap between rich and poor. Something Age UK CEO Tom Wright, on well over £100K per annum, (plus some nice little earnings from subsidiary activities) might like to reflect on.
Protecting welfare rights
Making welfare benefits conditional is a fundamental attack on people’s social rights. There’s already been a concerted assault on the rights of those who are sick, disabled and unemployed. Does Age UK think pension rights won’t be next? Would Age UK support a policy of ‘volunteer’ or lose your state pension? Don’t think it couldn’t happen. It could.
Attack on welfare
The social fund (small cash loans to help vulnerable people in a crisis) has already been replaced by vouchers. The number of people referred to food banks has doubled in the last year (to a third of a million people) as benefits are so low individuals, families and children face starvation.
Not in our name
Age UK seems to think it can sit on the fence because the Age UK shops using workfare are ‘independent’. So what would an Age UK shop have to do before Age UK said ‘not in our name’ and withdrew the right to use the Age UK brand? Racial discrimination? Age discrimination? Fraud? Contravening legislation on equal pay or perhaps on the minimum wage?
Workfare punishes people who are unemployed. Workfare removes the hard won right to unemployment benefits and creates a pool of unpaid labour, undermining jobs, pay and conditions for all workers. Consent has been removed from the system and the threat of starvation and homelessness has been used to bully people into unpaid labour.
Taking Action – What you can do
Age UK has a responsibility for what all shops trading under its name do. Ask Age UK to withdraw its branding from shops involved in workfare or ‘work for your benefits’ schemes administered by the DWP or by private sector interests working on their behalf.
You can give them a (polite) call 0800 169 87 87 (freephone from a landline).
Check out with volunteers and workers at your local Age UK shop if they are involved in workfare and let us know!