Since the beginning of the year, Birmingham Trades Council and Brighton GMB Branch have signed the pledge to Boycott Workfare. The campaign also has the support of Birmingham Against Cuts who have written this statement…
Workfare is a government scheme where people who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for 6 months or more are made to take a “work experience” position at a company for a period of up to 6 weeks.Common placements are at Poundland, Tesco and other retail businesses, where people will do jobs such as sweeping/cleaning and shelf stacking.
Workfare was first brought in as part of the Flexible New Deal, under Labour, and is being expanded by the ConDem coalition. Worryingly, there are now moves being put into place to create placements of up to 6 months for long term unemployed.
During the period you are working for the company, you receive your benefits and travel expenses. There is no extra pay, and people on the work experience do a full 30-35hour week for up to £67.50 of benefits (younger people will get less, with £53.75 being a lower rate). This means that people are often earning less than £2/hr for their work – well below the minimum wage.
The companies they are working for do not pay anything, instead the taxpayer covers the cost of their “wages”.
Boycott Workfare are a campaign group who have been working to end these schemes. They approached us before Christmas as they will be starting to campaign around the West Midlands this year. This coincided with the start of a legal challenge to Workfare by local firm Public Interest Lawyers (who regularly attend Birmingham Against The Cuts meetings), and a story in the Guardian about workfare, which included details from Cait Reilly, who was made to give up her voluntary position at the Birmingham Pen Museum, in order to do a placement at Poundland in Kings Heath.
We have decided to support the campaign in Birmingham, and will be helping to organise a meeting in the city centre sometime in March, along with Birmingham Trades Council and Boycott Workfare. We will of course publicise this meeting when there are firm details. There will also be meetings held around Birmingham and the West Midlands.
If you want to get involved with the campaign, or want to know if there will be a meeting near you, please email us at BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@Gmail.com and we’ll pass your details on / get back to you.