By now, most charities with a shred of decency have given up on workfare in disgust. But the baton is being carried forward in a big way by the green-minded ones. So two environmental charities are the focus for today’s online action: Groundwork and The Conservation Volunteers.
Groundwork is involved in workfare throughout the UK, including Mandatory Work Activity and the Work Programme. In London, they’ve been in partnership with Homes for Haringey for some time and they have ‘a close relationship’ with Haringey council. The Conservation Volunteers run three Mandatory Work Activity contracts and have employed thousands of unpaid workers since the 1980s.
They both think that by remaking the natural environment, we remake ourselves. Or take The Grow Organisation – a small Norfolk company involved in the Work Programme. They have the same idea: ‘We exist to grow people’, they claim; ‘Cutting Grass, Cutting Crime, Cultivating Futures’ they vaguely promise; ‘Improving ourselves. Improving our communities’.
And it’s bracing stuff: as TCV’s advert for volunteers says, ‘you should be prepared to work outdoors in sometimes poor weather’.
But it’s hard to see how anyone’s community is being improved by people working to ‘gather up recycling materials’ round the back of a food preparation plant, as TCV explained they have people doing. Workfare at these charities stretches to construction, hospitality and industrial cleaning, as well as the green fields fun they want us to imagine. And they don’t only make people work for them: they organise placements elsewhere as well.
The environment is a useful alibi for workfare. How can working to save the planet be a bad thing? It’s also an easy way to argue that the unpaid work people are forced to do is for community benefit – which makes it easier to force people to do it. That’s why £19-a-play golf courses can benefit from unemployed people’s forced unpaid labour provided by The Conservation Volunteers (formerly BTCV). Elsewhere, Boycott Workfare have heard that people are being told to dig holes in a field for 8 hours or day, or repair fences on animal show farms.
They hope we’ll ask: can cost-free labour be so bad if it makes recycling cheaper for us all, reclaims green spaces and is enforced by people who ‘want a better quality of life for everyone’? They hope we won’t notice that they’re involved in schemes that don’t help people find work, which people only do under the threat of sanctions – just the same as every other company exploiting people through workfare. Workfare users Marks & Spencer hope the same thing: they’re in partnership with Groundwork.
But their message is the same one always pedalled by the DWP: you are where you are because of something wrong with you; if you believe you can get a job, you will. The smell of new-mown lawn ought only to make that more obvious. Be grateful that people take the time to improve your ‘prospects’ while you work for free.
The Conservation Volunteers (formerly BTCV) are the most unrepentant of charitable workfare exploiters. Remind them that they can’t get away with having ‘volunteers’ in their name until they stop forcing people to work for them!
They think they can help people out of bed in the morning through workfare. They’re complacent: wake them up!
Look out for more online actions tomorrow as part of the week of action against workfare. See if there’s an event panned near you!