Workfare, Sanctions and the PCS

“There is clear evidence that the benefit sanctions regime has gone too far and is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale.”

Occupied Times infographic. information available in text form on know your rights page on our website.Not our words, but the findings of Oxfam’s report Walking the Breadline,  which links the rise in the use of food banks to the rise in the number of people having their benefits sanctioned. The DWP have postponed the release of the latest sanction figures, but we know that the number of people sanctioned and using foodbanks stand at record levels.

Many of these sanctions are as a result of workfare, and many are being handed out for the pettiest of reasons. The imposition of a workfare regime has created a situation where the Red Cross are now having to deliver food aid in the UK for the first time since the Second World War.

Back in May the PCS union (the main union for DWP workers) had a real chance to address this state of affairs.

PCS branches put forward motions to their annual conference calling for action to be taken in solidarity with claimants being forced to do workfare and being made destitute by sanctions. Disgracefully, the response of the PCS leadership was to rely on overcautious legal advice to block any discussion of these motions, which angered many. They did however pass Motions A92 and A533.

Motion A92 is designed to instruct PCS members to refuse to sanction PCS members who work part-time in Job Centres, whilst they continue to sanction everyone else. This is because, when Universal Credit is fully rolled out, the same ‘conditionality’ (i.e. sanctions and workfare if you aren’t doing what the Job Centre thinks you ought to be) will apply to everyone, whether they are unemployed, disabled, in part-time work, or self-employed.

Emergency motions submitted by PCS branches which called for action to be taken against all sanctions were either not accepted or guillotined. In the end, motion A533 was also passed: this merely instructed the National Executive committee to “explore the possibility of including non-cooperation with sanctions in the next industrial action ballot”. So far they have failed to do even this.

Perversely,  the only action they have taken so far appears to be against Boycott Workfare.

So what have the PCS actually done? After all this pressure from claimants and their own members, the PCS have declared they are responding by “spearheading a campaign against benefit sanctions”. They call on others to take action, but what exactly the PCS think others can or should take is not specified. There is no real PCS counter-narrative questioning the morality or implementation of workfare or sanctions. There is no real strategy for changing the current intolerable situation which sees people made destitute, and PCS members being instructed not to send people to foodbanks.

Their whole campaign is an empty PR exercise, designed to cover up their real lack of action and pacify an increasingly restless membership.

The PCS may claim that they are unable to take action because it would be illegal to do so. But there is a legal basis for action.  The PCS may claim that to call for real action is an attack on their members. It is not. It is simply a call for solidarity: for an end to the implementation of policies which are an attack on all of us – and on the very idea of a welfare state.

Sanctions are a form of structural violence targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable. The workfare regime currently being imposed by the DWP is causing destitution, hardship and hunger.  It is leading to an  increase in homelessness and, tragically, to suicides. The PCS  have had plenty of time to “consider the possibility of non-cooperation”. They should now ballot their members on a boycott of workfare and sanctions.

The PCS publicly claims “to stand up for public services and social justice”. The facts, and now its bizarre public attack on this campaign, clearly state otherwise. We’ll let you make your own mind up about what the PCS leadership really stand for. We stand with those who are left with nothing due to workfare and sanctions. Stand with us.


Comments (8)

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Honestly? As a member of the CPSA in Southwark and given Serwotka's previous rep amongst his old Socialist Organiser chums, I'm not at all surprised one bit. The PCS is just a shil, he's just a face.

Jane Canning

I was sanctioned recently by a petty jobsworth. As a result I have gone on the sick so it is going to cost them more. The alternative would be to go to jail which would cost them more again. Sanction decisions should not be down to unqualified desk clerks playing judge and jury. Yes it has gone too far, and should be stopped before we retaliate.

ghost whistler

The pcs are a disgrace.

If ever a line in the sand needed to be a drawn it should be against state sanctioned destitution and enforced poverty.

Serwotka is a joke. He is clearly all talk.

Ed McArthur

Thisshows the need for unions that are controlled directly by active members who have to live with decisions rather than the present power tothe salaried officials struccture
Rank and file members should refuse to
santion and walk out with or with out the support of the national socalled leader ship if any one is sacked for refusing to santion
also if they santion someone but dont santion another in the samecircumstances beacause they are pcsu members thats clearly discrimanation and may be the basis for a very useful legal case


Now the unemployed "must"? sign a pledge when in their local jobcenter in front of their "advisor" as to what that person is expected to do in regards to looking for work? hang on a min here..................... if what they have to do is mandatory to look for work then why sign a pledge? or do they need your signature to make it legal?

Landless Peasant

Benefit Sanctions are part of a multi-pronged attack (the sharp end). I began my MWA today but might have 'opted' for a sanction instead had I not to pay the Bedroom Tax (+Council Tax). Because of that I cannot afford to get a sanction, so the next 4 weeks are taken up with 'Community work'. I'm already costing the NHS more as I'm now on long-term prescription Meds. largely due to the Welfare Reforms/Class War and the undue stress & worry it has caused me. These Meds. plus a certain self-medicated herb, are will carry me through the Mandatory Work Slave Option/Non-Option.


in brighton the left castigates the green party for implementing the cuts but can see no wrong in a pcs that implements sanctions.Just thought i'd raise the point.!!!

Jeff Smith


Once upon a time there were three little pigs, who became unemployed.
Soon they had no food in the house, and being pigs, they didn't like it.
They decided that one of them would have to go and sign-on at the Jobcentre.
None of them was very keen on this idea, for the Jobcentre had a bad reputation. It was known as a place where unpleasant things happened to people known as 'the unemployed'.

So reluctantly, the first little pig went into town, and called at the Jobcentre
to sign-on.
At the desk was a wolf, called Advisor, who smiled when he saw the little pig.
'' Hello little piggy, I'm here to help you get a job '', he said.
And the little pig signed all the papers that Advisor asked him to.
And foolishly, he allowed full access to his Universal Jobmatch Account.
He didn't really understand this, but it seemed a good idea, and Mr.Wolf was so nice and friendly.
But the first time that the little pig didn't apply for a job, even though it was only part-time and very far away, he was sanctioned, and lost his Jobseekers Allowance for a month. And so the little pig ran crying all the way home, and as he now had no money, and there was no social security thanks to an evil gang called Tories, he starved to death before the end of the month.

Now the second little pig saw what had happened to his friend, but he had no choice, and so he went down to the Jobcentre and signed-on.
He saw the wolf, called Advisor, who tried to persuade him to allow full access to his Universal Jobmatch Account.
But the second little pig was wiser, or thought he was, and so he declined DWP access to his UJ account.

The wolf didn't like this, and tried to persuade the second little pig to give him access to the UJ account. But the second little pig would not . This was awkward for the wolf, because now he couldn't snoop on the jobseeking activities of the second little pig. He couldn't for example see if the little pig had refused a job, or what he was applying for. He couldn't see if he had refused to apply for a recommended job. And he couldn't get into the account to put lots of jobs on the list for the little pig to apply for, which the wolf liked doing.

This won't do thought the wolf, I'll have to try a trick to get into the UJ account. And so the wolf pretended that there was a special rule which meant that when the little pig came to sign-on he would have to let the wolf see his UJ account, and provide screen prints from it. Even though the little pig had officially declined DWP access.This wasn't really true of course, because the little pig was protected by EU privacy law, and no access meant no viewing, and no screen prints either.

But the second little piggy didn't know this, and he didn't want to annoy Mr.Wolf or lose his Jobseeker's Allowance. So next time he visited the Jobcentre, he let the wolf see his UJ account, and provided screen prints.

Now these screen prints showed that the second little pig had not been doing enough in his Job Activity List, and worse, that he had not applied for a job at the local bacon factory. And so the second little pig was sanctioned, and lost all his money. He would have starved to death too, but fortunately he was hit by a bus instead while crossing the road, which just goes to show.

The third little pig was the wisest of the three, and he went down to the Jobcentre and signed-on. He saw the evil wolf Advisor, and refused to provide
DWP access to his account. The little piggy didn't listen to the wolf when he tried to persuade him, nor did he believe the trick about the special rule.
And the evil wolf huffed and puffed, and threatened the little piggy.
But the third little pig stood firm, for he knew that EU privacy law protected him. And the third little pig was able to keep his jobsearch private, away from the wolf. He didn't have to explain why he hadn't applied for a particular job.
The wolf couldn't check his jobsearch activity, or jobsearch time.
He couldn't put extra jobs into the account to be applied for.
All because the little piggy had declined access and kept his privacy. In fact the third little pig didn't use the UJ account at all, for it was a stupid thing really, and full of things to trap an unwary pig.

So the third little pig just did what he had to do, and no more.
He posted a public CV on the UJ account, and he provided a single print out of this, the only print out he legally had to make. He gave this to the wolf, Advisor. He logged in to the UJ account from time to time to check if any employers had offered him a job. Of course they never did, but this was part of a strange game that was played at the Jobcentre, so he didn't mind.

Most importantly, the third little pig did not use the UJ account at all for any jobsearching, nor put any of his applications into the online Jobsearch Activity List.
He just ignored the whole nasty thing. He did his jobsearch using other online search engines. These were much better anyway than Universal Jobmatch, which had been designed by a monster employed by the evil Tories.

The third little piggy wrote all of his jobsearch details down on a form that Mr. Wolf had to provide for him, even though he didn't like this much, called a Fortnightly Jobsearch Record. He carefully filled this in every day, and came to his fortnightly sign-on with printed evidence of his jobsearch. This included Application Confirmations, which he could easily get from internet job search sites, and which were very useful for this purpose.
So this little piggy claimed his Jobseekers Allowance and lived happily ever after. Or at least as happily as you could do, bearing in mind the continual cutbacks in the benefit system.
And the moral of this story is, when you go down to the Jobcentre to sign-on, which little pig are you going to be ?