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Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.

Sanctions centre plus: open all hours?

Posted: February 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: In-work conditionality, Sanctions, Welfare to work industry | 1 Comment »

Roll up! Roll up! The first oral evidence session for the Works and Pensions Committee inquiry on ‘in-work progression in Universal Credit’ began on 3 February. This is all about ‘in-work conditionality’, where low-earning workers receiving top-up benefits such as Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit will be subject to the tender attentions currently enjoyed by unemployed claimants. We previously covered this in Workfare: Don’t Think a Job Means You’re Safe and Suggestions, They Want? Now, with Universal Credit due to be ‘rolled out’ in more areas, we can enjoy another round of parliamentary mumbling.

150215sanctioncentre

Ready to welcome workers into the fold?

Despite the limited terms of reference, Boycott Workfare made a written submission to this inquiry. Given that we campaign against sanctions imposed on unemployed people, we naturally oppose sanctions against working claimants. Extending conditionality – which will include sanctions – to working claimants extends these harms to a wider population and will only punish people on the receiving end of the UK’s low-pay no-pay precarious labour market. Small rises in the national minimum wage will not make these concerns go away: with the imposition of conditionality for workers, a higher minimum wage will simply mean a higher conditionality threshold and the use of the minimum wage as a stick to hit workers who are not earning ‘enough’.

We have already stated our opposition to all sanctions in our previous submission to the same committee, and oppose any attempt to extend the regime that has been described as Britain’s ‘secret penal system’.

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Mustard Tree: from workfare exploiter to workfare refuser

Posted: January 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Charities, Pulled out! | 2 Comments »

12265661_1515689348749285_1701812175792048410_o (1)Mustard Tree is a charity that works with homeless and other disadvantaged people in Greater Manchester. Until recently, it participated in workfare. But thanks to a sustained campaign by Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester, they’re no longer involved!  

Mustard Tree had been part of the government’s Mandatory Work Activity Programme (MWA)  –  4 weeks’ full time unpaid work, carried out under threat of sanctions.   Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester first picketed Mustard Tree in December 2014.  Then again at the end of January 2015, again on March 21st, and again in November.  On January 13th, Mustard Tree updated their position on MWA:

Following further consideration, the board of Trustees of Mustard Tree have decided to withdraw our offer of the 4 week work placements associated with the Mandatory Work Activity element of the Welfare to Work Programme.

This updates their earlier stance. In the previous position statement, from March 2015, they said that:

We believe that the 4 week work experience placement [i.e. MWA – unpaid work] is a wholly proportionate and effective tool for accessing sustainable employment.

Like Haringey Solidarity Group’s campaign against North London Hospice, it shows that sustained campaigns against charities using workfare are effective.  BW Greater Manchester put pressure on Mustard Tree in different ways:

  • they wrote to supporters of the charity, like FC United
  • they kept a dialogue going with Mustard Tree throughout the process,
  • they continued picketing their shops and offering information to people passing about what workfare is and how it links to sanctions.  

On all the demonstrations, people from BW Manchester had a massively positive response from passers by.  Even people who were hearing about workfare for the first time very quickly understood what is wrong with workfare, and especially what is wrong with a charity participating in it.

Protest report: MUSTARD TREE: STOP USING WORKFAREMustard Tree’s Eccles shop, Saturday (14/11/15) at 12 noon.As usual…

Posted by Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester on Saturday, 14 November 2015

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Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements to go! But what’s coming next?

Posted: November 29th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Info on schemes | 9 Comments »

Hidden in the Autumn Statement was the news that the contracts for two flagship workfare schemes – Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements – will not be renewed. Their demise is significant: it means that together we have frustrated and scaled back the government’s mass workfare project.

Total spending on employment will be reduced, including not renewing Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements, but introducing a Work and Health Programme for the longer term unemployed and those with health conditions.

This is down to all of us. The DWP is ditching MWA and CWP after deciding that they’re too expensive – and it’s our solidarity and resistance that contributed to those costs and ultimately made those schemes unworkable. If you named and shamed your workfare placement organisation, if you tweeted at workfare-using companies, blockaded their doors or encouraged a local community organisation to Keep Volunteering Voluntary, then you helped make this happen.

We should be proud. We know that thanks to our efforts, workfare providers have found it so hard to find organisations willing to tar their reputation with workfare that only half of the people referred for Community Work Placements were found places. We know that the government has gone to every length to avoid publishing which organisations use workfare for fear that our campaigning could lead to these schemes’ collapse.

So before we look at what’s coming next, it’s important to see what we have achieved: forced unpaid work in the UK has been beaten back from the vast scale the government had planned. This matters. Benefits have not become pegged to unpaid work in the new poverty “settlement” Osborne hopes to establish.

So what now?

Workfare is still taking place. Referrals to punitive six-month Community Work Placements are due to run until the end of March 2016, so the placements will end in October – see section 1.25 of the CWP contract details. The end date is the same for referrals to Mandatory Work Activity – so contracts for that 4-week scheme end in April 2016.

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Solidarity with Tony Cox! Actions across UK on 12th and 13th October

Posted: October 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Call to action | No Comments »

Update: the charge of ‘threatening behaviour against Tony has been dropped! But he’ll be back in court on 18th November to face charges of resisting arrest (via ECAP).

Yesterday, 12th October, Boycott Workfare took part in a national day of action in solidarity with Tony Cox, who was arrested at Arbroath Job Centre on 29th January this year while representing an unemployed woman. Tony is a welfare rights officer and a  member of the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network. He was taken into custody and charged with threatening behaviour, refusing to give his name and address and resisting arrest.

Boycott Workfare in London joined with Haringey Solidarity Group and welfare action groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Doncaster, Cardiff and Nottingham outside job centres talking to claimants about avoiding sanctions, workfare, and the right to be accompanied to interviews at the job centre and DWP offices.

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#BigSavingsNoWages – 2nd day of action against B&M Stores

Posted: September 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action | 4 Comments »

B&M front croppedAfter the impressive response to the last call-out, help pile on the pressure calling for B&M Bargains to pull out of all workfare schemes.  

Two stores in Manchester will be targeted, at 2 pm:

  • Chorlton – 595-597 Wilbraham Rd, Manchester M21 9AJ
  • Ashton-under-Lyne – 9-11 Bow St, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 6BU

Join the Facebook event here.

The last action saw an overwhelmingly positive response from the public and showed again how workfare relies to a great extent on a lack of general awareness of its very existence and what it involves for those made to participate. Large sections of the public recognise the inherent unfairness and contradictory nature of being made to work for free or lose your benefits. This has also been shown to be ineffective in achieving its own aims – the DWP’s own research points to workfare having ‘no impact on the likelihood of being employed‘.

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Solidarity with Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty #AdvocacyIsNotACrime

Posted: September 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Guest blog | No Comments »
The scene outside High Riggs job centre on Thursday.

The scene outside High Riggs job centre on Thursday.

Here is a guest post from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, who on Thursday shut down High Riggs job centre in Edinburgh, in response to G4S security and job centre staff refusing a claimant his right to be accompanied to interview. There will be a solidarity demo tomorrow (Monday 14 Sept) at 9 am at High Riggs Jobcentre. If you’re not in Edinburgh, you can support the demo on Twitter using the hashtag #AdvocacyIsNotACrime. Recent reports about job centre bosses pressurising staff to sanction claimants make it more important than ever to support people who want to be accompanied at the job centre. Boycott Workfare will have new materials available soon to help you navigate, avoid, and resist Community Work Placements and other schemes 

Though we shouldn’t have to, we need to insist on the very basic right to be accompanied, even though the DWP have repeatedly affirmed it is available to everyone claiming benefits.  

Update! Read about the success of ECAP’s response to the job centre here.

This direct action and solidarity won a tremendous victory as the DWP gave in and agreed that jobseeker Adam could be accompanied to his appointment by ECAP activist Mike, without the requirement to show any ID.

The original post from ECAP is here:

SOLIDARITY DEMO CALL FOR 9am MONDAY 14th SEPTEMBER AT HIGH RIGGS JOB CENTRE

The entire ground floor of Edinburgh’s High Riggs Jobcentre was closed down for almost three hours on 10th September as Jobcentre managers called in police and refused to permit a jobseeker to exercise his right to be accompanied to an appointment. Members of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty defied threats of arrest and stayed in the jobcentre to support the claimant and the ECAP advocate.

Now ECAP are calling a solidarity demo for this Monday 14th at 9am at High Riggs Jobcentre, when the jobseeker, Adam, will attend his rearranged appointment, once more accompanied by an ECAP advocate.  ECAP say: “We will not be intimidated by the DWP bullies, G4S security or the police.  We will assert claimants’ right to be accompanied.  The DWP themselves state: “Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf..””

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B&M Bargains National Day of Action – over 20 stores!

Posted: July 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Action report, Name and shame | No Comments »

Saturday 27th June saw an inspiring nation-wide Day of Action against B&M Bargains, a notorious user of workfare.
Aberystwyth Picket 4

In a very short space of time the action snowballed, with autonomous groups organising actions against B&M in at least 20 towns and cities across the UK (let us know if we’ve left you off the list below!). It was truly a moment of solidarity: “If you exploit us we will close you down!” 

Many of these groups were new or recently formed, which shows the exciting beginnings of campaigns against sanctions and workfare in even more localities. It also shows that such groups can get going almost anywhere. They can have immediate impacts and that there are many, many people out there who want to take direct action to bring an end to the exploitation, misery and poverty caused by workfare and sanctions.

The impact on B&M was clear – almost no one entered their shops while protests were taking place. And as always on anti-workfare protests, the response from the public was hugely supportive. Passers-by were shocked and appalled at a company not paying its workers. Many had never even heard of workfare and sanctions, and this shows how much the imposition of these schemes rely on maintaining unawareness in the wider public. It also points to serious questions around mainstream media’s coverage of these issues.

Managers’ responses…

At the Norwich protest, a manager admitted that he, like all managers, are given a fixed amount to spend on wages. Therefore, he can only only cover all the tasks to be done during opening hours by using workfare – while B&M Bargains made about £100 million profit last year.

Elsewhere, another manager argued that those on workfare were on “work experience”. A month of full-time work in a low-skilled job is not work experience. It is only work. But instead of a wage paid in exchange for labour as in the classic understanding of a job, compulsion is used that forces those on workfare to work for free or face sanctions.

What next?

With other companies, keeping up the pressure through monthly or even weekly pickets can be incredibly effective. Norwich has already had a follow-up protest the weekend after!

Contact B&M – Remind B&M of the reasons that workfare is unfair and the impact it could have on the company if it continues to exploit its workers.

Main Telephone: 0151 728 5400 (or search the B&M website for a local store contact) If there is interest, there could also be another National Day of Action, perhaps to coincide with the opening of a new B&M store.

Some example slogans from protests around the UK:

Workfare = Claimant Trafficking
Fair Work, not Workfare
B&M: Big Profits, No Wages
They say work, we say pay us!
Workfare = Exploitation
Don’t shop where they don’t pay wages!
Workfare = Not Fair
If you exploit us we will shut you down!

List of actions that took place:

Actions in Wales – pictures and updates on the joint Facebook page:
– Rheidol Retail Park, Aberystwyth
– Y Coed Duon/Blackwood
– Merthyr Tydfil
– Caerffili
– Caerdydd, Heol Casnewydd/Cardiff, Newport Road
– Casnewydd/Newport – 2 branches (Maesglas, and the Kingsway Centre)
– Ceredigion (near Aberystwyth)
– Cwmdu (Swansea)

Edinburgh (Musselburgh) – organised by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty; a write-up of the action is at: http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/177

Middleton District Shopping Centre, LeedsLeeds Welfare Fightback and Left Unity report (first on the page).

Birkenhead, Wirral – Unite Community Branch in Wirral; pictures on Facebook.

Liverpool, Toxteth – Liverpool IWW wrote up this action here.

Liverpool, Marina Walk Ellesmere Port – supported by Unite Community Ellesmore Port and Cheshire West Trades Council.

Birmingham, Priory Square Shopping Centre – Birmingham Claimants Union

Pool, Cornwall – Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance

Norwich – Norwich Claimants Union

Tottenham, London – Haringey Left Unity

Old Kent Road (Peckham), London – organised by South London Left Unity; pictures on the Facebook event. Report on the Left Unity website (second report on the page).

Willesden, London – Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

Rotherham, Great Eastern Retail Park, Park Gate (Off Beale Way)

Haymarket Sheffield S1 2AX – organised by Sheffield Uncut.

Sheffield, Meersbrook. Pictures and brief report online here.

 


National Day of Action Against B&M Bargains – all the actions

Posted: June 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Name and shame | No Comments »
B&M action call out image

Get in touch to order leaflets for the Day of Action on 27th June!

Here is the full list (as far as we know) of actions in the national day of action against B&M Bargains’ use of workfare today, Saturday 27th June!

If you’re going to one of these actions , let us know how you get along by email, or on Twitter. The hashtag for the day of action is #BandMDayofAction  Let’s show B&M what we think of their #BigSavingsNoWages approach.
London – 3 actions
  • 2pm-3pm B&M Store 473 High Road, Willesden (near Dollis Hill tube station) NW10 2JH
  • 11.30am, B&M Bargains, Tottenham, 867 – 869 High Road Tottenham, London, N17 8EY
  • 11am – 1pm, B&M, 593-613 Old Kent Road, London SE15 1LA

Sheffield – 2 actions: 

  • B&M Bargains on Chesterfield Road, MeersbrookSheffield, meeting outside the shop at 2pm
  • SheffieldUncut: Sat 27th June 2pm, B&M Bargains, 12-18 Haymarket, Sheffield S1 2AX
  • Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/943407845679998/

B&M bargains in Rotherham, Great Eastern Retail Park, Park Gate (Off Beale Way), Rotherham S62 6EJ

Manchester: 2pm, B&M Bargains Chorlton, 595 – 597 Wilbraham Road, Manchester, M21 9AJ / Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1700748456819555/

Leeds: B&M in Middleton District Shopping Centre, Leeds LS10 3DZ, at 2pm.
If people want to travel together by bus, they should meet up at the Corn Exchange at 1pm. Contact details are: Leeds Welfare Fightback on Facebook, leedswelfarefightback.wordpress.com, email leedsagainstsanctions@gmail.com, phone 07930 966205.
The Wirral: Unite Community Branch B&M Birkenhead, Wirral, 12pm (midday).Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/491714337646026/
Liverpool IWW – 12pm (midday), B&M Bargains, Park Road, Toxteth, L8 4UE. Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/101952816813870/
 
Unite Community Ellesmore Port – 12-2pm B&M store, Marina Walk, CH65 0BL Ellesmere Port. Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/432276613610255/
Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance were planning demonstrations at the B&M Bargains in Pool, Redruth & also at the B&M in St Austell. Pool protest Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/events/895011773897559/
Birmingham Claimants’ Union, 2pm, B&M store, Priory Square Shopping Centre Queensway Birmingham B4 7LL. Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1456285374685146/
“Make it noisy – bring pots and pans and wooden spoons
Bring trumpets, drums, whistles and kazoos
Make it colourful
Bring a message small or big for B&M Bargains”

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty – Gather 2pm onwards at B&M Bargains, 91 – 93 High St, Musselburgh EH21 7DA


Streatham JobCentre Protest against Workfare Psychology

Posted: June 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments »
Large white cat chases psychologists away

See you in Streatham

New evidence on the coercive use of psychology to ‘change the attitude’ of claimants was published this week.  At the same time, the DWP confirmed plans to put 350 psychologists into JobCentres.

Mental health services in exchange for job seeking

Streatham Job Centre will be the first of 10 pilot sites to bring CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) into JobCentres.  And the opening of Lambeth ‘Living Well Hub’ for Community Mental Health Services in the same building is planned for Monday 29th June.

As the Mental Health Resistance Network has pointed out, these together amount to an extension of the coercive powers of the 1983 Mental Health Act, with psychologists pressured to act as state enforcers and claimants potentially subject to sanctions for refusing therapy.

Whereas at present people can only be forced into “treatment” under in-patient Sections of this Act or by Community Treatment Orders, making welfare benefits and by extension housing conditional on agreeing to psychological treatment broadens the principle of compulsion.

The psychological coercion and manipulation that claimants face are inspiring a strong and growing fight back. In the face of widespread press and social media coverage, the British Psychological Society has finally made a statement ‘expressing concern‘ (it’s only taken them 18 months).  We’re still waiting for an enquiry.

Claimants, service users and mental health survivors are organising to resist the use of psychology and pseudo-psychology to force people off benefits. Psychologists Against Austerity and many other mental health professionals are also mobilising against these developments. Let’s keep up the pressure!

What you can do:

Join the protest at Streatham JobCentre Friday 26th June: Meet at 1.30pm Streatham Memorial Gardens, Streatham High Road/Streatham Common North, London SW16. The Facebook event is here.

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Saturday 27th June, National Day of Action against B&M Bargains – the DWP’s pet exploiter

Posted: May 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Call to action, Welfare to work industry | 9 Comments »
B&M action call out image

Get in touch to order leaflets for the Day of Action on 27th June!

B&M Bargains have won a ‘prestigious’ workfare industry award for their use of forced unpaid labour. We need to let them know this has not gone unnoticed. They need to understand that it is unacceptable to have this sort of exploitation take place in our communities.

B&M bargains are a private, profit making company (they made over £100 million last year) and yet it won’t pay its workers for their labour. People on workfare are given sanctions (loose their benefits) if they don’t work for free, and even when they do work they are sanctioned for ‘misdemeanours’ such as being late. Sanctions mean that claimants loose their basic means of survival – the money they need for food, bills and other necessities. Sanctions are a major cause of the rise in the use of foodbanks.

Apart from exploiting claimants, workfare also undermines the hours and conditions of paid employees at B&M. As with all workfare placements in the private sector, workfare provides free labour that replaces paid jobs.

Boycott Workfare has had several reports of reduced hours for paid staff as well as the practice of employing paid staff on a trial basis, sacking them after 12 weeks, and replacing them with workfare placements: Read the rest of this entry »