Archive for Unemployment

#GE2015 More workfare, less pay

Solidarity protest at Arbroath Job Centre to support Tony Cox and affirm claimants' right to be accompanied

Solidarity protest at Arbroath Job Centre to support Tony Cox and affirm claimants’ right to be accompanied

This week the Conservatives announced in their manifesto they would introduce a new ‘community’ workfare scheme, specifically targeted at young people.

This is odd because chancellor George Osbourne had already launched just such a workfare scheme last year – and neither David Cameron, Osbourne, nor the media appear to remember it.

What does this workfare reboot really tell us? That workfare as a policy must be in enormous trouble if it has to be rebranded and relaunched on a yearly basis. Successful polices don’t need constant spin and retreads. And this tells us that the public is just not buying workfare. But then why would they when it replaces  jobs?

But then this latest ‘new’ workfare announcement is just more poorly thought out PR masquerading as a manifesto policy. A large number of workfare schemes already exist, and it is a proven fact that they do not work. They are very expensive failures. The Work Programme for example is a £5 billion failure, while the existing Community Work Placement scheme costs £235 million alone and is faltering badly with over 500 charities pledging not to take part in the scheme – and with more signing up every week.

More recently, the DWP evaluated the London Mayor’s ‘Day One Support for Young People’ (DOSfYP) workfare scheme. The DOSfYP scheme, like this new community workfare scheme presently touted by the Tories, was also targeted at young people. It cost £12 million and its chief outcome was to deter young people from claiming JSA – while making no difference to young people’s employment chances at all (see p. 28 of the evaluation here).

This post-election workfare scheme will be backed by benefit sanctions, which the Trussell Trust has linked to the huge increase in the use of foodbanks.  Among other things, workfare schemes deter people from accessing the welfare payments that they are entitled to. We see this in the fact that disengagement is now a real issue at local level, with one million unemployed people not claiming any benefit and ‘falling between the gaps’.

Our campaign has shown that once people discover a charity is using workfare, it becomes immensely damaging for its brand. People now know that implementing workfare means implementing poverty. The 500+ signatories of the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign also demonstrate that workfare is not what the third sector wants or needs.

Nobody, not least young people, should be sanctioned, stigmatised and sent on workfare for what are wider political and economic policy failures. Workfare and sanctions are social disasters and nobody – especially the third sector – should be involved.

Feel the same as we do? Then take action on the 25 February in solidarity with a member of the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network who was arrested coming out of Arbroath Job Centre. His only crime was advising a claimant of her rights.

25 Feb Day of Action to support activist arrested at jobcentre for representing a jobseeker

SUWN protest

Support Tony Cox from the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network, who was arrested after assisting a claimant at Arbroath Jobcentre.

SOLIDARITY WITH UNEMPLOYED ACTIVIST ARRESTED FOR REPRESENTING A JOBSEEKER
TAKE PART IN A DAY OF ACTION AT JOBCENTRES BRITAIN-WIDE 25 FEBRUARY 2015

Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist Tony Cox was arrested on 29th January after Arbroath Jobcentre management called police to stop him representing a vulnerable jobseeker. We urge you to join a Day of Action on 25th February at Jobcentres round Britain to show your solidarity.

We must fight back against this clear attempt to intimidate claimants and deny us the right to be accompanied and represented. Tony will be in court in Forfar on 25th February facing charges of “threatening behaviour, refusing to give his name and address and resisting arrest”. That same day we call on people to descend on jobcentres round Britain to show their solidarity with Tony and distribute information to claimants urging them to exercise their right to be accompanied and represented at all benefits interviews.

As we face unprecedented sanctions and benefits cuts, it’s more important than ever that we support each other and stand up to the DWP bullies. The Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions and other groups have established a strong presence at the Jobcentres in Dundee and in nearby towns and cities like Arbroath, Perth and Blairgowrie, supporting claimants in opposing sanctions and harassment.

On 29 January Tony was accompanying a vulnerable woman claimant, who suffers from severe dyslexia and literacy problems. The claimant, D, had been signed up to the Universal Job Match (UJM), the computerised job search system, and was being forced to complete five job searches per day, the pressure of which had led to her having several panic attacks. Tony proposed that D’s UJM account be closed, and that her number of job searches be significantly reduced. The adviser refused to consider this, and so Tony and D met with the Jobcentre manager.

The manager likewise refused to even look at the issue, falsely claiming that all jobseekers had to be registered with UJM. She even suggested to D that she should arrange another meeting without Tony or any other witness or rep present. Despite the pressure D was being put under by the manager, she replied that she would not attend another meeting without Tony. At this point the manager demanded that Tony leave the building or the police would be called. Tony refused to leave, but the meeting ended when it was agreed that a further meeting be arranged to discuss the issue further. Tony was arrested after he left the Jobcentre.

The right of claimants to be accompanied to interviews, and for the accompanier to have the right to speak, has been established by groups like Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, who have forced the DWP locally and Britain-wide to apologise for calling the police on ECAP reps, and to affirm claimants’ right to representation. The DWP clearly state “Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf…”

The attack on benefits and claimants is part of the austerity assault on the entire working class. We call on all unemployed and claimants groups, anti cuts and anti austerity groups, human rights groups, workplace activists, and all working class people, waged and unwaged, to show solidarity with Tony and the right of the unemployed and all claimants to organise collectively to fight back.

Visit your local Jobcentre on 25th February with banners and placards and distribute leaflets to claimants on Tony’s case and the right to be accompanied to all benefits interviews.

Call out by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty - ecap@lists.riseup.net

Supported by Scottish Unemployed Workers Network
Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions
Boycott Workfare

Please add the support of your group/organisation: email admin@scottishunemployedworkers.net & ecap@lists.riseup.net

And don’t forget Disabled People Against Cut’s Day of Action the following week on 2 March!

Take action this week to stop workfare in North London Hospice shops

Pickets and protests meant North London Hospice promised to pull out of workfare. But  they still have 50 placements and have taken on at least one new placement too!

Pickets and protests meant North London Hospice promised to pull out of workfare. But they still have 50 placements and have taken on at least one new placement too!

Please support Haringey Solidarity Group’s call for action this week!

  • From Mon 2 Feb – in a “communications conga” – social media / email / phone action
  • Sat 7 Feb, 6.15pm – join our protest at North London Hospice’s Dancing Strictly fundraising event in North Finchley to ask “Waltz going on with workfare?”

“If we want them to tap dance, then they will tap dance”

- a Whitehall official on government plans for benefit claimants (Sunday Times, 2012)

Since August last year, Haringey Solidarity Group has been campaigning for North London Hospice to stop taking on people on 30-hour a week workfare schemes in their shops. (For more info, see our full web article ‘Why North London Hospice should keep its word and pull out of workfare‘). These six-month Community Work Placements (CWP) are backed by the threat of sanctions, i.e. having your benefits cut off for four weeks or more.

We tried contacting the hospice, to let them know that CWP is not voluntary, and we leafleted passers-by outside their shops. Finally, in December, North London Hospice’s Chair of Trustees wrote to us, stating their intention to stop using workfare once current placements came to an end. He refrained from giving a date for their withdrawal from the scheme, leading some of us to fear that their “intention” could mean another six months’ misery for claimants on CWP.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, we found out that, contrary to the letter, North London Hospice had taken on a new placement. Furthermore, it has been over a month and a half since their letter to us, and not one of the shop managers we have spoken to is aware of the proposed withdrawal from the scheme, and the chair of trustees has to refused to give any indication of a date for withdrawal.

So our campaign against workfare at North London Hospice continues.

This Monday, 2 February, we are asking people to join our North London Hospice “communications conga” and contact the hospice, via social media, phone and email, asking them to pull out with immediate effect.

Then, the following Saturday, 7 February, 6.15pm, we are asking for support at North London Hospice’s “Dancing Strictly” fundraiser, when we hope to speak directly to their supporters, and for them to ask the hospice management, “Waltz going on with Workfare?”.

North London Hospice “communications conga” from Mon 2 Feb, contact details:

Twitter Tweet to @NLondonHospice
Facebook /NorthLondonHospice
Email nlh@northlondonhospice.org
Phone 020 8446 2288 (Fundraising team) or you can find the numbers for their 18 shops online. (NB: We are asking people not to contact the main hospice switchboard number.) Please also remember, if you call them, it’s definitely worth trying to speak to a manager, or someone involved in fundraising and volunteer organising. The person who answers the phone may well be low paid admin staff, or possibly on workfare themselves.

Dancing Strictly Fundraiser on Saturday 7 Feb, 6.15pm

Join Haringey Solidarity Group from 6.15pm at the Arts Depot in Finchley. The event starts at 7pm. Bring friends and (dance-themed) placards.

ArtsDepot, 5 Nether Street, North Finchley, N12 0GA. Tube: Finchley Central (then bus); Woodside Park and West Finchley (20 mins walk). Buses: 82, 125, 134, 221 (from Turnpike Lane), 263, 460. Or see the Artsdepot website for directions.

See our website for more background information on the campaign.

Call Out for Mustard Tree Protest this Saturday!

WP_001680Take part in the our second Manchester Boycott Workfare action against Mustard Tree
31 January 12pm at Mustard Tree, 110 Oldham Rd, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6AG

After a great turn-out at our last protest, Mustard Tree have said they are discussing their use of workfare with their Board of Trustees. Let’s make sure they realise that it is unacceptable to take any part in workfare – an exploitative programme that causes poverty and destitution.

Workfare is forced, unpaid work: people have to ‘volunteer’ or face loosing their right to benefits. It makes a mockery of the concept of volunteering, it undermines real voluntary work, and it does nothing to help people into work (as even DWP research has shown).

The sanctions given for not completing a workfare placement result in hunger, severe poverty, distress and also contribute to homelessness. And it is homeless people who are among the most likely to be sanctioned and devastated by the consequences. It is almost beyond belief that a charity like Mustard Tree that works to support homeless people uses workfare. It needs to end immediately.

Come out and stand in solidarity with homeless people and everyone exploited by workfare. Show Mustard Tree that we will not tolerate this exploitation in our city: there can be no place for unpaid and forced labour anywhere, let alone in a homeless charity.

2014 was a year of successful action. What should 2015 hold?

tea and leaflets outside cardiff job centre

Share your ideas about how to take on workfare and sanctions in 2015

In 2014, your actions helped push workfare closer to collapse. The disgusting new Community Work Placement scheme struggled to get off the ground; 500 charities and voluntary organisations pledged to avoid workfare and Keep Volunteering Voluntary; and direct action and pressure across the UK brought an end to hundreds of placements.

Read more about how we all helped push workfare closer to collapse.

What does 2015 hold?

Over the next few weeks, we’re having a proper think about the most effective ways to take on workfare and sanctions in 2015. We’d like your ideas and creativity to help us plan ahead!

Please email info@boycottworkfare.org or comment on this article by Wednesday 4th February. We’ve got some thoughts on the questions below and would love to hear your thinking on any of them too. Please feel free to think wider as well!

  1. What are workfare’s weaknesses at the moment that can be exploited?
  2. What can we do to step up the challenge to benefit sanctions?
  3. How do we challenge the wider normalisation of unpaid work?
  4. When should forthcoming weeks of action take place? Who do you think they should target and why?
  5. What would inspire more people to get involved in the fight against workfare and sanctions?
  6. Do you have ideas of ways to expose and challenge the fact that all the major parties have a pro-workfare stance during the election?
  7. When and where should the next national gathering of groups taking action on welfare take place? Can you help make it happen?
  8. If you’re a local activist or going through workfare, how can we best support you?
  9. If you’ve used Boycott Workfare’s website or leaflets, or been in touch by email or twitter, what has helped? What’s been missing?
  10. Any other thoughts?

Most importantly, if you have skills or time to offer to make these ideas happen, please let us know. Wherever you are based, let’s find ways to use everyone’s energy to fight workfare and sanctions!

Challenging sanctions

With the Sanctions Inquiry taking place at the moment (final oral evidence hearing on 4 February), it’s an important time to shout about why benefit sanctions must be brought to an end without exception.

This chilling account of the culture of sanctioning in Jobcentres is an important reminder of why.

Though it’s clear the inquiry won’t come to the conclusion it should – that all sanctions should be abolished – we think it’s important that our voices are heard. Boycott Workfare put in a submission to the Inquiry. Can you help use it as an opportunity to influence those who help sustain workfare and sanctions or could do more to challenge them? More here.

In other news…

  • Members of Boycott Workfare met sister campaigns in Ireland – where they managed to stop hundreds of workfare placements in Tescos from ever getting started! Read more.
  • Cancer Research have cancelled ten placements and pledged to stop any others. Please help hold them to their word.

Challenging the Sanctions Inquiry

Job centres have become "sanctions" centres

Job centres have become “sanctions” centres

Last year David Clapson died because benefit sanctions left him unable to pay for electricity to refrigerate his insulin. His story meant hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition opposing the current sanctions regime. The petition had an impact and an inquiry into sanctions was announced.

Championed by Debbie Abrahams MP, who has previously stated, “I support the principle of a sanctions regime. If somebody consistently fails to turn up for work experience or a Work programme scheme, sanctions should be applied”, the inquiry looks set to stay within a framework which assumes some sanctions are necessary or even beneficial. Though it’s clear the inquiry won’t come to the conclusion it should – that all sanctions should be abolished – we think it’s important that our voices are heard.

On January 7th, the government held the first of its three evidence hearing sessions for the inquiry. It was important because some views that the DWP doesn’t agree with, some very good arguments against the sanction system itself, went on record, as well as some of the usual toxic workfare rhetoric.

Boycott Workfare has also submitted evidence to the sanctions inquiry. In contrast to the narrative that the DWP, the media or workfare industry representatives use to justify sanctions, we think another story needs to be heard. Our story of sanctions is that they are part of a shift from a supportive welfare state to a punitive workfare state. We highlight how many sanctions are not only petty and unfair, but how they also cause harm to mental and physical health and deliberately threaten and impose poverty and destitution.

As sanctions are a fundamental part of workfare – putting the ‘force’ in ‘forced labour’ – our main recommendation is that they should be abolished. Sanctions work on a much wider scale than the inquiry is claiming; the fear of being referred to mandatory work schemes and being exposed to harsher sanctions means that even supposedly ‘voluntary’ schemes like Work Experience are in fact just another layer of threat and punishment.

In the evidence hearing two weeks ago, there were some of the familiar justifications trotted out for sanctions. The inquiry is also a response to the report written by Matthew Oakley, formerly of the workfare-loving think-tank Policy Exchange, who was invited to give evidence as an ‘independent reviewer’. Oakley claimed that sanctions were a necessary part of conditionality, a sentiment echoed by the Tory MP, Graham Evans, who said that sanctions were needed so that people understand their ‘responsibilities’.

Another member of the first panel, Kirsty McHugh of the workfare industry body ERSA, slipped in the familiar idea that those being sanctioned live “chaotic lives”. The important aim for conditionality was, she said, about “getting people’s mindset in the right place”, echoing the ‘change-your-attitude’ approach of psychological coercion in workfare.

It was during the second panel of evidence-givers, however, that the sanctions system took a beating. Dr David Webster asked, “Why do you have to have a system which is based on the fundamental assumption that people have to be compelled to do things that they don’t want to? “Over the last twenty years”, he continued, “we have seen this shift towards running what is in effect a parallel penal system.” This system runs in secret: decisions are made in secret by officials; the claimant is not legally represented; the punishment is applied before they get a hearing; and if the claimant does get a hearing it is long after the sanction has been applied. All this, he suggested, should be “totally unacceptable in a democratic society.”

Others on the panel backed up the idea that the system is punitive. Chris Mould of the foodbank network The Trussell Trust said they had seen “frequent examples of punitive and disproportionate [sanction] decisions” and that sanctions were one of the main reasons for food bank referrals. Peter Dwyer, of York University, said that sanctions were being applied in an automated fashion, for being two minutes late for an appointment, for example. He had the impression, he said, that ‘support’ in the system had become secondary, and that sanctions were being used as a deterrent against people claiming benefits.

Webster has estimated that since the new sanctions regime started in October 2012, £275 million has been withheld because of sanctions of JSA claimants. More evidence will be heard in two further sessions, one this Wednesday and one later this month. Most people won’t be as critical of sanctions as David Webster. Nevertheless, this inquiry presents an opportunity for us to shout about how sanctions are unacceptable and punitive and that we won’t tolerate them any longer. Below are a few ideas of things you can do to take action and challenge the sanctions regime.

Take action

1. Sign the petition for an end to all benefit sanctions and share it!
2. The Sanctions Inquiry will hear vast evidence of the damage that sanctions cause, but the committee has said from the outset that in its view sanctions “can be a useful tool for encouraging engagement with employment support”. Sadly, this is the prevailing framework used even by people or organisations who also highlight the horrific impact of sanctions.

This means we have a lot of work to do to bring people back to the basic human reality that there is no fair way to threaten and impose poverty and destitution.

Please use the Sanctions Inquiry as an opportunity to influence those who help sustain workfare and sanctions or could do more to challenge them – perhaps your MP, your church, a charity you support, or your union.

  • Tell them your experience of sanctions and/or why you oppose them.
  • Ask them in what circumstances they think it could ever be right to punish people with hunger and destitution.
  • Invite them to read Boycott Workfare’s submission to the Inquiry to learn more.
  • Encourage them to publicly state their opposition to all sanctions and to work to bring them to an end.

Let us know how you get on!

Make sure Cancer Research keep to their word

Cancer Research have told the Guardian they are pulling out of Mandatory Work Activity - but what about the other schemes?

After numerous workfare placements in their stores, Cancer Research now say they will cancel any placements they hear of

Despite having formally pulled out of workfare in 2012, we recently heard of two people who were referred to undertake six month long Community Work Placements at Cancer Research shops in London. One of the persons concerned complained. She was informed by the Head of Retail Operations:

  • Cancer Research UK do not have and never has had a national relationship with a mandated scheme which affects people’s benefits as these do… we have had local arrangements, however these were brought to a close almost two years ago.
  • When this is brought to our attention we make sure all details are thoroughly investigated and appropriate action is taken to stop this from happening.
  • All shops shops nationally received… a communication once again clarifying our policy not to accept, however underhand some of the agencies have approached shop managers, individuals on a placements scheme.
  • There have been some challenges and confusion at local level where shop teams may have missed reminders or their initial training or where the agency hasn’t been clear as to the nature of the scheme someone is joining us on. However, following this complaint, 10 placements were withdrawn.

Anyone out there in the world of Community Work Placements or facing workfare on another scheme, please ensure Cancer Research UK stay true to this commitment.

However if you do find yourself in the position of being mandated to attend one of their retail outlets do contact Julie Byard, Head of Retail Operations. Please bring to her attention that a workfare placement has been mandated, and request it be rescinded immediately.

Bypass the Work Placement Provider and approach Cancer Research UK, Head Office, Angel Building, 407 St John Street, London EC1V 4AD. Phone No. 0300 123 1022.

And if you’re passing a local Cancer Research store, why not pop in and check they are sticking to a workfare-free policy too?

Let Boycott Workfare know how you got on. Good luck!

Workfare doesn’t work in Ireland either

A blackboard showing that young people are left with nothing to live onBoycott Workfare members recently met Irish activists challenging workfare from young people’s organisations We’re Not Leaving and #WorkMustPay, and Paul Murphy TD, who set up the Scambridge website. Here’s what they learnt.

The Irish government’s response to huge unemployment rates of over 10% (and more than double that for young people) follows the same disastrous blueprint as many others in Europe: more sanctions, more conditionality and the introduction of workfare.

Its “Gateway” scheme puts claimants to work in public sector jobs for twenty hours a week for nearly two years, all for a bonus  €20/week on top of the ‘dole’. With a thousand placements already having taken place and a further 3000 planned, it’s clear unpaid work on this scale is plugging the gaps left in a public sector which has already lost over 45,000 jobs in austerity’s squeeze.

The fact that workfare clearly replaces jobs has been no deterrent to the Irish government, who also continue to push the JobBridge scheme as a solution to unemployment: This despite the fact that 200 employers (3% of the total) have admitted to displacing paid workers with claimants on JobBridge. A further 29% admitted they would have advertised a paid role if free labour hadn’t been on offer.

JobBridge sends so-called “interns” to businesses and charities on 30-hour a week 6-9 month placements, while the government pays the claimant a top-up €50/week on their ‘dole’. Current advertised roles include a butcher, a chef and a medical receptionist, clearly core roles in the businesses profiting from free labour. If you refuse to either attend a course or become free labour for a company which used to pay wages, you risk your benefits being docked for “not engaging”. Campaigners told us that since local Social Welfare offices have discretion on how they apply sanctions, prejudice is rife: it is often people from lower income backgrounds, manual workers and non-graduates who face the penalties first.

The only deterrent to an employer from using JobBridge “interns” to replace paid workers is the risk that they might not get another free “intern” for a period of a few months. Munster Express newspaper was caught out using JobBridge for its photography – an essential role that clearly should be paid. But after its two month ban was served, it was happily advertising placements again. The names of the other forty employers who have been caught out haven’t been published, so they haven’t even risked damage to their reputation.

There seem to be few or no checks on who can advertise a placement either. #WorkMustPay exposed this last month: ‘Howth Railway Refreshment Rooms Ltd’ were fined €6,750 in 2005 for nine breaches of legislation regarding the employment of minors where in one case it was found that a 15 year old was made to work an 11 hour shift. Regardless of this, the company involved were allowed to advertise for three JobBridge internships: two as social media positions and one as a graphic designer.

The rules state that businesses must leave a six month breather between placements before filling the same role using JobBridge. However, one of the interns we met told us that part of their role had been to rewrite their own job description so that they could be replaced with more free labour when their time was up: effectively writing themselves out of any possibility that the role will ever become paid.

Another pernicious scheme is promised: JobPath, modelled on the UK’s dire Work Programme, is set to launch in early 2015. Ireland’s new scheme is based on one in which more people have been sanctioned than have found work, and which was found to be worse than doing nothing at all. Contracts for JobPath have been awarded to Turas Nua, a consortium including UK company Working Links, and to Seetec, the most vindictive Work Programme contractor for sanctioning people in the UK. In one week alone, they referred 4,417 people for sanctions. They have also been accused of malpractice in their contract for work with disabled people.

The Work Programme’s “black box” approach, which means private companies can demand almost any action from jobseekers on the threat of sanctions, has become a “grey box” approach in the JobPath literature. However, it is clear that the emphasis will be the same: recasting unemployment as a problem with individuals’ effort and motivation rather than with the economy. Joan Burton, the Tánaiste (deputy prime minister), explains the approach as being “to facilitate, to incentivise, to motivate and to activate jobseekers back to employment”. It seems likely therefore that the arrival of JobPath will mean importing the coercive psychology so widespread in the UK’s welfare to work industry in order to restructure claimants’ expectations and attitudes, while the possibility of decent work becomes ever more elusive.

Evidence and claimant experience are clearly irrelevant to the European governments bent on implementing austerity. As national governments work to restructure the economy to meet businesses’ needs for flexibility at ever greater cost to job conditions, the agenda is also being rolled out at EU level. Irish campaigners highlighted to us that the EU’s Youth Guarantee is pushing workfare out across Europe. In practice, its offer of “job, apprenticeship, traineeship, or continued education” is a recipe for putting access to paid work further from the reach of young people by introducing and extending layers of unpaid work in the economy. No surprise that “work experience” and “work placements” feature high on the list for Ireland’s pilot of the Youth Guarantee in Ballymun.

The young people on JobBridge placements told us how quickly work without jobs and welfare cuts for under 26s have become normalised. Many young people now expect JobBridge to be the first kind of work they will find on leaving school or graduating. In a country whose public services have faced decimating cuts, and where funding to the voluntary sector has been slashed, being able to do useful and rewarding work for a charity or NGO while claiming jobseekers’ benefits can be an attractive option. As in the UK, taking on the ethical issues surrounding workfare, benefit sanctions and unpaid work in the voluntary sector is crucial.

But despite the creep of unpaid work and sanctions in Ireland, its route down the path of austerity suddenly looks less certain. In recent months, the government’s plans to privatise water have met with mass resistance and the water charges, which were meant to take effect from this month, have been postponed and a capped rate introduced. This success has changed the mood and increasingly people are articulating their discontent with austerity more broadly: including with unpaid work and benefit sanctions.

When we met young people’s organisations “We’re Not Leaving” and “#WorkMustPay”, and Paul Murphy TD, who set up the “Scambridge” website to challenge JobBridge, all were energised from their recent successes in the water charges campaign. It was exciting to realise the possibilities of what action on both sides of the Irish Sea might look like: Can we in the UK use the fact that the Irish managed to stop Tesco’s plans to use hundreds of JobBridge placements to challenge its use of workfare here? Might charities like Oxfam that have pledged to boycott workfare in the UK, also pledge not to use JobBridge or JobPath placements? As our campaigns grow, it is clear that we will be stronger for working together. Because the drive to normalise unpaid work and increase welfare conditionality is Europe-wide, our resistance must be too.

Follow the Irish campaigns: We’re Not Leaving on Twitter and Facebook & #WorkMustPay on Twitter.

Pushing workfare closer to collapse: 2014 a year of successful actions

crowd with boycott workfare banner

Direct action and online pressure meant thousands of workfare placements were prevented in 2014

At the tribunal, the DWP argued that if the public knew exactly where people were being sent on placements political protests would increase, which was likely to lead to the collapse of several employment schemes and undermine the government’s economic interests.

Guardian, 3 November 2014

Get a mirror. Got it? Good! Now take a look at yourself. Yes you. The amazing person looking back at you has made a real difference. A massive difference in fact. In the last year, people who know instinctively that workfare and sanctions are just plain wrong have pushed workfare closer to collapse. That’s the government’s own view, given as evidence in court in October 2014.

Here are just a few of the ways amazing people like you have helped make it happen:

Winning: Community Work Placements delayed and undermined

no one wants workfare (IDS and war memorials, CWP)A new, punitive, six-month workfare scheme to launch in April 2014 was the headline policy from the previous Conservative Party conference. But the scale of public opposition to workfare means that rolling out more forced unpaid work wasn’t going to be easy for them.

  • The War Memorials Trust rapidly rebutted Cameron’s headline claims that the unemployed would be put to work “restoring war memorials”.
  • Our opposition helped to delay the scheme’s roll-out by several months.
  • The Boycott Workfare week of action at the start of April persuaded major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA to say that the new CWP scheme was one step too far even for them.
  • George Osborne’s first PR visit for the scheme backfired when it prompted such a huge public response that a week later, Byteback IT pulled out, thanking people for bringing the issues around workfare to their attention.
  • Encouraged by hundreds of supporters on social media and elsewhere, charities came out en masse to say no to workfare…

Keeping volunteering voluntary: Charities say no to workfare and sanctions

Logo of Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign - hands raisedIn 2014 – thanks to the great work of the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign – over 500 charities have come out against workfare, pledging publicly not to take part. This is important: many workfare schemes rely on placements for so-called “community benefit”, so need the co-operation of the voluntary sector. 500 organisations which will not take part in workfare removes thousands of potential placements. The growing consensus that charities want no part in workfare and benefit sanctions is a huge huge blow to the welfare to work industry and workfare.

The KVV list already includes many household names – such as Shelter, Oxfam, Crisis, Scope and the Trussell Trust – as well as umbrella bodies and local organisations.

As Oxfam put it “These schemes involve forced volunteering, which is not only an oxymoron, but undermines people’s belief in the enormous value of genuine voluntary work.” Help invite more organisations to sign up!

Turning the tide: Councils refuse workfare

A park in Scarborough

120 Mandatory Work Activity Placements took place for Scarborough Borough Council, but the scheme has now been cancelled!

This time last year, the Guardian and the Mirror covered our research showing that councils in the UK had used more than half a million hours of workfare. Within days, Scarborough Council, one of the worst workfare-using councils in the UK pulled out! It had taken 120 Mandatory Work Activity placements in its Parks Department, where cuts to staff had recently been proposed. This success should mean jobs are now a little more secure.

Since then, 24 more councils have pledged to boycott workfare. You can ask your council to do the same here.

Winning the argument: Workfare in the courts

real crime is workfareAs the unprecedented retrospective workfare legislation passed with the help of Labour in 2013 showed, the government considers itself above the law when it comes to workfare. But that doesn’t mean that workfare schemes were compatible with human rights law nor that the government has the right to withhold information from the public. In 2014:

  • On 5 July, the High Court ruled that emergency workfare legislation in 2013 was not compatible with the human right to a fair trial.
  • In June, an Upper Tribunal judge ruled that the DWP must reveal the list of organisations using workfare. The DWP fears that the public response to this list could make the schemes “collapse” and has appealed again.
  • In October, the DWP was back in the courts again, trying keep information on workfare out of the public domain, this time revealing just how fearful of public opposition to the schemes it is.

Challenging psychological coercion

“Employers the world over agree: it’s all about the right mindset” – James Reed, Chair of workfare providers  Reed

“Employers the world over agree: it’s all about the right mindset” – James Reed, Chair of workfare providers Reed

Ever been forced to attend a course laced with “positive thinking” mumbo-jumbo or referred to a psychologist for ‘asking too many questions’? If so, you’ll understand why it’s so important to push back against the government and workfare industry’s attempts to blame unemployed people for the state of the economy.

In 2014, we won an important step in challenging the psychological coercion used by the workfare industry. After a prolonged effort from Boycott Workfare members, with support from academics and mental health activists, the new president elect of the British Psychological Society (BPS), Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, has agreed to launch an enquiry into the misuse of psychology in workfare and the role of BPS. You can tweet BPS to keep up the pressure here.

Direct action: Weeks of action get the goods

blockade of salvation army shop

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty shut down a workfare-using Salvation Army shop for three hours

When charities and businesses realise the brand damage and disruption that involvement in workfare brings, it often doesn’t take long for them to reconsider their involvement.

Direct action at the start of April persuaded major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA to say they would not take part in the new Community Work Placement scheme, although it remains to convince them to withdraw from workfare altogether.

In October, the week of action against workfare led to four major charities (Scope, Barnardos, BHF and Traid) cancelling their involvement in Community Work Placement schemes too!

Making connections: Growing grassroots action to challenge workfare and sanctions

Effigy of the manager of the forced labour centre made out of the sponges that people on workfare are forced to cut

Effigy of the manager of a forced labour centre in the Netherlands made out of the sponges that people on workfare are forced to cut

In February, our Welfare Action Gathering brought together over a hundred people from 12 different groups to share information and strategies and plan co-ordinated action. It sowed the seeds for the launch of the hugely successful Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign. As more and more welfare action groups emerge across the UK, find a group taking action against workfare near you here.

In the year when workfare in New York City was finally brought to an end, we built links with anti-workfare campaigners across Europe too: Boycott Workfare members have met people from the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland who are campaigning to stop workfare and sanctions in their countries too.

In 2015, watch this space for more workshops, gatherings and international links!

Ending hundreds of placements: Local action works

bulky bobs furniture store

Bulky Bobs stepped back from workfare saying “we are happy to support Liverpool IWW in their efforts to persuade the DWP to scrap Workfare”

Workfare is weakest where we are strongest. When people mobilise in response to workfare placements in their area, it makes a huge impact.

In 2014, football fans in Dulwich persuaded their club to drop workfare. In Liverpool, Bulky Bobs not only stepped back from workfare but signed a joint statement with IWW calling on other businesses to do the same! Bristol’s May Day workfare protest persuaded St Werburghs City Farm to end its Mandatory Work Activity placements.

People taking action in Sheffield picketing Savers and TCV described passers by as “without exception” sympathetic. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty’s impressive blockades of workfare profiteers like Salvation Army were an important deterrent to other potential workfare users.

When John McArthur was sent to work unpaid for his former employer, he chose instead to picket the recycling plant on a daily basis. His action inspired hundreds of people to contact LAMH Recycling and it pulled out too!

Haringey Solidarity Group (HSG) have kept their ear to the ground with weekly “know your rights” and “blow the whistle” leafleting sessions outside Community Work Placement provider Urban Futures. As well as showing solidarity with people facing bullying and mistreatment on the punitive scheme, HSG have discovered who the local workfare users are. Their actions have brought placements at Traid, Cancer Research and Marie Curie to an end, and they are working hard to end the 50 placements at North London Hospice shops.

As major charities and high street shops boycott workfare, placements increasingly take place in local businesses and charities which is why this kind of local action is really important. Every placement we end makes it more difficult and expensive for workfare providers to profit from these schemes. And our impact can be seen in the numbers: Figures published in May 2014 showed a significant decrease in Mandatory Work Activity referrals.

 

Many people who follow and support our campaign are claiming some form of social security. They may have suffered the scapegoating of the media; abuse and terrible treatment at the sanction-obsessed Jobcentre; or been subject to the positive-thinking, double-speak thought police at workfare providers. If you are one of these people, then you should be especially proud. Whilst the media, millionaire politicians, and workfare profiteers tell us we are to blame, they have failed to break us. With every action you have taken, or workfare user you have named and shamed, you have given others hope.

So look back over the year and see what you have helped to achieve in the campaign against workfare and be very proud of yourself. Together we have made a massive impact. To win on workfare is to defeat those waging war on living standards and the welfare state. We can do it: just look at what you have helped to achieve already.

Help make a difference this coming year too! Join our email list and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Share this blog on social media to inspire others to get involved too!

Take part in the Manchester Boycott Workfare Action Against Mustard Tree

Workfare is forcing people to work for free using the threat of sanctions (removal of welfare benefits).  DWP Workfare schemes have already led to thousands relying on food handouts, caused or aggravated mental health issues, suicides and homelessness. Yet unbelievably, despite this being well documented and researched, a charity who work with homeless people are using Workfare!

Come along to let a charity that works with the homeless understand that it’s unacceptable to use workfare – an exploitative programme that causes poverty and destitution.

Where and when? December 22nd, 12pm at Mustard Tree, 110 Oldham Rd, Ancoats, Manchester, M4 6AG

Unlike most users in the voluntary sector, who do their best to snidely disguise or hide their involvement, Mustard Tree have openly defended their use of this forced labour (you have to appreciate their sense of humour though in calling it the “Freedom Project”). This, despite acknowledging the fundamental injustices of  workfare and the sanctions regime that underpins it.

Some classic quotes from Mustard Tree:

”On one hand the jobless should not be forced to undertake work or to work for their benefits…”

“Increasingly the good people that Mustard Tree has traditionally supported are trapped in WorkFare.”

“we oppose some of the core elements of Workfare”

Mustard Tree, if you want to offer valuable and genuinely voluntary placements, then do. But don’t actively support a regime of forced labour that punishes and starves those who choose not to be involved or turn up late one day. Using workfare means being part of a system that contributes to homelessness, that takes financial resources away from this exact community. It makes a mockery of the concept of volunteering and a mockery of the idea of a charity who help the homeless.

If you can’t make the demonstration in Manchester on Monday, then you can Tweet to @themustardtree. And Mustard Tree can be reached on the phone (01612287331) and by email (info@mustardtree.co.uk).

Come out and stand in solidarity with homeless people and all those forced to undergo this exploitative regime. Show Mustard Tree that we will not tolerate this in our city: that there can be no place for unpaid and forced labour anywhere, let alone in a homeless charity.