Archive for Unemployment

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.

Make sure your festive charity giving doesn’t support workfare

Salvation Army band

When donating to charity this festive season, many people will wish to avoid charities such as Salvation Army which put people at risk of destitution by using workfare.

Today’s the launch of #GivingTuesday in the UK when charities encourage people to share their festive cheer with donations. This month is one of the most important of the year for charity fundraising. Boycott Workfare encourages people to think twice before giving to organisations that use workfare.

To view a list of those charities you may wish to avoid donating to, click here. Sadly the list of those still willing to put poor people at risk of destitution through benefit sanctions still includes big names such as Salvation Army, YMCA, RSPCA and others, as well as many local charities and hospice shops.

If you’d like to know which charities are committed to avoiding workfare and to Keeping Volunteering Voluntary, see the list of nearly 500 voluntary organisations that have signed the pledge here.

And if you’d like to donate to help bring down workfare, your donation will go a long way. Please feel free to do so by clicking on the Donate button below.

Take action online: Workfare Profiteers’ annual get together

Boycott Workfare banner

Previous conferences of workfare profiteers have faced occupations, disruption and twitterstorms to challenge their business of carving up welfare for profit. Take action online on Monday 1 December!

Monday 1st December is conference time for the ‘Employment Related Services Association’ whose speciality is ‘Championing the welfare to work industry’, i.e. lobbying and spin for workfare profiteers.

The profiteers have a luxury hotel booked for this annual celebration of all the money they are making from workfare. An opportunity to hear Esther McVey describe her plans to psychometrically test the unemployed for ‘resistance to work’. Not to be outdone, she’ll be joined by shadow employment minister Stephen Timms; just to prove that Labour and the Con/Dems are as one when it comes to their commitment to workfare, sanctions and the dismantling of labour rights.

If you don’t have the £450 registration fee to hand, you could always find other ways to let ERSA know your views on people whose profits depend on forced unpaid labour and the no pay/low pay economy that workfare sustains.

If you haven’t come across this lot before, here’s a helpful glossary for the language they use from Another Angry Voice:

Voluntary = Forced
Support = Punishment
Opportunity = Compulsion
Help = Hindrance

Let them know what you think of people who make money from ‘help to work’ contracts designed to annihilate workers’ rights and plunge those who resist into poverty and destitution.

Tweet them: Tweet to @ersa_news
Phone: 0203 757 9415 (always worth asking for a senior manager – the person answering the phone could well be on workfare themselves. The Chief Executive is Kirsty McHugh)
Email: membership@ersa.org.uk

It’s no surprise to find support for this festival of workfare exploiters coming from the Shaw Trust, the Papworth Trust, Tomorrow’s People and Groundwork. But it’s disappointing to find Julia Unwin from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the programme – in a session headed ‘better together’. Even more troubling that she’s on the platform with Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham Council and responsible for evicting the Focus E15 Mothers.

Then on 3rd December, the Institute of Employability Professionals (making a career out of delivering workfare) is holding a leadership event at the Olympic Park, London. Book your place at events@iemployability.org They say you are welcome to bring a friend.

Previous workfare profiteers’ conferences have faced occupations, disruption and twitterstorms to challenge their business of carving up welfare for profit. We know that taking action is effective! Workfare is falling apart – as more and more organisations refuse to take on forced labour. Without placements, the ‘employability’ sector will collapse.

It’s working against workfare: Bulky Bob’s and LAMH pull out of Community Work Placements scheme

bulky bobs furniture store

Bulky Bobs and LAMH Recycling have both stepped back from workfare in the last few weeks!

It’s been a bad month for workfare: anti-workfare protests and campaigns in various parts of the country have been gaining ground at the expense of the DWP’s schemes. Campaigners are causing myriad problems for the Department for Work and Pensions: it is increasingly difficult for them find and keep placement providers for their Community Work Placements (CWP) scheme.

As Shiv Malik reported in the Guardian earlier this month, even the DWP admits that our actions are working. At the Information Commission tribunal hearing – where the DWP are challenging court orders telling them to release the list of organisations that are involved in workfare schemes – they 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”. Well, it would be a shame not to prove them right.

Successful attempts to get charities and other organisations to stop their involvement in workfare this month have taken many forms. There have been online actions; the work of the campaign urging charities to Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV); persistent one-man protests outside placement providers; and actions which didn’t even have to take place to get Bulky Bob’s to stop using workfare!

By some accounts, it was merely the threat of Liverpool IWW arriving at local household waste recycling firm Bulky Bob’s for the protest they had planned for the 12th of November that moved them to withdraw from workfare – although online actions by Liverpool IWW and others helped to pile pressure on the company’s management. Bulky Bob’s have also agreed to sign the KVV pledge, promising not to get involved in further unpaid work schemes. You can see their statement on their website here.

John MacArthur protested on his own for 2 hours a day outside the Motherwell (Scotland) charity ‘LAMH’ (Lanarkshire Association for Mental Health). He had been employed by the association at minimum wage in 2010-11, but recently was referred to them for unpaid work as part of the 6 month Community Work Placement programme. He was sanctioned in August – his Jobseeker’s Allowance was stopped until January for refusing to work for no wages at LAMH, leaving him “living on 16p tins of spaghetti”. But John made sure his former employers were aware of his situation and the negative publicity LAMH received induced them to drop out of the CWP scheme.

Sustained campaigning against workfare schemes has been destabilising the DWP’s schemes at every level this month, and clearly they’ve been feeling it. Let’s all support each other to keep up the good work going forward.

If you have any actions planned you’d like us to publicise, or any recent actions you’d like us to mention, get in touch at info@boycottworkfare.org.

Targetting the weak and vulnerable

It is a while since we have posted on here, but a story in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper concerning the proposals to end Contributions Based Employment & Support Allowance for claimants after 12 months cannot pass without comment. The story can be found here.

It has been apparent to our advisers over recent months that the DWP appears to be targetting the most vulnerable members of society. We see this on a regular basis with clients who have been sanctioned (i.e. had their benefit suspended). Invariably those who are affected are those who speak little English and are unlikely to fight back. Decisions on sanctions can be challenged (although you need to provide evidence that you were seeking work during the period you were sanctioned for).

The deliberate targetting of the sick and disabled, which has been going for some time now, is a further area in which the DWP is attacking the vulnerable. Disabled people and those who are too sick to work feel, justifiably, that they are being victimised. The Guardian report quotes a DWP spokesperson as saying of the terminally ill: The process of working may even be helpful in giving them a sense of being useful and prolonging their lives. So it seems that Government policy is not only to victimise the weakest members of society but to force them to work until the day they die.

They should hang their heads in shame. So too should anyone who voted for the Condem parties who are targetting the weakest members of society and making them pay for the mistakes of the banking elite whose gambling excesses have precipitated the financial situation the country is in.

Big thanks to all who took part: Week of action gets results!

crowd with boycott workfare banner

Three workfare providers – Urban Futures, LearnDirect and Avanta – faced occupations and blockades

So, what did last week show us? When you take action, you get results.

Scope, Barnardos and British Heart Foundation have cancelled their involvement with CWP 6-month workfare. Traid pulled out too when an action was called outside its store in Wood Green. That’s four national charities who were forced to respond following pressure from you.

With over 17 actions in the UK and beyond, and hundreds of people taking action online, we stepped up pressure on workfare which is unpopular and vulnerable.

In Edinburgh, compulsory courses at workfare provider Learndirect were cancelled when 60 people blockaded its office. In London, provider Urban Futures faced an occupation at the same time, exposing managers’ nasty attitudes towards claimants. In Brighton, people invaded provider Avanta and handed out leaflets.

Job centres were rebranded "sanctions" centres

Job centres were rebranded “sanctions” centres

Actions took place at job centres, which were rebranded “sanctions centres” instead. This report from the demo in Peckham shows why: “They appear to be sanctioning people at the rate of between 30 and 45 people per day. Some people have received sanctions of 10 months for a ‘first offence’! They seem to be ignoring the official guidelines about sanctions periods entirely and making up as they go along. We also heard about a 6 month pregnant woman with child who was sanctioned for two months for being one minute late.”

The Trades Union Congress was bombarded with tweets and emails, while claimants from Kilburn demonstrated, asking the TUC how it can march for a “pay rise” while actively supporting “no-pay” Traineeships for young people and sanctions.

outside the tuc

“Welfare woman” and others challenged the TUC’s support for sanctions and workfare

With the government set on extending workfare and sanctions to the working poor next, the huge level of support in the week of action shows that the public are with us. In Sheffield “shoppers were, without exception, sympathetic” to the picket outside workfare exploiter Savers. “Some people had experienced workfare schemes themselves and were pleased that we were making the issue a public one.” People know that workfare means increased poverty via sanctions, and replaces paid work.

In the Netherlands, the anti-workfare campaign Doorbraak also took part in the week of action, pushing the mayor of Amsterdam to pledge to end to workfare next year. Austrian unemployed group “Aktion Arbeitslose” helped build support as well.

By holding those who profit from workfare to account and having a massive impact – at a time when permanent austerity and social injustice are the policy order of the day – your actions bring hope. We show each other that we are not alone. People’s actions in New York have brought workfare to an end in the city where it began. Whilst claimants have been abandoned by the Coalition Government, Labour and sadly even the TUC – they have not been abandoned by you. So let’s keep the pressure up!

A massive thank you to everyone who took part in any way in the week of action. If your action isn’t mentioned here, but you’d like it to be, please email info@boycottworkfare.org 

Take action: Invite organisations to Keep Volunteering Voluntary

KVV logoAll week we’ve been inviting people to take part in online action to challenge workfare. If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, please take a minute to:

Today we’re supporting the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign’s call for people to contact the charities and voluntary organisations you support to invite them to pledge to shun workfare too. Read on for more info and a template letter, and follow Keep Volunteering Voluntary on twitter and facebook.

There are a lot of organisations who have said they won’t take workfare, but still a lot who do. We want all voluntary work to be freely chosen, not a means for private companies to make profits or Jobcentres to force people off benefits. Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV) have set up a pledge and already 430 organisations have signed!

You can help to encourage organisations to sign up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary in several ways. Firstly check whether they are already on the list of sign-ups.

  • If you use or support a charity, try to find out whether they use workfare, and in any case ask them to sign up to KVV.
  • If there is a local charity shop, go in and talk to the people there: find out whether there is anyone there on workfare, and ask the organisation to sign up to KVV.
  • If you work or volunteer at a voluntary organisation, try to get them to sign up.
  • If a place you work or volunteer at has any links with a voluntary organisation, try to contact them too.

Download this template letter you can take to a charity shop, or adapt as an email to send to a voluntary organization.

Some responses you may get and how to reply:

“We’ve already signed up.” – great, well done!
“We don’t have anyone on workfare.” – so you won’t mind signing up to KVV then.
“We’re helping the unemployed gain experience.” – that’s not of much value if they don’t want to be there.
“What’s wrong with (unpaid) volunteers.” – there’s no objection to genuine volunteers, but to compulsory schemes and coercion.
“The people on placement want to be here.” – that’s fine, but they shouldn’t be threatened with sanctions.

If you can get any kind of statement from an organisation, that’s always useful – a way in to further dialogue, or good publicity for the campaign. Let Boycott Workfare know and we’ll pass it on to KVV as well.

Some charities – such as Age UK – have a national office but each local area branch is ‘independent’ and may sign up separately. So if you see a local branch signed up but not your area, that’s an added incentive for your local to sign up too.

Without charity’s support, workfare schemes will collapse. That’s why every extra new organisation to sign up is so important – helping build consensus in the voluntary sector that workfare is completely at odds with its aims and values.

A massive thanks to everyone who has taken part online and organised demonstrations throughout the week of action! There are more protests in Amsterdam and Peckham today, and in Bristol, Haringey and Sheffield tomorrow!

Urban Futures occupied: Six months’ workfare no way!

Urban Futures are the subcontractors for Community Work Placements in Haringey. We went there to challenge them and let people know their rights!

Urban Futures are the subcontractors for Community Work Placements in Haringey. They treat people like rubbish. We went there to challenge them and let people know their rights!

Here’s a report from today’s occupation of Community Work Placement provider Urban Futures!

Today members of Haringey Solidarity Group and Boycott Workfare paid a visit to workfare provider Urban Futures in Wood Green. Fifteen people occupied the office with banners and a soundsystem – challenging Urban Futures on their treatment of claimants and speaking to people on enforced jobsearch about their experiences and sharing info on their rights.

We’d already heard that the managers are aggressive and bullying towards claimants, so expected the same. But the short occupation revealed the nasty attitudes throughout the staff team – about ten staff tried to hassle people out and came out with some revealing lines, taunting a number of us that we should “get a job” (yawn). When one of us replied that he had a job, they replied, “I can’t believe you have a job, looking like that.”

Staff grabbed and tore up know your rights leaflets

Staff grabbed and tore up know your rights leaflets

Staff tried to make sure claimants didn’t access info on their rights. They confiscated leaflets and tore them up, and blocked the doors to rooms where claimants were doing job search. They grabbed phones and bags off people and tried to take the banner too.

But this didn’t stop us making our point: by the time ten police turned up, almost every claimant had a copy of the flyer, we’d had some good chats and staff had been taken away from their nasty work for some time! On our way out, we ran into people mandated onto training courses with Urban Futures. They were really pleased to see us there, until the manager came up and, treating them like children, tried to shoo them back into the building. “Don’t speak to them, they’re doing meaningful activity,” the manager told us, before adding contemptuously, “unlike you, who have time on your hands.”

Today’s occupation is part of ongoing action by Haringey Solidarity Group to expose and challenge Urban Future’s role in mass workfare in Haringey. At weekly leafleting sessions outside their offices, disturbing stories of bullying and mistreatment have emerged. So much so that it is rumoured that a local Jobcentre has suspended referrals to Urban Futures pending investigation into claimants’ treatment.

A successful action with more to come

A successful action with more to come

Community Work Placements shouldn’t exist, but Urban Futures don’t even seem to be following the rules: most placements appear to be in charity shops (this kind of placement is meant to be capped at 25%), claimants are told to make up time for hospital appointments, staff give people the answers in numeracy and literacy tests, and placements are rarely matched to people’s job goals.

But today’s action aimed to put Urban Futures on notice: we are watching, we will make sure people know their rights and we will do everything we can to discourage organisations from accepting forced work placements from them. Just last week, ten placements at Traid were cancelled. This Saturday, Haringey Solidarity Group will be calling on North London Hospices to do the same.

Urban Futures weren’t the only workfare provider to face protests today. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty blockaded Learn Direct in Edinburgh too!

Take Action: bring down Groundwork’s CWP in the North East

groundwork ne cwp placement hosts

Update: since this action launched, Groundworks have realised that we have a screenshot, so put their list back online here. After a day of messages from you, Scope has been removed from the list. Please keep asking BHF and Barnardos why they are still listed though!

Community Work Placements would collapse without support from major charities.   Today, as part of our week of action, we are contacting the major charities who provide CWP placements for Groundwork in the North East of England (six months’ workfare for 30 hours per week). We’re asking them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.

Yesterday, the website of Groundwork North East listed all the charities providing them with placements.  These include Cheshire Homes, British Heart Foundation, Barnardo’s and Scope, as well as over 15 more local voluntary agencies in Redcar or who are part of Redcar Voluntary & Community Sector.  As Groundwork also say, as well as having a ‘fantastic working relationship with the local job centres’,  they work in close partnership with Christians against Poverty and local food banks.

What they don’t say is that workfare is a major cause of poverty and a major reason why people end up depending on food banks for food.  We know how Community Work Placements are being marketed to employers as a way of replacing paid jobs.

Groundwork have since removed the webpage – but we’ve got a screenshot (click on the image above to enlarge it).

The involvement of well known national charities is disappointing.  BHF have previously stated “We are not involved in the Help to Work scheme.  Barnardo’s have said  “Barnardo’s does not take part in any mandatory work activity. We have been clear that we are against the principle of benefits sanctions”. Scope are signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement, which commits them to not taking part in any government workfare scheme.

So what’s going on? It looks like the  culture of secrecy surrounding workfare (e.g. the refusal of Freedom of Information requests,  redaction of placement providers from contracts on the grounds of ‘commercial sensitivity) is enabling placement brokers like Groundwork to mis-sell forced labour as volunteering.

We have to ask: is this secrecy  compatible with the duty of charities to be open and honest about their activities?  To ensure that the public, who donate to charities, are fully aware of whether they do, or do not, support forced unpaid labour in any guise?

We understand that because all aspects of workfare are cloaked in secrets and lies, some charities providing placements may well have been misinformed.  It can be especially difficult for small, local charities to avoid being deceived.  But if an organisation gets a letter that refers to the same group of people as ‘unpaid employees’, ‘volunteers’, and ‘unemployed people’ – and emphasises that the organisation won’t have to pay anything for them (even travel costs) – then alarm bells should start ringing.  And when well known workfare fixers like Groundwork get in touch, it’s more than likely it’s for placements for JSA claimants who’ve already been unpaid on the work programme and are now being sent on CWP for up to six months more unpaid labour.

As for British Heart Foundation, Barnado’s and Scope: you can let them know that the public expect them to honour their commitments not to take part in workfare. And expect them to remember that they have a duty of care  towards those on current placements: these organisations must ensure that they do not face sanctions or suffer as a result of the organisation withdrawing.  

You can send a message to BHF via their website or phone their head office on 020 7554 0000.  You can tweet at them Tweet to @TheBHF

You can phone Barnado’s North East regional office on 0191 240 4800, contact them on Facebook and tweet at them Tweet to @barnados

Scope – details removed since they are no longer on the list. Well done everybody!

Groundwork North East can be reached on the phone (01388 662 666), on Facebook, and on Twitter Tweet to @GroundworkNE

And Groundwork UK are on Facebook and Twitter as well Tweet to @groundworkuk.  Or you could contact them through their website, or on the phone (0121 236 8565).  They have other local branches throughout the UK.  To find contact details for the nearest one to you, look here.

Please feel free to contact the other placement hosts listed on the Groundwork North East website as well.  There’s not many, and if half pulled out, Groundwork’s CWP contract would be ruined.

Take Action: stop workfare in hospice charity shops

This week is #HospiceCareWeek.  Today, as part of our week of action, we want to contact hospices and ask them to commit to not taking part in any of the government’s workfare schemes.

SDH-logo-HCW14-3Hospices offer palliative care, social support, and practical advice – and help families through mourning and bereavement. They help people with illnesses which would otherwise massively curtail their freedom of movement be as independent as possible. This is vital and valuable work, transforming the quality of people’s lives.

Help the Hospices, the charity for hospice care in the UK, says that

 ‘A hospice is not just a building, it is a way of caring for people. Hospice care aims to improve the lives of people who have a life-limiting or terminal illness, helping them to live well before they die.’

But why are so many hospices willing to stop other people living well,  by forcing them to work for no pay under threat of sanctions?

Many hospices have local charity shops which take people through workfare schemes – especially Mandatory Work Activity.  If you’re unwilling to take part in MWA, which involves 30 hours unpaid work per week, for four weeks at a time, you’ll be hit with a minimum sanction of 13 weeks for a ‘first failure’. The maximum sanction is 3 years: 3 years of hunger, hardship and destitution.  We’ve also heard from people at hospice charity shops on mandatory work placements from the Work Programme and six-month Community Work Placements.

We know hospice shops and care centres need volunteers to run them.  And we know that hospice care across the UK relies on the work of tens of thousands of volunteers to carry on their valuable activities.  But that is no justification for forcing unemployed people to work in charity shops for weeks at a time for no wages.  Charities that take part in workfare not only undermine genuine volunteering, but are also instrumental in claimants being sanctioned and left with no income.

Plenty of volunteering organisations realise that ‘Approaches like this are demeaning, counterproductive and undermine genuine volunteering’ (in the words of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations).  They know that workfare doesn’t help people find jobs. That is why the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement has more than 430 organisations signed up to it at the moment.

One hospice, The Hospice of St Francis has already signed the agreement, pledging never to take part in any workfare scheme. We want lots more to sign, and join with the carers support organisations, parents’ support charities and many others – all of whom know that forced work is not the same thing as volunteering.

Here are four hospices you could encourage to sign up to the KVV agreement as part of #HospiceCareWeek.

If there’s a hospice near you that you know is using workfare, or that you think should sign the KVV agreement, then please get in touch with them as well! Many, many more hospice charity shops are under ‘local charities’ in our list of workfare providers.  And if you’re in London, watch out for the picket of North London Hospice by Haringey Solidarity Group at noon on Saturday.

But please remember, if you call one of their charity shops: 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.

[1] This sentence was amended on 8th October 2014, because it mistakenly suggested that St David’s Hospice had been taking part in Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) as well as taking placements from the Work Programme.  It was pointed out to us that we had conflated St David’s Hospice in North Wales (@StDavidsHospice) with St David’s Foundation Hospice Care (@SDFHC) in South Wales.  We know SDFHC have taken part in MWA in 2014.