Archive for Unemployment

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 (

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)

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 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

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