Archive for Unemployment

5 ways we’re winning against workfare. And a few ways to get rid of it altogether.

McDonalds shuts its shuttersWith the week of action against workfare coming up on 4-12 October, we wanted to share some of the things your action and active support has already achieved. With so much impact already, the week of action is the next step where you can help put an end to workfare altogether.

We have helped each other to defend our rights

The job centre and workfare providers rely on misinformation, lies and bullying to push people around. That’s why finding out and claiming our rights is so important. We find out our rights, spread the word and have helped cancel workfare placements for many who have contacted us. Our Welfare Action Gathering in February brought together tens of groups of people from around the country who take action against workfare and who support each other to get their rights on workfare, rights at the job centre and in navigating Atos’ tests.

Over 20,000 people support this campaign. The more people who know their rights the more people can say no to workfare – or help expose who is using workfare…

Our actions make workfare exploiters pull out

Workfare relies on placement providers – every time we get them to pull out is another step to ending workfare. Many big names including Argos, Holland & Barrett and PDSA have pulled out.

A highlight this year: George Osborne was publicly humiliated after a visit to promote his new 6-month brand of workfare (CWP) backfired when Byteback IT pulled out just a week later, following a backlash against workfare from the public.

The list goes on, and we’ve been keeping track of it here (where you’ll also find the crowd-sourced list of the organisations still exploiting people on workfare).

We have shrunk the number of workfare placements

We know that Workfare providers like A4E regularly complain how hard it is to find placements now that so many places are boycotting them. A DWP report into Mandatory Work Activity complained that it was unable to find placements for everyone because: “The high profile withdrawal of placements from a number of larger charities meant a sharp reduction in placements” (Dec 2012). There has since been a significant decrease in Mandatory Work Activity referrals: December 2013 had the lowest number since the summer of 2011. This is because together we are all…

Turning the tide: hundreds of charities won’t touch workfare…

Since the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign launched in April this year, 420 voluntary sector organisations have pledged to defend the values of volunteering and steer clear of workfare. Charities like Shelter, Oxfam and Crisis which tackle poverty in the UK were among the first to sign up, and have been joined by major charity umbrella bodies and tens of local organisations. In the week of action, why not contact the charities you support and ask them to sign up too?

… councils are also coming out against workfare…

Councils are beginning to take a stand against workfare too: 24 are now boycotting the schemes. Scarborough Council pulled out after we exposed them as one of the worst workfare using councils in the UK. You can ask your council to join them here. Little wonder that…

The DWP is scared the schemes will “collapse” when the public know who is exploiting workfare…

When the DWP tries to find yet another way not to reveal the list of the businesses and charities exploiting people on workfare schemes, we know we’ve got them running scared. They’ve said they’re worried the schemes will “collapse” when the public discovers which brands are exploiting people on the schemes. There’s good reason for it too: we are succeeding in pushing back workfare.

That’s why your action is so important…

Take part in the week of action on 4-12 October in whatever way you can:

  • Take part in one of the actions already called in Edinburgh, Brighton, London, Amsterdam or Bristol or check out the list of workfare exploiters and plan your own action!
  • Visit the boycottworkfare.org website Mon-Fri in the week of action and get involved in mass online actions!
  • Help spread the word: Invite your friends to the Facebook event.

Work without pay is a threat to everyone. Whether you’re in paid work or not, you need to know that these schemes replace paid work, undermine the welfare state, and undermine wages and working conditions for everyone. Workfare is enforced with sanctions. If we don’t stop it now, the government has part-time and low paid workers in its sights for workfare and sanctions – that could be you. So support us to support you. Say no to workfare, join the rebellion and take part in the week of action!

Workfare action coming up across the UK…

learndirectThe government fears workfare could “collapse”. We want to make it do just that. On 4-12 October, take part in the week of action against workfare. The list of events is growing…. read on to find one near you, and if you can’t find one, why not plan your own? We can help – get in touch! There’ll be mass online actions on Mon-Fri of the week of action too. Get involved and help show workfare profiteers and exploiters “If you exploit us we will shut you down!”

6 Oct, Brighton Benefits Campaign picket of Avanta
Monday 6 October at 11am, Meet at Brighton Station forecourt

Join us in picketing Avanta, private provider and bully of unemployed and disabled people, sending them out as unpaid labour or forcing them into unsuitable badly paid work, and referring them for sanctions.
See the Facebook event. 

6 Oct, TUC Backs Workfare: protest at Congress House!TUC A5 Protest
Mon 6 Oct 1 – 2 pm, TUC Congress House, 23-28 Great Russell St, London WC1B 3LS, (nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road), Then 3 – 4 pm at CBI, 78 Cannon St, London EC4N 6HN (tube: Bank)

On 1 Aug 2014, the Trade Union Council (TUC) made a joint statement with Confederation of British Industries (CBI) to back Traineeships for 16 – 23 year olds.

Knowing first hand how unemployed people get harassed into workfare, get declined lunch & travel expenses to such workfares, get sanctioned or threatened with sanctions either during workfares or if they oppose them, we knew (despite TUC denying this) that TUC was now backing Workfare.

Join our protest to end this shoddy deal with Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group (KUWG) – members of Unite Community Union. Listen to your members TUC!

Download the flyer here.

9 Oct, Edinburgh Shut down LearnDirect! Let’s make workfare unworkable!
Thursday 9 October, at 12 noon, Learndirect, Conference House, 152 Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8EB

Learndirect are the workfare providers for the compulsory “work-for-your-benefits” schemes Mandatory Work Activity and the new Community Work Placements scheme, which forces jobseekers to work for nothing for six months. Learndirect profit from the forced labour schemes and shamelessly refer jobseekers for sanctions, making people penniless to try and intimidate jobseekers to submit to forced labour.

But resistance to workfare is winning. To date 422 organisations have rejected the compulsory schemes and signed the “Keep Volunteering Voluntary” agreement – including the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Christian Aid, Shelter and the Edinburgh Volunteer Centre. This month Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty approached Cancer Research UK to urge them to withdraw from workfare – they have now told Learndirect in Edinburgh that they will not take any more of their workfare “placements”.

Share the flyer. Join the Facebook event.

10 Oct, Amsterdam: action against workfare during meeting of minister with aldermen

On October 10, the action committee Dwangarbeid Nee (No to Workfare) will demonstrate during a regional meeting of Social Affairs aldermen from the west of the Netherlands. State secretary Jetta Klijnsma invited the aldermen to talk about the labour market. The committee Dwangarbeid Nee seizes the opportunity to demand the immediate abolishment of workfare, or “forced labour” as the unemployed call it.

Read more about the action and the impressive campaign in the Netherlands!

11 Oct, Bristol – Bristol Day Of Action Against Workfare!
Saturday 11 October at 12:30pm, meeting point tba

Following on from successful actions against workfare in Bristol over the past few years (no more forced unpaid labour at: St Wherburghs City Farm, Homebase, Argos, Holland & Barrat…) We will be taking to the streets again, along with others across the country.

Join the Facebook event.

11 Oct, Haringey: 6 month workfare: No way! Picket North London Hospice and Traid
Saturday 11 October, 12 noon, 19 High Road, N22 6BH – Three minutes’ walk from Turnpike Lane tube station

Hundreds of people in Haringey are being forced to work for 6 months with no pay under threat of sanctions. Profiteering Urban Futures have a contract for Community Work Placements and are busy finding placements in charities and “community benefit” projects across North London. But these schemes cannot work without charities making the placements possible – charities like North London Hospice and Traid.

Since they aim to improve lives and help people, charities should not be putting people at risk of destitution. As Haringey Solidarity Group put it “North London Hospice provides a service which places value on the quality of life of local people. Its complicity in this workfare scheme seems totally at odds with its main aims.”

Take part in this picket of North London Hospice and Traid: call on them to remember their values and withdraw from punitive workfare, which forces people to work without pay for twice the length of the maximum community service sentence.

Bring placards, noisemakers and come ready to let people know what these charities are up to. Make them realise that there is no place for workfare in our communities.

Can’t make it? Haringey Solidarity Group are asking the public to contact North London Hospice here and you can tweet @TRAID. North London Hospice and Traid have other shops across London.  If you would like to organise a picket of your local shop, Haringey Solidarity Group may be able to help you with resources.  Please get in touch: info@haringey.org.uk

Let us know if help with travel fares would help you get there. Action called by Haringey Solidarity Group and Boycott Workfare.

Do you have an event to add to this list? Email info@boycottworkfare.org to let us know!

Take part in the Boycott Workfare week of action! 4-12 October 2014

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty at one of their many workfare blockades!

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty at one of their many workfare blockades!

Forcing people to work for free through the threat of removing people’s benefits (sanctions) is unfair, unjust and wrong. In the week of action, tell the companies and charities who are profiting from this exploitative regime what you think of their involvement! Email, Tweet, use Facebook, phone them, protest, organise a flashmob: for a week of piling the pressure on workfare exploiters.

We know these tactics work! Just look at how quickly Byteback IT had to pull out when you told them what you thought after George Osborne made the mistake of visiting them. This is just one of the latest in a whole list of businesses and charities that have also pulled out of workfare following our pressure.

The latest workfare scheme, “Community Work Placements” (CWP), forces people to work for nothing for up to six months – twice the length of the maximum community service sentence for committing a crime. But there is growing resistance from the voluntary sector which the scheme needs to work: over 400 charities have signed up to Keep Volunteering Voluntary and 22 councils have pledged to boycott workfare. They know that workfare does not help people find jobs and being
unemployed is not a crime.

Resistance is paying off: the launch of the CWP scheme was massively delayed. Instead of using ‘big name’ national charities, the DWP has had to resort to small local charities and businesses to provide these Workfare placements. So local actions are all the more important! See Boycott Workfare’s list of Workfare users to find one near you.

All this means it is getting harder and harder for the government to find new employers willing to risk taking on Workfare placements. In fact the government is desperately doing all it can to avoid revealing the organisations using Workfare out of fear the schemes will collapse!

People pressure has ended Workfare in the place where it all started – New York – now let’s end it here!

Workfare undermines real paid jobs and wages; results in sanctions for thousands; does nothing to improve the chances of finding a job; and exploits those forced to take up these placements. Our actions can stop companies, charities and councils from exploiting this forced unpaid work. Wherever you are, however you can contribute, take action on 4-12 October.

Whatever you’re planning – let us know and we’ll help spread the word!

Join our Facebook event here which we will update with links to all the local actions.

The list of shame: Court tells DWP to reveal workfare users

Osborne visited Byteback to promote his new workfare scheme. Following a huge public response, a week later that company pulled out!

Two weeks ago, Osborne visited Byteback to promote his new workfare scheme. But following a huge public response, a week later that company pulled out!

“It is to be expected that some charities find it difficult if not impossible to defend themselves against the actions of Boycott Workfare.”Upper Tribunal Judge Wikeley (reaffirming the First Tier Tribunal decision)

The DWP has lost its appeal to try and keep the list of those using workfare out of the public domain. The Upper Tribunal judgement was dismissive of the DWP’s arguments, making it clear that the DWP is just playing a delaying game – anything to slow down the release of the list of all the businesses and organisations  profiting from the use of workfare.

But that’s because there’s a lot at stake. In the DWP’s own words: “put simply, disclosure of the information in relation to the MWA scheme would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA scheme” (point 12 of the decision).

It’s great news. Once again the DWP has been wrong-footed: the great work of everyone campaigning against workfare continues to pay off. The judge defended people’s right to challenge schemes with effective democratic action.

However its not over just yet: there are still a few more delaying tactics available with further avenues for appeal that the DWP might use.  Frank Zola, one of the people who put in the original requests for the names of workfare placement providers, says:

“The decision of the Upper Tribunal, on the names of Mandatory Work
Activity (MWA) hosts, has taken two and half years and throughout this
period the ICO issued 3 similar decision notices that the DWP should
disclose the names of MWA workfare hosts and the Work Programme . It
seems clear to me that the DWP has been using these appeals to frustrate
the public’s right to know who hosts workfare placements, more as an
affront to the right-to-know principles of the Freedom of Information
Act and the rights of campaigners, bloggers and members of the public
to free speech and legitimate democratic protest.”

Luckily, we don’t have to wait for the government to name and shame workfare exploiters. Everyday people forced onto workfare schemes are exposing who is profiting. The list is growing. Have a look, pick a few and let them know why they’ve made the wrong decision. This information is a tool to take workfare apart with.

And with or without the full list, we are successfully stopping the spread of workfare. Two weeks ago, Chancellor George Osborne visited Byteback, an IT firm in Bristol, to showcase his flagship new brand of punitive 6-months’ full-time workfare, “Community Work Placements” (CWP). A week later, Byteback had heard from enough members of the public to realise it had made the wrong decision and pull out. It thanked people for explaining the issues around workfare, and said:

“From tomorrow, we will have no further involvement ever with this scheme. We had the best of intentions, both of us started this company as a result of a similar scheme back in 2002. Clearly we were wrong to get involved with workfare.”

That’s a PR disaster for workfare, and just one more blow to CWP, which already has more than 400 charities and 22 councils boycotting it, and missed its deadline for roll out by a mile.

We’re winning and workfare is being pushed back, but there are still those willing to profit from people forced to work without pay. It’s up to us to name and shame them, and make them know that the public won’t tolerate exploitation, job replacement and sanctions.

Let workfare users know what you think and take part in the next workfare week of action on 6-14 September – more on this soon!

Part of an organisation? Pledge to Boycott Workfare

transparent-red-no-circle-md copyThe government continues to try and push workfare with numerous work for benefits schemes in spite of a groundswell of opposition across the UK.

Already nearly 400 voluntary sector organisations have pledged to Keep Volunteering Voluntary, and over 20 councils have pledged to avoid workfare too. It’s important that other sectors also firmly turn their back on workfare: will your organisation sign the pledge to Boycott Workfare too?

Why organisations should sign:

  • There is huge public opposition to workfare schemes, with thousands boycotting those involved. Signing the pledge will reassure people that your organisation is not taking part.
  • Workfare schemes are backed by a punitive regime of benefit stoppages, sanctions, which have driven the need for foodbanks in the UK and put people at risk of destitution for up to three years.
  • Replacing motivated and decently paid workers with people facing destitution from often arbitrary sanctions will not be of benefit to your organisation or the claimant.
  • Evidence shows workfare does not help people find work.
  • Signing the pledge will make it clear in advance that your project won’t participate in or police any of these schemes.

Let’s pre-empt any expansion of workfare – and bring it to its long overdue end!

Get your organisation to sign the Boycott Workfare pledge:

“We the undersigned commit to refusing to participate in compulsory work-for-benefits placements. We want volunteering to remain just that!”

Email info@boycottworkfare.org to add your organisation to the growing list below!

Union member? Approach your employer to sign the pledge with support from your trade union branch! Please download the Union motion – boycott workfare to bring to your trade union branch and a leaflet to bring to meetings and events.

See the full list of organisations that have already signed the pledge here. 

Take action: CESI Festival of Workfare exploiters and apologists #intowork2014

banner inside conference occupation

Previous CESI workfare conferences in Birmingham and Manchester have been met with protests, disruption and occupations.

This annual gathering of organisations profiting from workfare – or hoping to – is being held at the Arena Convention Centre in Liverpool on Tuesday 8th & Wednesday 9th July.

If you’re near Liverpool, take part in the protest as the conference opens on Tue 8 July at 9am-12noon.

Wherever you are, why not let the private companies, charities and think tanks involved know what you think online #intowork2014. If you only have a minute – use our handy tweet buttons below!

The conference is being organised by CESI (Centre for Economic & Social Inclusion) – self appointed ‘thought leaders’ in the welfare to work industry. People who make their money supporting policies that mean forced unpaid labour and poverty for many, but escalating profits for the few.
Tweet to @InclusionCESI

Following the High Court Ruling that this Government’s retrospective sanctions legislation is incompatible with human rights , and the near collapse of ‘Community Work Placements’ this is an excellent time to keep up the pressure – to continue to stand up against workfare.

Check out the full list of conference speakers. The vast majority are from the heavily tax payer subsidised ‘employability sector’. Coventry University will be announcing its MSc in ‘employability leadership’ so that ‘ERS leaders understand financial drivers so that their business can recruit and marshal high quality supply chains to deliver contracts’.

It’s a mark of just how successful the campaign against workfare has been that hardly any voluntary agencies are involved. Keep volunteering voluntary and thousands of activists across the country are making a big difference. Inspite of the efforts of ‘Crown Representative for the VCSE’ – paid by you to get charities to do the government’s dirty work.

We’d expect to find ‘work til you drop’ McVey on the platform. And no surprise that Labour are falling over themselves to show their support for corporate welfare with Shadow Minister for Work & Pensions Stephen Timms opening the second day. As Chair of ‘Christians on the Left’, you might have expected him to be campaigning for Boycott Workfare….

Other usual suspects include G4S, Ingeus (still getting contracts, still failing to deliver jobs), (not) Working Links and Seetec – with dinner provided by the notorious Shaw Trust, whose commitment to workfare has forced thousands of people to depend on food banks. While their CEO Roy O’Shaughnessy, one of the highest paid in the sector (well over £180K) delivers the Shaw Trust’s strategic goal of ‘getting closer to the DWP’.
Tweet to @ShawTrust

Also on the programme is Reed NCFE who will explain why low pay, no pay exploiter employers are more interested in ‘mindset’ than skills.

Or you could listen to the National Housing Federation talk about how to ‘leverage a variety of funding and borrowing options’.
Tweet to @natfednews

Or people like CMP, who specialise in getting people who are sick to stop using the NHS (aka ‘self management’) and get back to work (‘Reduce unnecessary fears about health and work’).

Family Mosaic is the company that thinks it’s ok to set up ‘employment boot camps’ and boast about their ‘fitness and diet regimes’ for the disengaged. Confirming what we already know. To be unemployed is a crime. And punishing unemployed people is big business.
Tweet to @familymosaic

There are still a few voluntary agencies, charities and ‘learning providers’ milking the workfare system while spouting sanctimonious claptrap about ‘those most affected by welfare reform’ and ‘supporting people not yet benefiting from the economic recovery’.

Exposing this kind of hypocrisy has been extremely successful in the past. The public has a right to know when charities pretending a commitment to social justice are in fact profiting from workfare – directly or indirectly. Age UK, the Papworth Trust and the Runnymede Trust are speaking. NIACE will be there – still salivating at the prospect of all those mandatory ‘skills provision’ opportunities. Why not tweet them and point out that myths about skills shortages are used to deny young people a wage while forcing them to work.
Tweet to @Age_UK

Tweet to @Papworth_Trust

Tweet to @RunnymedeTrust

Tweet to @NIACEhq

We have no idea what Disability Rights UK are doing at a festival of workfare exploiters. Just saying….
Tweet to @DisRightsUK

It’s especially disappointing to find Joseph Rowntree Foundation sponsoring a session on ‘welfare to work providers encouraging benefit take up’ and speaking on ‘sustainable work for the long term unemployed’. Not only is this completely laughable, (as JRF must know perfectly well), supporting these kind of events gives them legitimacy and is a stab in the back for all those who have suffered sanctions, forced unpaid labour and the relentless attack on benefit claimants from this government. Remind them that workfare is an integral part of the Government’s commitment to maintaining no pay, low pay Britain and keeping a significant percentage of the population in poverty.
Tweet to @jrf_uk

Workfare is collapsing. Let’s keep up the pressure. Join the protest or use the links in this call out to expose those still profiting from workfare. Don’t forget to include #intowork2014

Sanctions and Workfare: Incompatible with Human Rights.

“This case is another massive blow to this Government’s flawed and tawdry attempts to make poor people on benefits work for companies, who already make massive profits, for free”

So said Public Interest Lawyers yesterday after the High Court ruled that the government’s emergency retrospective legislation, introduced in 2013 – so as to apply thousands of unlawful sanctions to claimants – is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The retrospective legislation was introduced in order to rewrite history, when the Court of Appeal had originally found thousands of benefit sanctions on workfare schemes unlawful. In response the government came up with emergency legislation, which was designed to retrospectively render lawful benefit sanctions that were issued under the 2011 regulations. This deprived some of the poorest people in the UK of £130million in social security payments that they were lawfully owed. The emergency legislation meant that all previously imposed sanctions were made valid in one block – even sanctions that would have been unlawful under the old regulations anyway.  This means that ongoing appeals against sanctions, which would have succeeded before the retrospective legislation was enacted, were bound to fail.

Now, however, the High Court has found that this retrospective legislation was incompatible with the right to a fair trial. Significantly, the Court called this move “draconian” stating that it was “not explained or justified”.

So what does this mean? This: firstly, and importantly, there is now a real chance that at some point soon, these people will be able to claim the money they had sanctioned back. So keep watching this space.

Secondly, it is now an indisputable fact that all those organisations that have been involved in using and implementing workfare – from A4e to Asda to the Salvation Army – have been involved in depriving people of their human rights. They have been supporting an illegal government policy and, in the case of so called anti-poverty charities such as the salvation army, they have helped to illegally stop people getting the social security payments they were lawfully meant to receive.

Given that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK  have been treated by the government as non-people, yesterday’s High Court ruling is truly damning: people have been subjected to an unlawful policy and then had money taken from them unlawfully. It’s a further indictment of politicians in thrall to workfare that instead of doing the right thing, the moral thing, the Labour party choose instead to do nothing.

Luckily for us the campaign against workfare is the success that it is because of real people power. People like you; people who have stood up for the right thing, people who have stood up against sanctions and workfare, people who have reported those that use workfare, and people who have taken action – no matter or how big or small – against workfare, because they know this is the right thing to do. It is because of people like you who are actively part of this campaign and actively support it that the government’s latest workfare wheeze, Community Work Placements, continues to collapse before it has even begun. At present over 392 Voluntary sector organisations and 20 councils have said no to CWP and workfare.

The DWP could face another significant blow when the courts rule later this month whether the government must reveal the list that due to your campaigning it fears could make workfare “collapse”: the list of organisations where workfare placements have taken place.

The campaign against workfare is winning. Yesterday’s ruling is another positive result for everyone who believes in social justice and social security. That’s you. That’s us. But it’s not over yet. So let’s all continue campaigning against workfare. Let’s all continue to win!

Stopping workfare in Ireland

If You Exploit Us We Will Shut You Down

Making it not worth businesses’ while to be involved in workfare is one tactic that could help stop workfare internationally

Where is Ireland’s welfare system headed? It’s clear where the Irish government want it to go. They have been explicit about what it is that they want: something that looks like the UK system. The reforms point to what now exists here: the same multinational companies (G4S, Serco, etc.) are bidding for contracts; similar unwaged work schemes, like the already existing internship programme JobBridge, are set to play a prominent role; and the use of benefit sanctions is set to increase.

The reforms are already underway. The winning contracts for Jobpath, the welfare-to-work scheme for those unemployed over a year, modelled on the UK’s disastrous Work Programme, will be announced shortly for four Contract Package Areas across Ireland. Private employment service providers such as Ingeus are set to create a welfare industry with themselves at the head of supply chains and the taxpayer footing the bill. Below them, they will aim for a host of subcontractors from the voluntary and charity sectors, as well as smaller private providers.

Ireland’s government has ignored the vast evidence of the welfare to work industry’s failure in the UK, and instead are on a path to repeat the same mistakes. We know, for example, that a harsher system of sanctions creates destitution and hunger. We know that forced, unpaid work placements lead not to more jobs but to more misery. We know that companies take advantage of free labour and that workfare fuels the precarious elements of the labour market. We know that big private employment and training companies are good at churning the unemployed through their programmes but not at securing them good, lasting jobs. We also know that workfare schemes mask the real level of unemployment.

The advantage of a copycat system of welfare-to-work, however, is that we also know the cracks and weaknesses in workfare that claimants and campaigners in the UK have been able to exploit. Already, campaigns in Ireland like Scambridge have highlighted the exploitation of workfare and demanded alternatives. The internship scheme, JobBridge, is increasingly seen as a scam and a farce, ‘a free-for-all for any company that wants free labour’ as one website puts it. Coalitions are forming against workfare and organising demonstrations that call for an end to the schemes already in existence. As a network of resistance emerges in Ireland, possibilities for co-ordinated international action could undermine workfare still further.

Campaigns against workfare in the UK can count several successes. Workfare schemes rely on retailers and charities like Marks & Spencer and the YMCA to host claimants in their shops. But campaigning by groups like Boycott Workfare has seen these shops attract such bad publicity for using forced, unpaid labour that many have pulled out of the scheme. Awareness of the devastating effects of benefit sanctions has meant even commentators supportive of the UK coalition government have raised their concerns. Grassroots claimant activists count among their successes:

“The government believes our campaign could make the schemes “collapse”
We have made tens of high street brands and charities withdraw from workfare
We have shaped the language of the debate
We have shrunk the number of workfare placements
We have reduced the threat of sanctions on some schemes
We have helped people defend their rights”

Workfare is increasingly questioned in the press and nearly 400 signatories, including unions, charities and voluntary sector organisations, have pledged not to engage with the government’s latest “Help to Work” scheme and to Keep Volunteering Voluntary.

It’s not just in the UK that workfare is under threat: New York has recently abandoned its disastrous WEP workfare programme. It may have taken 20 years, but it goes to show it’s never too late to challenge workfare.

The success of these campaigns is built on the clarity of their messages: forced, unpaid work is unjust; sanctions are punitive. They are exploiting a fundamental weakness in the system: for forced work placements to take place, businesses and organisations need to be willing to host them. They also draw strength from being led by unemployed people who have been affected by the policies. The hope is that grassroots campaigns set to challenge the imminent expansion of workfare in Ireland can capitalize on these successes. The network of groups involved in Boycott Workfare in Britain will stand in solidarity with those challenging the same unjust policies in Ireland.

DWP in court: challenged to reveal list it fears could make workfare “collapse”

Media release, 11 June 2014

Tomorrow, 12 June, the Information Commissioner will challenge the DWP to reveal a list of organisations which have used Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placements for jobseekers at an Upper Tribunal hearing [1]. The DWP will argue that due to widespread public opposition, the controversial workfare scheme could collapse if the names are revealed [2]. If it loses the appeal, the decision could become a landmark ruling on the obligation of the DWP to reveal details of the private companies delivering government contracts [3].

It is thirty months since the original Freedom of Information request was made, and the second time that the DWP has appealed the Information Commissioner’s decision that it must reveal the names of MWA workfare placement providers [1].

Despite the government’s own evidence showing that one month MWA placements have “zero effect” on helping people into work [4], the government launched an extended six month version on 28 April, “Community Work Placements”. Like MWA, these placements rely on the participation of public and voluntary sector “host organisations” to deliver placements for “community benefit” [5].

Even without the DWP publishing a list of placement hosts, participants have received widespread criticism. Grassroots organisation Boycott Workfare has compiled a list organisations which use workfare based on claimants’ reports, and successfully challenged tens of organisations to withdraw from the scheme [6]. The campaign is having an impact: 2,670 people were sent on the scheme in February 2014, compared to a high of over four thousand during the same period last year.  In December 2013 only 1,720 starts were recorded, the lowest figure since the scheme was just beginning in the summer of 2011 [7].

The launch of Community Work Placements has also been met with significant opposition from the voluntary sector: in six weeks, 377 organisations have pledged not to take part, by signing up to the “Keep Volunteering Voluntary” campaign [8]. These organisations point to the devastating impact that the benefit stoppages (sanctions) these schemes involve have on hunger, debt and homelessness. They see workfare as undermining both the values and mission of many voluntary sector organisations, and point to the risk of job replacement when thousands of unemployed people are made to work without pay for six months at a time. Over 15 councils have also pledged to avoid the schemes.

Jim McLaughlin, member of Boycott Workfare says:

“There is no evidence that these schemes help people find work and mounting evidence that they do not. Instead this punitive forced work drives people into hunger and destitution when benefit sanctions take away the little we have to survive. This is an issue for everybody: every unpaid worker could be one less paid worker. The government should reveal those involved and face up to the huge scale of public opposition to forced work in the UK.”

If the DWP loses its appeal at the Upper Tribunal, precedent will be set that the organisations using workfare through numerous other DWP schemes must also be revealed. This highlights the importance to members of the public and campaigners on making effective use of our Freedom of Information Act. [9]

Notes to editor:

Media contact: For comment or further information, please contact Joanna Long – 07840 381195

1. The hearing relates to a Freedom of Information request first made on 25 January 2012. Following the DWP’s original review, the Information Commissioner decided that the list of placement providers must be revealed. The DWP lost its appeal at a first tribunal on 3 May 2013.

The judge’s decision at the first tribunal can be found here: http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i1016/EA-2012-0207(+2)_Judgment_17-05-2013.pdf

The Freedom of Information correspondence can be found here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/successful_bidders

2. In its submission to the first tribunal the DWP argued that: “Put simply, disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme”.
See: http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i1016/EA-2012-0207(+2)_Judgment_17-05-2013.pdf
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/nov/09/mandatory-work-activity-names-witheld

3. MPs have been urged to bring contractors under the FOI Act: http://www.cfoi.org.uk/2014/06/mps-urged-to-bring-contractors-information-under-foi-act/

4. Multiple DWP surveys of evidence have found workfare schemes to have zero effect on helping people find work.
Mandatory Work Activity: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/13/mandatory-work-scheme-government-research
Community Work Placements: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?p=1867

5. Community Work Placements were announced by George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference in Sept 2013 and were launched on 28 April: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/community-work-placements-info-pack.pdf
The maximum community sentence that a judge can hand out is for 300 hours, but claimants on six-month workfare schemes are already being forced to work without pay for 780 hours. The four-week Mandatory Work Activity scheme is already the equivalent of a medium level community service order that a person might receive if they were found guilty of drink driving or assault.

6. See Boycott Workfare’s crowd-sourced list of those using workfare and who have pulled out here: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?page_id=16

7. For analysis of MWA referral figures, see this blog piece: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/mandatory-work-activity-is-wobbling-keep-kicking-till-it-breaks/

8. The Keep Volunteering Voluntary Campaign was launched on 28 April – the day Community Work Placements were launched. 377 voluntary organisations have committed not to take part: http://keepvolunteeringvoluntary.net/blog/flagship-workfare-scheme-launch-delayed-again-following-widespread-voluntary-sector-opposition

Corporate Watch research has found that approximately 1 in 10 people sent on Mandatory Work Activity are sanctioned, although some sub-contractors refer as many as 45% for sanction: http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=4730

9. Freedom of Information campaigners have been using the act to reveal essential information for jobseekers to access their rights. See: http://refuted.org.uk/
Using the Freedom of Information Act http://refuted.org.uk/foi/ and
FOI training http://www.cfoi.org.uk/foi-training/

Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign network to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, while threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights. We are not affiliated to any political party and are open to all who share our aims. More info: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/

PCS need to ballot for non-cooperation on workfare and sanctions!

dpac-logo-3-amendment-1-smallblack-trianglebw logoMembers of PCS union work for the DWP and job centres so are involved in the day to day delivery of workfare and sanctions. Members have shown they oppose it by voting for national policy against workfare and sanctions. Now Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and Boycott Workfare are asking them to use their power to help put a stop to these punitive measures. 

Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and Boycott Workfare joint statement on PCS Union and non-cooperation:

1. We note that motion A81 that recently passed at the PCS conference makes reference to the PCS Union working with Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle. (1)

2. We note that motions E340-E342 submitted by DWP branches also called for the PCS to work with Boycott Workfare, but that references to Boycott Workfare were dropped by the NEC from motion A81. (1)

3. Black Triangle and Disabled People Against Cuts wish to express their solidarity with Boycott Workfare who we believe have organised a broad based and successful campaign against workfare and sanctions.

4. We note that the legal advice received by the PCS in 2013 accepted that the tactic of non-cooperation could be used as part of a campaign of industrial action consisting of action short of a strike. (2)

5. We note that the PCS currently have a live mandate for industrial action and will be consulting members on 12th June about coordinated strike action. (3)

6. Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and Boycott Workfare therefore call on the PCS NEC to consult members on adopting a tactic of non-cooperation with workfare and sanctions.

Support our call for PCS to ballot for non-cooperation on sanctions and workfare: 
Tweet to @pcs_union

  • Get in contact with your local branches and ask them to raise it with their union.

References:

(1) http://www.pcs.org.uk/download.cfm?docid=3FBA9F5E-D8B1-4164-AA1B7CF5C50F3E33
(2) http://www.pcs.org.uk/download.cfm?docid=C20641E2-9DE4-4FFE-8E11590CCB7E0F51 (Motion A533)
(3) http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/vote-yes-in-pcs-ballot-for-fair-pay