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
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
In 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
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
As 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
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
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 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 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!