Archive for Unemployment

Workfare and housing

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group attempt to resist the eviction of a private tenant. Photo by Louppy Hart

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group attempt to resist the eviction of a private tenant. Photo by Louppy Hart

As we struggle to access our subsistence benefits – trying to navigate around workfare, benefit sanctions, and disrespect encountered in the job centre – often, simultaneously, we are struggling to keep a roof over our heads. Welfare and housing are closely connected, the poor state of both of them is causing poverty and suffering. The homelessness charity Crisis recently highlighted how benefit sanctions are causing homelessness. Huge cuts to housing benefit mean that often people have to use money from their meagre Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance in order to cover rent, leaving even less money for food and other basic necessities. And then there are the exceptionally vile landlords (including ‘social landlords’) who discriminate against people claiming benefits making finding and keeping a home even more difficult.

The latest development sees the workfare regime being made into a requirement for accessing social housing by local councils across the country. Under the Localism Act 2011, local authorities have been given more powers to set even stricter conditions on who can get social housing. Guidance set by the Department for Communities and Local Government suggests that local authorities should design their allocation policies to give priority to those who are in work, employment-related training, or “volunteering”. Whereas before, allocations were supposed to be made according to need (although this still excluded many people in need of the relative affordability and security of social housing), with someone’s relationship to the labour market carrying less weight.

“Local authorities are urged to consider how they can use their allocation policies to support those households who want to work, as well as those who – while unable to engage in paid employment – are contributing to their community in other ways, for example, through voluntary work…This might involve, for example, framing an allocation scheme to give some preference to households who are in low paid work or employment-related training, even where they are not in the reasonable preference categories; or to give greater priority to those households in the reasonable preference categories who are also in work or who can demonstrate that they are actively seeking work.”

Hammersmith and Fulham council have followed this guidance from central government stating that their housing register prioritises “hard-working local families, foster carers, members of the armed forces and others who have given something back to the community, as well as people living in emergency accommodation and others in severe housing need”. (We doubt that the many ways that claimants participate in and contribute to their communities, and the great work people are doing to combat workfare, will fall within Hammersmith and Fulham’s definition). They have used these new powers to hack their housing waiting list from 10,000 households to 800, conveniently making it look like there is little demand for social housing in the middle of a severe housing crisis.

Meanwhile, Newham council’s policy prioritises those who are in work over those who are not. This is currently being taken up by the inspiring Focus E15 mother’s campaign who are highlighting Newham council’s failure to provide them with social housing in their community and are calling for social housing for all. Access to social housing is being massively restricted, with those in need of this relatively affordable and secure housing being completely denied because they are not in paid work, or finding themselves forced to “volunteer” in order to access what should be a basic right.

This increased conditionality related to access to housing is also being replicated by workfare exploiter and homelessness charity YMCA. A new scheme launched by the charity provides housing in shipping containers for young people who secure full-time employment. Young people struggling to find full-time work, or who are unable to work full-time, or who are stuck working for free in a YMCA charity shop are denied this “housing”. Like their support for workfare schemes which undermines the right to welfare, this scheme actively undermines the right for all to decent housing.

There is more housing workfare down the line. The DWP has plans to sanction the housing benefit of in-work claimants if they fail to carry out ‘work related activity’ set by the Job Centre. Low paid workers will come under the brutal workfare-conditionality regime where their housing benefit, referred to by Novara Media and others as the ‘landlord subsidy’, can be withheld at the whim of a Job Centre advisor, leaving the claimant vulnerable to eviction. More than 1 million people are in-work claimants receiving housing benefit to contribute to the cost of ever increasing rents. This means that 1 million more people could be subject to the bullying, workfare placements, and sanctions of Job Centre Plus as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads.

Workfare in housing or welfare is about the same thing; it’s about further cutting and denying people meagre but vital benefits that allow people to carve out some existence for themselves. It’s about denying our rights to food, warmth, shelter, leisure, and meaningful activities and relationships and it’s about the imposition and normalisation of forced unpaid work.

There are a growing number of grassroots housing groups and the London based Radical Housing Network fighting for quality homes for all. As workfare, sanctions and cuts undermine our rights to housing and welfare, it’s important to make the links between these issues, and support each other’s activities to abolish the workfare-conditionality regime and secure food, warmth, and homes for all.

Target Marks & Spencer: they’re forcing their supplies to take workfare

Percy Pig Says No

Take action today to tell M&S that cutting costs and reducing jobs through forced, unpaid labour is unacceptable.

Last October, M&S told its suppliers it wanted to cut costs by 2% in its food business. M&S are also putting pressure on their suppliers to make 2% of their workforce come from workfare.

We’ve seen a newsletter from Tangerine Confectionary which says they aim to have ‘2% of [their] workforce’ come from ‘work placements and training’ by this October. This will get them a ‘Silver award’ from M&S, because this target is part of M&S’s ‘environmental and ethical programme‘! (see p. 39)

from Tangerine's newsletter, March 2014

from Tangerine’s newsletter, March 2014 – click to enlarge

M&S are deeply involved with the government’s workfare schemes. We know M&S organises its own work experience – last year M&S announced 1400 new placements in their stores, on an unpaid work scheme they run with the Princes Trust.

They also take placements from people on the Work Programme, and their outlet stores are involved in Mandatory Work Activity. They run another workfare scheme in Scotland, too, profiting from the unpaid work of single parents.

Boycott Workfare has heard from several people who’ve been on workfare at M&S. They’ve told us that they were promised a job at the beginning of the four week placement. But these jobs were never there. That’s why we occupied their Hackney store last summer.

People on these schemes work for free for M&S under threat of sanctions, directly and indirectly. They’re lied to and exploited.

Tell M&S it’s wrong to use forced, unpaid labour, and wrong to demand their suppliers do as well.

Facebook: Marks & Spencer

Twitter: Tweet to @marksandspencer

By email: using this form

By phone: on one of these numbers

Week of action success as workfare users step back from new punitive scheme

demo inside YMCA HQ

London Boycott Workfare paid a surprise visit to YMCA HQ and performed their own version of the YMCA song “Forced to work at the Y-M-C-A”

Placard in jobcentre window

In Glasgow, the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network took action vs workfare, Atos and sanctions as part of the national day of action vs Atos on Tuesday

stall outside job centre

In Glasgow, the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network took action vs workfare, Atos and sanctions as part of the national day of action vs Atos on Tuesday

stall and banner

Leeds Hands off our Homes ran this visual info stall!

leaflets

Liverpool IWW launched with a walking tour of shame vs workfare

primarkmanager liverpoool

In Liverpool, the Primark manager denied involvement in the scheme – but his company remains involved.

blockade

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

banner outside HQ

Protest by @slavenationarmy at the Salvation Army’s headquarters

banner outside shop

Protest at Salvation Army’s Walworth Road shop in London.

Poster left on the wall at Salvation Army

Poster left on the wall at Salvation Army

Banner with text of Jeremiah 22:13

@slavenationarmy’s banner

lots of placards outside job centre

In Weston-Super-Mare, people challenged Atos, the bedroom tax, workfare and sanctions as part of the national day of action vs Atos on Tuesday

twitter screen grab

Amidst all the success of the week, this twitter exchange between a workfare manager and his friend provided as sobering reminder of what we’re up against. As the friend put it “4 weeks free labour – nice! Just keep getting new ones for zip all”.

A massive thank you to everyone who tweeted, picketed, blockaded, occupied, or sent messages to workfare exploiters this week. With just weeks to go until Osborne’s punitive new six month “Community Work Placement” (CWP) scheme is due to launch, its future is looking pretty uncertain. Freedom of information responses suggest that the guidance  is behind schedule and the government have yet to even confirm some providers. Now our action has created some even bigger hurdles: major workfare users Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA say they will not offer placements on the CWP scheme.

Salvation Army felt the pressure this week with pickets at their stores in Cardiff and South London, a huge banner unfurled at their head office, and a three hour blockade which shut down one of their workfare-using shops in Edinburgh. YMCA faced a surprise visit to their head office, where an alternative YMCA song “Forced to work at the YMCA” was performed. Promising a meeting with a manager responsible for their workfare policy, they soon began telling people who contacted them that they too would not be involved in 6-month workfare – especially interesting since their excuse for continuing to use other workfare schemes is that they can’t impose policy like this on their branches.

The “green” charities who make thousands of workfare placements possible also faced the heat with massive online pressure. The Conservation Volunteers, who have previously boasted of the 20,000 workfare placements they have hosted, will not take part in CWP. Groundwork – a major workfare user – decided to lie to the charities’ press about their involvement, claiming that they had not bid to run a CWP contract, despite boasting about doing so here.

Coverage in the charities’ trade press and Christian media will mean that other organisations see the cost to their reputation of getting involved in any workfare scheme. With impressive and diverse actions in Cardiff, Glasgow, Weston Super Mare, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Brighton, London and Swansea during the week, and hundreds of people taking action online, any would-be workfare exploiter has reason to think twice. When even the Evening Standard is condemning CWP, this exceptionally punitive brand of workfare looks pretty doomed.

In a week which also saw mass mobilisations against zero hour contracts, Atos and the Bedroom Tax, we know that what we all do makes a difference. So however you supported the week of action, thank you!

Amidst all the success of the week, this twitter exchange between a workfare manager and his friend provided a sobering reminder of what we’re up against. As the friend put it “4 weeks free labour – nice! Just keep getting new ones for zip all”. Salvation Army, TCV and YMCA may be out of the 6-month CWP workfare but they’re still propping up other workfare schemes and forcing people into destitution through sanctions, so if you haven’t yet had a chance, please keep up the pressure with the actions below:

Join the physical or online blockade of the Salvation Army!

blockade of salvation army shop

Workfare: If you exploit us we will shut you down!

Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty will be holding another of their regular and extremely successful blockades of the Salvation Army on Saturday morning from 11am onwards.

Join in with an online blockade of the Salvation Army’s social media and let them know what you think of their prolific and unashamed use of forced unpaid labour.

Make your feelings known and you may even get to join the prestigious ‘Banned by the Salvation Army over workfare related comments’ facebook group.

Although the Salvation Army are steering clear of the government’s latest workfare programme, the 6 month long Community Work Placements, they are still major users of workfare, taking part in Mandatory Work Activity and the Work Programme. The Salvation Army have expressed their support for workfare for sick and disabled people using the disturbing phrase “emancipation through employment”. Their enthusiastic support of workfare has won them praise from the government last year that they were ‘holding the line’ as other organisations were dropping out of the schemes due to public outrage.

We will keep the pressure on until they fully withdraw from all workfare schemes which threaten people with benefit sanctions of up to 3 years, causing hunger and homelessness.

Contact the Salvation Army UK on Facebook and on Twitter: Tweet to @salvationarmyuk

They can be telephoned on (020) 7367 4500 or emailed at: info@salvationarmy.org.uk

The Salvation Army’s youth section are on facebook here.

Online Action: Sign up to Universal Automation

UnivAuto

Even though the failure that is Universal Jobsmatch could come to an end in 2016 (although some form is meant to continue!) it is still being pushed now. People are being bullied into using it, made to apply for scams, zero hour contracts and below minimum wage jobs, whilst it’s also being used to sanction us for the smallest errors. One person contacting us was sanctioned for not applying to a job advert with a broken link!

Today, as part of the week of action, we call on people to take action against Universal Jobsmatch using Universal automation:

As the Job Centre clamp down on our time more and more, Universal Automation can help us resist this as our weekly job search is done in record time! Also if you have time, skills or general user feedback get involved to support the project.

This email to Universal Automation also shows the effect of people applying for lots of jobs advertised by exploitative employers ;)

Take Action Against The Green Charities Profiteering From Workfare

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 19.11.59
Environmental charities The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and Groundwork UK are two of the biggest workfare exploiters in the UK.  Both accept forced labour placements, often to carry out hard, outdoor, physical work, and both have lucrative contracts to manage workfare schemes.
 
Both charities have been invited by the DWP to help run Community Work Placements – the upcoming mass workfare scheme which involves a shocking 780 hours of unpaid work.  As some more enlightened charities have stated these placements are not volunteering.  Anyone who refuses one of these unpaid positions will face brutal benefit sanctions.  
 
Groundwork receive huge amounts of tax payer’s money already from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the National Lottery.  Unlike other organisations they have remained silent about their use of forced labour despite repeated criticism on social media.  With the Government paying their bills, they are more like a workfare Quango than a real charity.
 
Both charities however do not just rely on the government funding to survive, but also the goodwill of genuine volunteers, community groups and partners.  As part of the week of action, let’s make sure everyone knows about their dirty little workfare secrets.
 
Groundwork are on twitter Tweet to @groundworkuk and facebook them here 
 
You can email them at: info@groundwork.org.uk
Tel: 0121 236 8565
 
Groundwork have local branches throughout the UK.  To find contact details for the nearest visit: http://www.groundwork.org.uk/Page/map
 
The Conservation Volunteers are on twitter Tweet to @TCVtweets and facebook them here 
 
Email them at: information@tcv.org.uk
Tel: 01302 388 883
 
To find your local TCV office visit this website
 
But please note: Whilst it’s well worth trying to speak to a manager or senior individual if possible please bear in mind most people taking calls/emails will be low paid retail/admin staff and could even be on workfare themselves. Be aware that is an offence to make telephone calls or send communications which are threatening, indecent or offensive.

Keep up the pressure on YMCA!

Boycott Workfare inside YMCA HQ

Boycott Workfare inside YMCA HQ

Today boycott workfare paid a visit to the London headquarters of workfare exploiter YMCA. They’ve defended their use of unpaid, forced work in previous statements and we’ve called them out on it. Mandatory Work Activity forces people to work without wages under threat of sanction, and doesn’t help them find a job anyway. Whereas the Salvation Army have stated they will not get involved in the new 6 month long Community Work Placements starting later this month, the YMCA have yet to make a public statement on the issue.

The YMCA wants to have its cake and eat it. Their president, Bishop John Sentamu, has spoken against workfare. Yet, the organisation still takes part in some of the harshest schemes.  They’re also involved in delivering traineeships – workfare by another name.

We say volunteering should remain just that, and that people shouldn’t be “made to volunteer” under threat of sanction.

The fight against workfare is more important than ever, with 74,000 people being sanctioned every month. Sanctions are one of the main reasons people are turning to food banks to feed themselves, and you can now be sanctioned for up to three years. This is forcing people to make the choice between heating their homes or eating.

Join us in a day of action against the YMCA’s use of workfare. Tell them what you think about them using forced unpaid work in their charity shops. Don’t let them ignore the devastating effect that sanctions are having on people up and down the country.

Facebook: YMCA England

Twitter: Tweet to @YMCA_England

Phone them on 020 7186 9500 or their shops hotline on 0845 601 0728.

Find contact details of your nearest YMCA shop here

But please note: Whilst it’s well worth trying to speak to a manager or senior individual if possible please bear in mind most people taking calls/emails will be low paid retail/admin staff and could even be on workfare themselves. Be aware that is an offence to make telephone calls or send communications which are threatening, indecent or offensive.

Boycott Workfare visit the YMCA

Boycott Workfare inside YMCA HQ

Boycott Workfare inside YMCA HQ

Today boycott workfare paid a visit to the London headquarters of workfare exploiter YMCA. They’ve defended their use of unpaid, forced work in previous statements and we’ve called them out on it. Mandatory Work Activity forces people to work without wages under threat of sanction, and doesn’t help them find a job anyway. Whereas the Salvation Army have stated they will not get involved in the new 6 month long Community Work Placements starting later this month, the YMCA have yet to make a public statement on the issue.

The YMCA wants to have its cake and eat it. Their president, Bishop John Sentamu, has spoken against workfare. Yet, the organisation still takes part in some of the harshest schemes.  They’re also involved in delivering traineeships – workfare by another name.

We say volunteering should remain just that, and that people shouldn’t be “made to volunteer” under threat of sanction.

The fight against workfare is more important than ever, with 74,000 people being sanctioned every month. Sanctions are one of the main reasons people are turning to food banks to feed themselves, and you can now be sanctioned for up to three years. This is forcing people to make the choice between heating their homes or eating.

Join us in a day of action against the YMCA’s use of workfare. Tell them what you think about them using forced unpaid work in their charity shops. Don’t let them ignore the devastating effect that sanctions are having on people up and down the country.

Facebook: YMCA England

Twitter: Tweet to @YMCA_England

Phone them on 020 7186 9500 or their shops hotline on 0845 601 0728.

Find contact details of your nearest YMCA shop here

But please note: Whilst it’s well worth trying to speak to a manager or senior individual if possible please bear in mind most people taking calls/emails will be low paid retail/admin staff and could even be on workfare themselves. Be aware that is an offence to make telephone calls or send communications which are threatening, indecent or offensive.

Subway: Traineeships are Workfare

fast-food-rights-logo-square-iiToday is the Fast Food Rights Day of Action! In solidarity with the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union, target Subway, who are using traineeships to avoid paying wages.

In return for no money, for 21 hours a week, for five months, ‘You’ll become a member of the team and will assist with food preparation, serving customers and ensuring the shop and kitchen areas are kept clean and tidy. Despite huge profits, billion pound fast food multi nationals like Subway use unpaid labour and zero hour contracts, leaving young workers especially vulnerable and exploited.

Traineeships are not apprenticeships. They are a form of workfare: forced, unpaid labour under threat of sanctions.  They fall under an ‘exemption to the National Minimum Wage’ and are specifically designed to enable employers to take on young people aged 16-24 without paying them.  The only obligation an employer has, having used you as free labour for five months, is to give you an interview – either a job interview or an ‘exit interview’.

Subway Unpaid traineeships  are being organised via GP Strategies Training Limited – one of a range of ‘training providers’ who make money out of traineeships.

As the Government guidelines say: ‘Traineeships are delivered by training providers and funded by the government, with employers providing the valuable work experience placement and interview as part of the programme.’

With £12 million currently set aside for traineeship delivery, the only people who aren’t making money out of this are the young people forced to work for nothing – this list of other companies who are also using traineeships to avoid paying people is just now advertising 580 traineeships.

Let Subway know that workfare can’t be disguised so easily.

Tweet to @SUBWAYUKIreland or Facebook them

Support #FastFoodRights: Tweet to @FastfoodRights

Leaflet to help shut down new workfare scheme

CWPleafletimage

During the Week of Action against Workfare (29th March – 6th April) actions will take place across the UK to stop workfare and the new 6 month workfare scheme being introduced called ‘Community Work Placements’. Actions are already planned in Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool. We have also created the above leaflet that we encourage people to hand out at Job Centres – along with our ‘Know Your Rights’ info. As placements are meant to begin in late April this leaflet will help us find out the first places taking this latest, and longest, workfare scheme, helping us put an end to the ‘Community Work Placements’ before they have even properly get started. The recent statement by the Salvation Army where they announce they will not get involved in the new scheme (but sadly keep their involvement in all the others *boos*) demonstrates the effect exposing and taking action against workfare users has.

Here you can get the pdf of the leaflet (print on A4 and cut in half to get two A5 leaflets). If you are unable to print your own flyers get in touch with info@boycottworkfare.org with the amount you want and an address and we will send you them (along with know your rights leaflets if you wanted). Send us photos or reports of how the leafleting has gone and any information you find out from speaking to people!