Archive for Unemployment

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 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:

The Freedom of Information correspondence can be found here:

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”.

3. MPs have been urged to bring contractors under the FOI Act:

4. Multiple DWP surveys of evidence have found workfare schemes to have zero effect on helping people find work.
Mandatory Work Activity:
Community Work Placements:

5. Community Work Placements were announced by George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference in Sept 2013 and were launched on 28 April:
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:

7. For analysis of MWA referral figures, see this blog piece:

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:

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:

9. Freedom of Information campaigners have been using the act to reveal essential information for jobseekers to access their rights. See:
Using the Freedom of Information Act and
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:

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.


(2) (Motion A533)

Stop G4S’ Annual General Meeting this Thursday!

Stop G4S demo at previous G4S AGM

Stop G4S demo at previous G4S AGM

Boycott Workfare are supporting the Stop G4S  network’s protest this Thursday at G4S’ Annual General Meeting. Among their long list of abuses, G4S are the company the government are depending upon to prop up their latest punitive workfare scheme ‘Community Work Placements’. G4S are also involved in the government’s other workfare scheme, the Work Programme, which seems to mostly involve G4S staff spending their time filling out sanction referrals. Below is the call out from Stop G4S. Hope to see you there!

Protest at the G4S Annual General Meeting

1pm, Thursday June 5, Western Terrace, Excel Centre
Royal Victoria Dock, 1 Western Gateway, London E16 1XL

While it continues to make billions from human rights abuses and privatisation, it’s not all good news for G4S, the world’s biggest security company.

Universities, charities, and trade unions across the world have cancelled contracts worth millions of pounds with the company over its role in human rights abuses in Palestine, where it helps to run Israel’s abhorrent prison system, and across the world.

Three G4S guards are to be charged with manslaughter over their role in the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan man who died while being ‘restrained’ during a deportation run by G4S.

Following tireless campaigning, a parliamentary watchdog published a scathing report exposing how G4S has provided filthy and unfit housing for people awaiting outcomes of asylum claims or appeals and ensured the company will be fined.

Deeply concerned that G4S is taking over prisons, policing and education, unions and activists are organising to condemn and resist the role G4S is playing in the wholesale privatisation of the UK’s public services.

Now G4S hopes to get the upper hand back by presenting a whitewashed picture of itself at its annual general meeting.

Join us for a demonstration to show G4S they can’t get away with their human rights abuses! Bring your friends, banners, drums and anything else you can make noise with!

Endorsed by:
Stop G4S 
Anti-Raids Network
Boycott Israel Network
Boycott Workfare
Brighton Palestine Solidarity Campaign
CAMPACC Campaign against criminalising communities
Campaign to Close Campsfield 
Corporate Watch
Friends of Al Aqsa
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit
Greater Manchester Stop G4S Campaign
Hackney Refugee and Migrant Support Group
Islamic Human Rights Commission
International Women's Peace Service - Palestine
Jews for Justice for Palestinians
No Borders
No to G4S Huddersfield
Liverpool Friends of Palestine
London Palestine Action
Merton Palestine Solidarity Campaign
No Borders
No One is Illegal
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Right to Remain
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Southampton Students for Palestine
South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group
York Palestine Solidarity Campaign
War on Want
Women of Colour Global Women’s Strike

Flagship workfare scheme floundering due to voluntary sector opposition

On Saturday, this demo in Sheffield persuaded tens of people to boycott workfare users TCV.

On Saturday, this demo in Sheffield persuaded tens of people to boycott workfare users TCV.

Today, 2 June, is the deadline by which Community Work Placements – the flagship policy announcement at last year’s Conservative Party conference – were required by contract to be up and running (see 1.22 &1.23 here). Community Work Placements are six month forced unpaid work placements for unemployed people which require local council and charity participation to claim to be of “community benefit”.

However, thanks to massive opposition to this draconian new workfare scheme, CWP is floundering. Here’s how: 350 voluntary sector organisations have so far signed up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement not to take part since the campaign launched a month ago. The list includes household names Shelter, Oxfam, Crisis, Scope and many others.

These organisations point to the impact of benefit sanctions on food poverty and homelessness and believe mandatory work undermines the value of freely given volunteering.  Over 15 councils have also pledged not to take part, many through signing Unite the Union’s new pledge.

The widespread opposition to the scheme appears to be taking its toll, as an initial launch date of 28 April was replaced by “late May”, despite the contract specifying that only in “very exceptional circumstances” could commencement be delayed to 2 June. While some referrals appear to have been made to the scheme, we are not aware of a single placement yet starting.

Even before the number of charities boycotting the scheme grew to the hundreds, the pilot of this incredibly punitive form of workfare failed to find placements for 37% of participants. The huge number of organisations pledging to boycott workfare sends a clear message that it is not compatible with voluntary sector values. This will deter many other organisations from accepting placements.

It is also speculated that the timetable for placements to roll out has been delayed because the government needed to wait until G4S was no longer barred from bidding before it could be awarded the lion’s share of Community Work Placement contracts.

Charity participation in workfare schemes will be further jeopardised if the DWP loses its appeal at the Upper Tier information tribunal on 12 June and is forced to reveal the list of organisations hosting placements. As the government put it: “Put simply, disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme”. Even without this, resistance is paying off, with MWA referrals in steady decline.

Organisations like Salvation Army, Groundworks UK, YMCA and The Conservation Volunteers who continue to use workfare and collaborate in sanctions are facing protests. On Saturday, a claimant’s demo in Sheffield reported that “Most people boycotted The Conservation Volunteers shop when they found out at today’s protest that TCV profit from workfare”.

These are hard earned successes won by the thousands of claimants, campaigners and now voluntary organisations who are taking action to challenge workfare. As the successful campaign against workfare continues to grow, and as ever more people and organisations say no to workfare, we are reminded we are not alone. We have each other, and by taking action together against workfare, we are winning.

Help keep the campaign growing!

Boycott Workfare visit the Netherlands!


Boycott Workfare banner drop in Leiden

Boycott Workfare banner drop in Leiden

Update! Join in a quick online solidarity action with Doorbraak targeting the owner of the strawberry farm using the contact form on his website and tweet his mate Jan Broertjes the mayor of Midden-Drenthe who also supports workfare. More details on the poverty profiteering happening there in the blog below.

Tweet to @janbroertjes

Two members of Boycott Workfare recently visited the Netherlands after an invitation from anti-workfare activists based there to share what we have been doing in the UK. We spent two days with Doorbraak, the group which organised the visit, giving talks in the evenings in Amsterdam and Leiden. In Amsterdam we stayed at one Doorbraak member’s home which was just on the edge of the Jordaan district where unemployed people rioted back in the 1930s.

Doorbraak, which translates in English to ‘breakthrough’, was formed back in 2007 by people who had been involved in migrant struggles. They wanted to start a new group which brought together different groups of people on the different issues we face and ‘turn the world upside down, organise from the bottom up!’ (which rhymes in Dutch). Over the last 3 years they have been taking action against workfare in Amsterdam and Leiden, after militant research they had conducted about the crisis and how it was affecting people uncovered this issue. For some activists in the group who had been very involved in migrant struggles, they were now also acting from their own direct experiences.

Best view in Amsterdam! A member of the unemployed union on the roof of the building where their office is located

Best view in Amsterdam! A member of the unemployed union on the roof of the building where their office is located

Meeting Doorbraak, exchanging our stories of workfare and our actions against it was hugely enjoyable, informative, and inspiring. We had known nothing about how workfare has been playing out in the Netherlands or the grassroots organising which is challenging it and so the chance to meet people in person, discuss this and make connections was invaluable. The parallels between the destruction of welfare in the Netherlands and the UK, and the impoverishment and exploitation of claimants through workfare and sanctions in the Netherlands and the UK were striking. We would describe a government policy, scheme, or bullying tactic and hear of its equivalent in the Netherlands. But there are some key differences in how both countries implement workfare: in the Netherlands, workfare is organised separately by each local authority, so the schemes vary from place to place; and, unlike the UK, the Netherlands has forced labour centres in which hundreds of claimants are forced to attend and work.

We heard a number of horrific stories about workfare in the Netherlands which clearly illustrate the exploitation, racism, and undermining of workers rights of workfare. In one factory, disabled people who had been paid workers with rights and pensions had been sacked and claimants were now forced to cut up sponges all day for no wages. They were not given face masks to protect them from the dust. 80-90% of people on workfare in the forced labour centre in Leiden are migrants. Doorbraak members knew many of these people already from their migrant solidarity work, they had known them when the were locked up in detention centres and now trapped in the forced labour centres. The ‘guards’ of the centre will sanction their benefits if they heard the migrants speaking a language other than Dutch. We also heard how these ‘guards’ are ex-police and prison guards recruited for their aggressiveness.

During our trip Doorbraak received a report about a strawberry farm using workfare and taking poverty profiteering to new levels. The strawberry farm owner not only gets forced unpaid labour on his farm, but he receives a payment for each forced worker he takes on. He has also hired out the people on workfare to some of his friends for an hourly fee taking in yet more money. He also fraudulently claimed money from the government for making his workplace accessible to people with disabilities.

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 the forced labour centre made out of the sponges that people on workfare are forced to cut

But we also heard of loads of inspiring actions and organising that Doorbraak and other groups do to challenge workfare. In Amsterdam we visited the office of De Bijstandsbond, a claimants union, located in what was once a squatted printing factory. The view from the roof is probably the best in Amsterdam. The group provide practical support for claimants dealing with benefit issues. At Doorbraak’s HQ in Leiden we were able to take a tour of their actions through the props that were on display. One of their main props is a toilet which has become a well-loved mascot for the group and has placards to accompany it on actions reading ‘Schijt aan dwangarbeid’ (Shit on workfare) – which works really well as a chant as well – and ‘Bruin 1? Doorspoelen graag!’ (Brown one? Flush it down!). An effigy of the manager of the forced labour centre made from the sponges cut by the people on workfare which people were encouraged to pelt. The group has held May day festivals outside the Leiden forced labour centre which saw the centre close and the claimants get the day off. After these successful actions the group have been banned from going near the centre, with spotter cards with their faces kept by the security staff, but Doorbraak have heard from people inside that the atmosphere there improved as a result of the actions.

In another fun action saw the group respond to a competition organised by the forced labour centre calling for ideas on how to get more free labour – the prize being offered was free labour and office space. Doorbraak submitted their own proposal saying they would make propaganda against forced labour, collectively and without any money. Their proposal seems to have been ignored, but the group went ahead and held their own rival finale to the competition when the winner was announced (they also went ahead with their ‘business plan’ and made a set of 5 anti-workfare T shirts that they give to people on workfare for free). At another event saw a meeting of 40 people challenging a local politician who was responsible for workfare in Amsterdam calling them out on all their lies. Doorbraak also told us a story they had heard from a group in Berlin who they had invited to the Netherlands the previous year. The Berlin group has spoken with people at the job centre asking them to grade and review the advisors, so as to turn the tables for a change, and find out who the most hated advisor was. When they had a clear winner, the group visited the advisor and presented them with an award for being the most hated, complete with music and glitter. It turned out they got the wrong advisor but it’s still a good video.

With Doorbraak's toilet mascot

With Doorbraak’s toilet mascot

As well as contacts with the anti-workfare group in Berlin, Doorbraak also has links with a Paris group. Boycott Workfare has also made trips to Austria and Oldenburg, Germany and so together we are developing a loose network of groups across Europe against workfare. In both of the talks we gave in the Netherlands there was interest in strengthening these links and discussing co-ordinating European wide actions together.

Our short trip helped us to think about and understand workfare beyond the UK; we saw how similarly brutal and devastating welfare cuts and workfare schemes are being imposed across Europe. By learning from each others experiences and sharing ideas and tactics, building networks and solidarity, we can begin to challenge workfare on this scale.