Statement from Boycott Workfare: Stop the Sanctions!

Boycott Workfare call on the PCS to take action on conditionality, workfare and sanctions

Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now

Public sector workers, including at the DWP, will soon face sanctions under Universal Credit unless we take action now

The PCS conference takes place in Brighton later this month. Join a rally urging delegates to support a position of non-cooperation with sanctions against welfare claimants at 12.30pm on 21st May.

We are extremely disappointed that PCS leadership have decided not to allow debate at their conference on two motions which called for the union to move from theoretical to practical unity with claimants in challenging sanctions.

Current welfare policies and reforms represent an unprecedented attack on claimants and on the welfare state itself. Conditionality, workfare and the huge rise in sanctions are driving claimants further into poverty and destitution. At the same time a vicious campaign of hatred driven by the media and political classes has stigmatised those on benefits and poisoned public debate.

Workfare forces claimants to work without wages under the threat of sanctions. Those on workfare are exempted from legislation that protects the rights of people at work and denied access to union membership and representation. Sick and disabled people claiming ESA can now be forced onto workfare. Workfare drives down wages and conditions for all workers and it is in all our interests to end it completely. Between 2009 and 2011 the number of sanctions handed out to claimants tripled to reach over half a million. In January this year 85,000 people were sanctioned, suggesting that the number of sanctions could reach one million this year. People are now having benefits withdrawn for up to three years (including for failure to participate in workfare). As the PCS have said this increase in the number and severity of sanctions is purely a political decision.

As conditionality and sanctions have increased and become more severe so the range of claimants subject to them has been extended. Sick and disabled people found “fit for work” by the hated Work Capability Assessment are now subject to this regime as are single parents with young children. Plans for in-work conditionality will see sanctions applied to part time workers and the self employed. The introduction of Universal Jobmatch and a requirement for claimants to spend 35 hour each week on jobsearch or workfare will inevitably lead to more sanctions and is intended to do so. Plans to make hardship payments a recoverable loan will force those who are sanctioned into debt. Housing benefit is increasingly being suspended where people are sanctioned. This systematic removal of welfare support is causing sharp increases in homelessness and the use of food banks.

Boycott Workfare welcome the fact that the PCS have spoken out against workfare and the huge rise in sanctions. We also understand that the primary role of the PCS is to represent their members including around 84,000 staff in the DWP. It should be obvious that there is a tension here where the PCS are campaigning against policies that their own members are required to implement. But there is also the possibility that the PCS could take concerted action to defend the welfare state in the interests of both claimants and their members. Government policies cannot be implemented without workers to implement them.

At meetings with the PCS we have raised the possibility of action being taken. Sadly the PCS have been dismissive of our suggestions and they have been met with arguments for inaction. PCS leadership have argued that anti-strike laws prevent action being taken in solidarity with claimants. But the interests of claimants and PCS members are intertwined and these policies directly impact on the working conditions of PCS members. Increased aggravation between PCS members and claimants put both at risk. And under Universal Credit many DWP staff will themselves face conditionality and sanctions. The right of workers to withhold their labour is fundamental. Laws which undermine this right do not comply with international obligations and should be challenged. Without those prepared to take risks and challenge injustice we would not have unions or a welfare state.

This is not about blaming those PCS members tasked with implementing unjust policies. We know that the blame lies elsewhere. This is about the role that unions could and should take in building solidarity between workers and claimants and in empowering workers to take action. If the PCS are sincere about campaigning for social security justice then they should refuse to cooperate with the implementation of unjust policies. Words are not enough. Boycott Workfare therefore calls on the PCS to take action to protect welfare provision and to frustrate the imposition of policies designed to undermine it.

Boycott Workfare would like to thank those PCS branches who have signed our pledge and those members who have taken part in our actions. We are grateful to members of the PCS in the Civil Service Rank and File Network who put forward a motion to this year’s PCS conference. We urge all PCS members to call for proper debate and practical action on challenging sanctions and to support the emergency motion calling for non-cooperation with sanctions to be debated as well as the rally on the 21st May.

© Copyright 2013 | Boycott Workfare | All Rights Reserved

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Week of Action against Workfare

Over 3 days of events, hundreds of leaflets were handed out to people. Day 1 consisted of protestors outside Abilities in Poole (a provider of the govt’s Work Programme), then Poole Jobcentre, the High Street and later in the afternoon Prospects (another provider of the Work programme. On day 2 the protests moved to Bournemouth outside another Prospects office and then the Jobcentre. The 3rd and final (rainy) day was held outside The College in Poole due to their close association with Working Links a major national provider of the Work Programme which uses unpaid work placements. See also “anti workfare activists target Bournemouth and Poole College – Demotix” During the 3 days of action, a few songs were sung and hopefully a lot of awareness was raised with moments of humour especially a senior College official demanding “get of my land”!!!

A massive thank-you to all who helped and supported these events

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The action continues… via Boycott Workfare

Earlier this week Superdrug announced they would be pulling out of workfare schemes and the promise of demos taking place across the UK this Saturday must have helped! Unfortunately other high street chains are still profiting from unpaid work. What we are doing works! We are winning so let’s keep it up and let more businesses know workfare is wrong! Please contact the following companies today. If you’d like to use a standard letter, there’s one here. For more details about high street retailers using workfare – click here

Retailers like to claim these schemes are voluntary. One thing needs to be clear: the Work Experience scheme they refer to is not free of sanctions. It is workfare. Bullying and pressure from the Job Centre often coerces us into supposedly “voluntary” actions. We are rarely told that we have a right to choose whether to attend. Now that sanctions can escalate to three years, getting it wrong is not a risk many of us can afford to take.

Soon after the changes last year, the Guardian exposed that people who refused Work Experience were being sent on Mandatory Work Activity for standing up for their rights. Work Experience is only “voluntary” until you refuse.

Five things the government won’t tell you about Workfare via Left Foot Forward

1) Mandatory Work Activity doesn’t improve job outcomes but it does increase disability claims. According to a study published last June, it has no impact on employment and may even lead to those on the programme moving from Jobseekers’ Allowance to Employment and Support Allowance instead.

2) The Work Programme actively reduces the chances of people finding a job. Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) showed that just 3.6 per cent of people on the work programme had found work on the work programme, below the contractual minimum of 5.5 per cent.

3) The Community Action Programme has no impact on how many people find work. Under this six month workfare placement, just 15-18 per cent of people found work – roughly the same percentage as those receiving standard JobCentre Plus support.

4) The rate of people on the Work Experience Scheme leaving benefits is the same as it is for people not on the scheme (see graph below). To quote the Center For Economic and Social Inclusion: “This [graph] appears to show that the youth work experience scheme has had no additional impact on the speed at which young people leave benefit, and may have actually led to them spending longer on benefit than they would have done. However, these figures require some caution – the stated intent of the Department has been to target work experience at those with the biggest barriers to work, who would likely have had rates below the average for all claimants.”
work programme graph

5) Workfare schemes haven’t helped people into work when the schemes have been tried in other countries. As the DWP noted in 2008: “There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.”

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Boycott Workfare: Week of Action 18th – 24th March: Local events

As part of Boycott Workfare’s week of action, events will be held locally outside the following locations to hand out leaflets and stickers to those affected and raise general public awareness:

Tuesday 19th March – meet 9am outside Abilities, 3 Parkstone Road, Poole BH15 2NN. We will also be leafleting Jobcentre Plus, Dear Hay Lane, Poole BH15 1NZ.

Wednesday 20th March – meet 9am outside Prospects, Fairview House, 17 Hinton Road, Bournemouth BH1 2EE. We will also be leafleting outside Jobcentre Plus, Tamarisk House, 1 Cotlands Road, Bournemouth, BH1 3BG.

Thursday 21st March – meet 9am outside The College / Working Links, North Road, Poole BH14 0LS.

All support and help is welcomed.

Workfare can be broken by showing organisations that the public have clearly rejected unpaid work. Dependant upon how many people attend the above events, we can also hand out leaflets outside shops / companies that are known to use unpaid labour. Please email BPACC if you would like further details. Click here for to see the companies and organisations known to have used or be using workfare.

The Government is pushing ahead with increasingly savage workfare policies despite the fierce resistance to the scheme causing many high street names and national charities to pull out.

Unemployed people can now be sentenced to six months compulsory unpaid work as part of the Community Action Programme. And last year the DWP introduced forced work for sick and disabled claimants.

Evidence has shown that mandatory work has no impact in actually helping someone find a job, the stated aim of the scheme. Instead workfare is used to replace real jobs, with some companies even caught taking on unpaid workers to fill temporary Christmas positions.

A recent High Court Ruling on unpaid work placements means tens of thousands of unemployed people who have had benefits docked for not properly taking part in schemes such as work experience and the work programme are entitled to a rebate. However the DWP said it would resist paying out rebates until all legal avenues had been exhausted. The DWP have also sent letters to everyone on the Work Programme re-stipulating that the scheme and any “employment programme or training scheme” are mandatory and people are liable to benefit sanctions if they do not attend (click here to view full letter).

Public Interest Lawyers who act for a number of individuals, including Cait Reilly, who challenged the Government’s “Back to Work” schemes in the High Court released 10 facts about these schemes – click here to view them.

Companies such as Superdrug, Argos and McDonalds, have all been quick to take on unpaid workers on government schemes, have seen a year of boycotts, pickets, demonstrations and occupations due to their involvement in the scheme. Many national charities have pulled out as a result of protests, but some, such as The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and Salvation Army are unrepentant about their army of government subsidised unpaid workers with some like Sue Ryder recently withdrawing due to public pressure. Many of the new workfare programmes depend on charities like these to provide placements.

Related links:

Workfare Can Be Broken – Join the Week of Action and help make it happen – Boycott Workfare
Workfare and you – BPACC
Workfare – BPACC
College criticised for backing Workfare Programme – BPACC
DWP letter to work programme participants – BPACC<

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