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 People are now having benefits withdrawn for up to three years (including for failure to participate in workfare).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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Iain Duncan-Smith’s Explosive Row on LBC Radio over workfare

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During the above interview on LBC on 20th February, James O’Brien drew out illuminating responses from Iain Duncan Smith on the subject of workfare (unpaid work placements). Talking about Cait Reilly, who was recently successful in challenging the legality of the state compelling her to take an unpaid placement in Poundland, Smith declared: “She was paid. What do you think the taxpayer was paying her for God’s sake? Job Seeker’s Allowance? That is what we are paying her to do.”

The interview reveals the dark heart of the matter when it comes to Work Experience, Youth Training Schemes, Mandatory Work Activity, Community Action Programmes. Smith ended up describing workfare schemes as “us allowing people to continue to earn their JobSeeker’s Allowance, but also to take experience in companies that allow them to do that.”

However one chooses to dress it up, at the core of such policies is the idea that by paying a benefit the state (and by extension the taxpayer) assumes part-ownership of the labour of persons in receipt. And what the state is actually doing is buying the labour of millions of people, en masse, below the market rate and National Minimum Wage, in order to then contract it out to large and profitable businesses for nothing.

Such schemes do not end the “something for nothing culture”. They simply elevate it to the corporate level. It is a paradox for traditional right-wing commentators, who object to funding an individual’s benefits, to appear quite happy to cross-subsidise a huge conglomerate with global revenues of $100bn in 2010.

Perhaps most importantly, these schemes are a state-form of denial; a particularly classic case of burying their heads in the sand. It is now public knowledge from an official response to a parliamentary question that the Office for National Statistics includes people on such unpaid schemes in their data as “employed”. Such schemes are being rolled out on a massive scale. 370,000 unemployed were referred to the Work Programme in the first few months of its existence. Over a million people are expected to be forced onto the Community Action Schemes. The manipulation of statistics at such a scale may go some way to explaining the continuing disparity between rising “employment” and the stagnating or contracting GDP.

Policy on these schemes has become the art of “because I said so” or “I don’t know, that’s just how it is”. It has done so in the face of evidence to the contrary, creationist in its resistance to the truth. There is an overwhelmingly idiotic assumption at its basis; that the reason 2.5m jobless will not fit into 500,000 vacancies, is not mathematics, but a lack of willingness on their part. How can the state tackle unemployment if it is unaware of how many people are genuinely unemployed, where they are and which industries they are trying to find work in?

All this lays bare a stark fact: the Government is interested in the figures looking good, rather than genuinely tackling unemployment. For how can one solve a problem by hiding it in dark statistical recesses and denying it exists? With increasing job insecurity, that is something that should concern us all, regardless of political persuasion.

Sources:
Iain Duncan-Smith’s Explosive Row With James O’Brien – AudioBoo
Workfare: Unexpected Intern in the bagging area – New Statesman

DWP letter to Work Programme Participants

Shown below is a letter being sent out by the DWP to people participating in The Work Programme and outlines the consequences if stipulated requirements are not met – benefit sanctions.

Following adverse publicity earlier in the year, the government have continuously stressed that unpaid work placements were “voluntary”. Many of those on The Work Programme and similar schemes will beg to differ. More often than not people are informed if they do not participate in “workfare” activities, their benefits will be sanctioned. Even when this is not the case, the amount of coercion, intimidation and pressure to force people to participate is immense.

The phrase used in the letter, “this would include failing to complete any activity that your Provider has required you to do” seems to imply that anyone told to ‘participate’ in an unpaid work placement will face sanctions. Is it a coincidence that this letter is dated 7th August, a day after a High Court ruled that government back-to-work schemes were lawful.

Everyone must realise NOW that workfare schemes will not only have implications for those currently on them. This is not “cheap labour”, it is “free labour” (slave labour if you like) and it is inevitable that the unscrupulous will exploit these schemes and use people out of work as a commodity and make a profit out of their misfortune. It will drive down wages and people on unpaid placements will replace paid employees.

Those on the schemes now and those likely to be sent in the future should be empowered to resist and everyone should oppose all workfare schemes.

Forcing people to work for nothing will not solve the unemployment crisis. The people who are already suffering from the effects of the savage austerity measures will, yet again, be targeted while those that created the economic mess, walk bold as brass unscathed.

For more information about workfare and your rights, please visit:

www.boycottworkfare.org
www.consent.me.uk

The DWP Letter to Work Programme ‘participants’

7 August 2012

Dear XXXXXXXX

Work Programme

You are currently participating in the Work Programme. When we first referred you to the Work Programme we gave/sent you a letter in which we told you about your requirement to participate, set out what you must do as part of that requirement and provided information about the consequences of any failure to take part. I am now writing to you and other participants in the Work Programme to provide more detail of those consequences. All other requirements remain as set out in your initial notification letter.

In your initial notification letter we said that your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks if you fail, without a good reason, to take part in the Work Programme. This would include failing to complete any activity that your Provider has required you to do.

If you do fail to take part and we decide that your Jobseeker’s Allowance should be sanctioned, your benefit will be stopped and you will lose National Insurance credits for:
• two weeks, for a first failure;
• four weeks, if we have previously decided that your JSA should be sanctioned because you failed without good reason to take part in the Work Programme or any other scheme set up under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, and that sanction started within the last 12 months; or
• 26 weeks, if we decided on two or more previous occasions that your JSA should be sanctioned because you failed without good reason to take part in the Work Programme or any other scheme set up under those Regulations, and the most recent sanction started within the last 12 months.

If your benefit is stopped for 26 weeks, you may have the sanction lifted (after a minimum of 4 weeks) if you:
• fully re-engage with the sanctioned requirement at any time ;or
• fully engage with a different requirement notified to you.

This letter is for information only and you do not need to take any action. If you have any queries, please ask at your next appointment at the Jobcentre.

Yours sincerely,

Manager (on behalf of the Secretary of State)

View original

College criticised for backing Workfare programme

Trades unions and community groups have called on the Bournemouth and Poole College to withdraw its support for the government’s discredited Work Programme which seeks to coerce the unemployed into unpaid work, after it emerged the college was encouraging employers on their website to “Try before they buy” – describing the unemployed as expendable commodities. Whilst the phrase has now been removed, the Work Programme still enables unscrupulous employers to use staff for up to three months without offering them any pay, formal training or travel expenses. Amid widespread controversy, a number of high street names have withdrawn their backing for the scheme, but attention has now turned to the local college.

Neil Duncan-Jordan, President of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Trades Union Council said: “The Work Programme is the modern-day equivalent of slavery. Unemployed people are being used as a form of cheap labour, with no real chance of ever finding a proper job. It’s a shabby scheme that is exploiting those who are desperate to find work and the college should immediately withdraw its support for such a discredited programme.”

The local TUC and anti-cuts group, Bournemouth and Poole Anti Cuts Coalition (BPACC), plan to target the college with a wave of protests if it refuses to distance itself from the Work Programme.

Bournemouth and Poole College web page before:



Bournemouth & Poole College web page after:

Page web url: http://www.thecollege.co.uk/find-a-job/work-programme

National Week of Action Against Workfare

A nationwide week of action will take place between 7th / 14th July to protest against the exploitation of the unemployed being coerced and forced onto workfare (unpaid work placements) schemes. Local event:

Wednesday 11th July from 9.15am Leaflets giving information and advice to people who are or maybe sent on workfare schemes at Bournemouth Jobcentre. If you are able to help, please email info@bpacc.co.uk

Click here to view all national events on the Boycott Workfare site

Click here for more information about workfare and the different schemes

Click here for information and advice if you are or maybe sent on workfare schemes