The Boycott Workfare campaign network has kicked off a Week of Action to Stop Workfare and Sanctions across the UK. It runs through to 8 December 2013.
The message to employers seeking to pay paltry or no wages to forced workers is simple: "If you exploit us, we will shut you down," say campaigners. That message is getting through, they add, with more and more companies ditching the programme.
The background to the Week and the campaign is that in January this year, 110,000 people had their benefits stopped – ‘sanctioned’ – in a social security system that now leaves people with nothing for up to three years, points out the group.
The government has not revealed how many thousands of people have been sanctioned since then, but it looks clear that more than a million people will have faced sanctions, and the hunger, pressure on families and stress that they cause, by the end of 2013.
Workfare, which forces people to work without pay and pushes those in work out of their jobs, is still the government’s ‘flagship’ solution for the unemployed. Chancellor George Osborne’s latest forced work proposal is more than twice the length of a maximum community service sentence, say critics
"But people’s action is pushing back these plans," says Boycott Workfare, which has, among others targeted the Salvation Army for its collusion with the government's work programme, along with Christianity Uncut and other campaigners.
Wetherspoons, Argos, Shoezone, The Red Cross, and Superdrug have all dropped out since the start of the year. Homebase has scaled back significantly and Homes for Haringey has started paying people.
Despite a court ruling, the government is still refusing to publish the list of organisations exploiting people on workfare. It argues that “disclosure [of names] would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the MWA [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme”. That is precisely why they should be compelled to do so, say activists.
The government’s plan to send people leaving the Work Programme on an automatic six month workfare placement from June 2013 was stopped from going ahead by concerted action.
The government has also had to double the amount of money it pays to workfare contractors like Seetec to find Mandatory Work Activity placements because, they admit, things have got much more difficult since organisations started pulling out.
"This is your actions making a real difference," says Boycott Workfare. "The chances are you probably know someone who has faced the hardship and stress of sanctions – which means you’ll know that these devastating decisions are handed out for the pettiest of reasons.
"It’s time to take action, and to push back against sanctions as we have against workfare. Whether you’re on your own or in a group, take part in the Week of Action
"Take part in online action posted on www.boycottworkfare.org throughout the week, order 'know your rights' leaflets and give them out at a Jobcentre near you. Plan an action at a local Jobcentre or workfare exploiter near you. And let us know what you plan so we can help spread the word."
The Facebook event page for the week of action can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1410237585876613/?source=1