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Workfare boycott

July 09 2014
The UK government’s ‘Help to Work’ scheme has been boycotted by 300 organisations

The UK government’s workfare programme – the so-called ‘Help to Work’ scheme which forces unemployed people to work for their benefits – has been boycotted by 300 organisations.

The deadline for the work placements to be up and running passed in early July and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has said that the scheme will be up and running before the end of the month. This is after the launch, planned initially for 28 April, was delayed till the end of May.

There are also reports that the DWP has found it difficult to get faith groups, councils and charities to provide placements. Among the many UK mainstream charities who are boycotting workfare are Scope, Christian Aid, Oxfam and the homeless charity Shelter. These charities have joined others to sign the 'Keep Volunteering Voluntary' statement.

The controversial workfare scheme requires Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who haven't found paid work to join a 30-hours-a-week voluntary work placement in the local community for a period of 26 weeks.

The divisive scheme has split opinion and faced legal challenges. Andy Benson, in his blog for the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA), commented: “More evidence that this punitive, botched and poor thought-out scheme is heading for the rubbish bin of history. Hundreds of voluntary groups have now said they will have nothing to do with it and the number is rising by the day. The government should immediately call a halt to this programme and save wasting £237m of the taxpayers' money."

Organisations backing the boycott have done so on the basis that the benefits of 'voluntary' volunteering are impeded by forcing people.

Ian, 52, is homeless and attended the 'No More Austerity' demonstration in London this month. Speaking to The Pavement outside the Whitechapel Mission he said: "Unless we stand up together and demonstrate, then nobody will listen to us. This is free labour and I can see a time when homeless people like me will have to do workfare to get their GP appointments and hospital treatment.

“It's like a horrible nightmare but it could come true. We have to say that this is something we will not accept."

Most recently, South Tyneside Council has decided to oppose the controversial government plan, believing it 'stigmatises' people who claim benefits. Next week a motion to oppose workfare will be discussed at the full council.

Councillor Ed Malcolm is the council’s lead member for resources and innovation. He is also one of the signatories to the motion which says: “This council pledges not to use any workfare placements, and will also encourage contractors not to use the schemes.” 


Who's behind the boycott?

Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare and believes that the workfare scheme profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage.

The grassroots campaign was formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact.

Boycott Workfare takes action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.

Around 350 charity organisations have signed up to boycott the community work placements, including 13 councils and a selection of homelessness charities.

To sign the 'Keep Volunteering Voluntary' Statement, visit