Anyone With a Heart Would Not Support Workfare

Demonstration at BHF in Brighton

Boycott Workfare West Midlands will be holding a demonstration at the British Heart Foundation on Harborne High Street because of their involvement with workfare programmes that will see benefit claimants kicked off benefits for three years if they don’t take part in forced unpaid work schemes like Mandatory Work Activity.

Update 9/11: It now seems that British Heart Foundation are going to withdraw from Mandatory Work Activity, having updated their website with this:

Currently, we are moving away from involvement in the mandatory work activity programme towards schemes which provide longer term voluntary placements. We have just established an important partnership with Job Centre Plus to actively promote volunteering as an option for people who are unemployed.

We have been in contact with British Heart Foundation who have told us that the Harborne store does not currently have anyone on placement, and that many of their smaller stores stopped using Mandatory Work Activity on 1st November, but that there is no timetable for withdrawal from the scheme, and they were unable to clarify what the new scheme(s) they are involved in are. Caution must be applied, since the word “volunteer” has been so wrongly used by government, companies and charities in the past when relating to forced workfare placements.
We will still be holding our demonstration tomorrow, as British Heart Foundation are still involved with workfare, albeit not at the Harborne store, unless further clarification is received. We may decide to move along the high street to other workfare users though, so if you come along late and we’re not at British Heart Foundation, have a walk down the high street and find us.

11:30am – 12:30pm
Saturday 10th November
British Heart Foundation

159 High Street Harborne, Birmingham, West Midlands B17 9QE.
Join the Facebook Event and invite your friends.

Following this there will be a meeting which will be held in a local coffee shop, to plan for a demonstration on Saturday 8th December as part of Boycott Workfare national day of action. You are welcome to attend the meeting even if you can’t come to the demonstration.

The British Heart Foundation, along with many other charities, support forced labour schemes by taking people on placements into their charity shops. This can include people with heart conditions who have been assessed as fit for work by ATOS, and put either onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) as this man was just a day after a double heart bypass operation or into the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) disability benefits – where they can be sent on the Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity. From 3rd december 2012, it will be possible to force people in the WRAG to go on workfare placements.
From there they may find themselves forced into working at the British Heart Foundation even if the stress and activity of the job is making their condition worse. Refusal to do so could see them lose benefits for up to 3 years on JSA or lose 70% of their benefits indefinitely on ESA.

Over half a million sanctions were handed out by the job centre in 2011, with often devastating effects for people who lose their income and increasingly find problems with housing benefit payments too. Job Centres have targets to sanction people, and advisors have come under increasing pressure to do so. In the first 3 months of 2012 167,000 people were sanctioned.

Workfare itself has been shown as a failure when it comes to helping people find a job. Results from Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) show no change in the number of people finding work following a placement, whilst producing a rise in the numbers claiming ESA – suggesting that taking part in MWA makes people ill. Meanwhile the flagship Work Programme is coming under increasing scrutiny as A4e reveal less than 4% of people sent on their programme find jobs lasting more than 6 months. Results from earlier this year show the program as a whole reduces someone’s chance of getting a job, from 28% to 24%. This means that each job found cost as much than it would have done to have actually created a job by investing in the economy, as an alternative to cuts.
This should not have come as a surprise to the government, since the DWP themselves said in 2008 that workfare doesn’t work, and that in hard economic times it may actually increase unemployment by providing free labour for businesses who would take on paid staff instead. (PDF, page 5)
The most obvious ways in which this happens are through reduced hours or overtime for staff, who are increasingly on zero-hour contracts especially in retail, or at this time of year through the straight up replacement of paid christmas temps.

In fact the whole design of the schemes is such that it is not possible for them to reduce unemployment. Firms like Ingeus and A4e act like recruitment agencies, finding already existing jobs and getting firms to exclusively interview people from their scheme. These jobs would exist anyway without workfare, and someone would get the job. What these schemes can do is change who gets the job, but will not reduce unemployment. Except of course when we are talking about government statistics, where people on workfare schemes are not counted as unemployed, even though they are unpaid and looking for a proper job.

Of course, those lost jobs aren’t with the charities who rely on volunteers for everyone but their shop managers. However, volunteers are forced to give up their role to go on workfare schemes, the forced nature of workfare undermines volunteering itself, and brings charities who use it into disrepute. Volunteers are great for charities because they bring an energy and commitment to the job, because they are choosing to help an organisation whose core values and aims they agree with. This is probably not the case for people who have been forced to do these roles, especially if it has meant giving up volunteering for a different charity.

Because we think that charities should not be involved with forced labour schemes, because we think that the people who British Heart Foundation are meant to support will find themselves pushed onto these schemes, worsening their illness, because workfare doesn’t work, and because we want volunteering to remain voluntary, we will be demonstrating outside the British Heart Foundation store in Harborne, calling on them to withdraw from government workfare schemes.

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6 responses to “Anyone With a Heart Would Not Support Workfare

  1. Pingback: Birmingham Trades Council » Anyone With a Heart Would Not Support Workfare

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