Why We’re Supporting Boycott Workfare Campaign In Birmingham

Workfare is a government scheme where people who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for 6 months or more are made to take a “work experience” position at a company for a period of up to 6 weeks.

Common placements are at Poundland, Tesco and other retail businesses, where people will do jobs such as sweeping/cleaning and shelf stacking.

Workfare was first brought in as part of the Flexible New Deal, under Labour, and is being expanded by the ConDem coalition. Worryingly, there are now moves being put into place to create placements of up to 6 months for long term unemployed.
During the period you are working for the company, you receive your benefits and travel expenses. There is no extra pay, and people on the work experience do a full 30-35hour week for up to £67.50 of benefits (younger people will get less, with £53.75 being a lower rate). This means that people are often earning less than £2/hr for their work – well below the minimum wage.

The companies they are working for do not pay anything, instead the taxpayer covers the cost of their “wages”.

Boycott Workfare are a campaign group who have been working to end these schemes. They approached us before Christmas as they will be starting to campaign around the West Midlands this year. This coincided with the start of a legal challenge to Workfare by local firm Public Interest Lawyers (who regularly attend Birmingham Against The Cuts meetings), and a story in the Guardian about workfare, which included details from Cait Reilly, who was made to give up her voluntary position at the Birmingham Pen Museum, in order to do a placement at Poundland in Kings Heath.

We have decided to support the campaign in Birmingham, and will be helping to organise a meeting in the city centre sometime in March, along with Birmingham Trades Council and Boycott Workfare. We will of course publicise this meeting when there are firm details. There will also be meetings held around Birmingham and the West Midlands.

If you want to get involved with the campaign, or want to know if there will be a meeting near you, please email us at BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@Gmail.com or comment on this post, and we’ll pass your details on / get back to you.

We are supporting this campaign not just in solidarity with benefits claimants or the people who lose their jobs and are replaced with workfare placements, but because we consider this to be an anti-cuts issue.

There are many reasons to oppose workfare – the fact that it is a subsidy for big business wage bills, that for many jobseekers the work experience will be of little or no value, that anyone on workfare is getting paid well below minimum wage, that there is no training budget attached to the scheme and that it will discourage businesses from taking on paid employees (why would they when they can get them for free?) which in turn will mean that unemployment will rise, not fall. In this post I will explain what it has to do with public sector cuts and austerity.
Before that, it is worth mentioning that in 2008, the DWP did a study of workfare (PDF), and concluded:

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.

So workfare doesn’t even work, and may in fact make it harder for people to find work.

At the moment, workfare appears to be almost entirely within the retail sector. Right now councils and other government bodies are not taking part in these schemes, but how long will it be before they do?

With cuts in public sector spending there will be gaps in the provision of services. In Birmingham for instance, the parks and gardening service is being cut. From what we hear, this is being achieved through “natural wastage” – ie: when people leave they are not being replaced. Sooner or later, this will lead to a situation in which there are not enough people to cover all the work required, so the grass in parks will not be getting cut as often as desired.

The next move for the council is not to hire paid staff, thus reducing unemployment in the area, increasing tax revenue and generally helping the economic situation. Instead it is to go to DWP and sign up for workfare schemes, getting people in for a month to cut the grass, trim the hedges and water the flowers. A position which right now is paid becomes unpaid.

Think about all the unskilled jobs in the council, from data entry to street sweeping, and that all of these could be replaced with people on work placements, unpaid.

Already we know from London that tube wardens were made redundant a couple of years ago. These have since been replaced with workfare placement positions. In the USA, where workfare schemes have run for years, it is not uncommon to lose a job, only to be told to go back to it on a workfare placement.

The same effect is true in the private sector of course, with paid jobs being replaced with unpaid jobs – in this way, workfare threatens jobs, and is thus an issue for workers, as well as benefit claimants.

For the public sector, workfare represents a chance to cover for cuts. For the private sector it is a way to cut the wage bill and further marginalise the workforce.

For the economy it is another piece of the austerity agenda – a way to put further downward pressure on average wages. Workfare will not reduce unemployment, it will increase it. For many people who take part in the scheme, it will not improve their chances of finding work. For businesses it is a great way to reduce wage bills.

For the government it is a way to enforce the Big Society, and to cover for the gaps they are creating in provision of services to taxpayers. For all the reasons mentioned in this post, and because this links in to the cuts and austerity agenda, we oppose this scheme and hope that you will come along to a meeting and to demonstrations & events that happen in the future.

As part of the national day of action, there will be a picket of Poundland on Union Street in Kings Heath on Saturday 3rd March, 11:30am-12:30pm. Other events are taking place around the country so if you are not in Birmingham, check here

There will be a meeting in Kings Heath on 7th March, and in Birmingham City Centre on 29th. See our Upcoming Events page for full details



Filed under Events

24 responses to “Why We’re Supporting Boycott Workfare Campaign In Birmingham

  1. Pingback: Boycott Workfare » Blog Archive » Why We’re Supporting Boycott Workfare Campaign In Birmingham

  2. Pingback: Kings Heath Connexions Closes As Unemployment Rises | Birmingham Against The Cuts

  3. Tobanem

    You might be interested in the recent BBC report about Surrey County Council’s plans to replace 10 paid Librarians with volunteers.

    The Council’s plans have have been twarted by a High Court injucntion.

    Here is the link to the report:


    I wonder how many “volunteers” on the Government’s doomed Work Programme will be able to take out High Court injunctions when mandated onto the forthcoming Community Action Programme or any other existing workfare scheme?

    There is, of course, no such thing as a mandatory volunteer.

    Interestingly, “forced or compulsory labour” is defined as follows:


    It looks as though “mandatory voluntary work” is a breach of Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, or its counterpart in Scots Law, Section 47 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 – both of which outlaw “forced or compulsory labour”.

  4. Jess

    Here’s an idea. Let’s replace MPs with people on workfare placement. Then all the money that would have gone on their wages/expenses/pensions can be used to actually pay people to do jobs, instead of forcing them to do it for benefits.

  5. Pingback: Workfare Collapses | the void

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  23. Jeff Smith


    Once upon a time there were three little pigs, who became unemployed.
    Soon they had no food in the house, and being pigs, they didn’t like it.
    They decided that one of them would have to go and sign-on at the Jobcentre.
    None of them was very keen on this idea, for the Jobcentre had a bad reputation. It was known as a place where unpleasant things happened to people known as ‘the unemployed’.

    So reluctantly, the first little pig went into town, and called at the Jobcentre
    to sign-on.
    At the desk was a wolf, called Advisor, who smiled when he saw the little pig.
    ” Hello little piggy, I’m here to help you get a job ”, he said.
    And the little pig signed all the papers that Advisor asked him to.
    And foolishly, he allowed full access to his Universal Jobmatch Account.
    He didn’t really understand this, but it seemed a good idea, and Mr.Wolf was so nice and friendly.
    But the first time that the little pig didn’t apply for a job, even though it was only part-time and very far away, he was sanctioned, and lost his Jobseekers Allowance for a month. And so the little pig ran crying all the way home, and as he now had no money, and there was no social security thanks to an evil gang called Tories, he starved to death before the end of the month.

    Now the second little pig saw what had happened to his friend, but he had no choice, and so he went down to the Jobcentre and signed-on.
    He saw the wolf, called Advisor, who tried to persuade him to allow full access to his Universal Jobmatch Account.
    But the second little pig was wiser, or thought he was, and so he declined DWP access to his UJ account.

    The wolf didn’t like this, and tried to persuade the second little pig to give him access to the UJ account. But the second little pig would not . This was awkward for the wolf, because now he couldn’t snoop on the jobseeking activities of the second little pig. He couldn’t for example see if the little pig had refused a job, or what he was applying for. He couldn’t see if he had refused to apply for a recommended job. And he couldn’t get into the account to put lots of jobs on the list for the little pig to apply for, which the wolf liked doing.

    This won’t do thought the wolf, I’ll have to try a trick to get into the UJ account. And so the wolf pretended that there was a special rule which meant that when the little pig came to sign-on he would have to let the wolf see his UJ account, and provide screen prints from it. Even though the little pig had officially declined DWP access.This wasn’t really true of course, because the little pig was protected by EU privacy law, and no access meant no viewing, and no screen prints either.

    But the second little piggy didn’t know this, and he didn’t want to annoy Mr.Wolf or lose his Jobseeker’s Allowance. So next time he visited the Jobcentre, he let the wolf see his UJ account, and provided screen prints.

    Now these screen prints showed that the second little pig had not been doing enough in his Job Activity List, and worse, that he had not applied for a job at the local bacon factory. And so the second little pig was sanctioned, and lost all his money. He would have starved to death too, but fortunately he was hit by a bus instead while crossing the road, which just goes to show.

    The third little pig was the wisest of the three, and he went down to the Jobcentre and signed-on. He saw the evil wolf Advisor, and refused to provide
    DWP access to his account. The little piggy didn’t listen to the wolf when he tried to persuade him, nor did he believe the trick about the special rule.
    And the evil wolf huffed and puffed, and threatened the little piggy.
    But the third little pig stood firm, for he knew that EU privacy law protected him. And the third little pig was able to keep his jobsearch private, away from the wolf. He didn’t have to explain why he hadn’t applied for a particular job.
    The wolf couldn’t check his jobsearch activity, or jobsearch time.
    He couldn’t put extra jobs into the account to be applied for.
    All because the little piggy had declined access and kept his privacy. In fact the third little pig didn’t use the UJ account at all, for it was a stupid thing really, and full of things to trap an unwary pig.

    So the third little pig just did what he had to do, and no more.
    He posted a public CV on the UJ account, and he provided a single print out of this, the only print out he legally had to make. He gave this to the wolf, Advisor. He logged in to the UJ account from time to time to check if any employers had offered him a job. Of course they never did, but this was part of a strange game that was played at the Jobcentre, so he didn’t mind.

    Most importantly, the third little pig did not use the UJ account at all for any jobsearching, nor put any of his applications into the online Jobsearch Activity List.
    He just ignored the whole nasty thing. He did his jobsearch using other online search engines. These were much better anyway than Universal Jobmatch, which had been designed by a monster employed by the evil Tories.

    The third little piggy wrote all of his jobsearch details down on a form that Mr. Wolf had to provide for him, even though he didn’t like this much, called a Fortnightly Jobsearch Record. He carefully filled this in every day, and came to his fortnightly sign-on with printed evidence of his jobsearch. This included Application Confirmations, which he could easily get from internet job search sites, and which were very useful for this purpose.
    So this little piggy claimed his Jobseekers Allowance and lived happily ever after. Or at least as happily as you could do, bearing in mind the continual cutbacks in the benefit system.
    And the moral of this story is, when you go down to the Jobcentre to sign-on, which little pig are you going to be ?

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