This Saturday – 3th March – sees a National Day of Action against workfare. Folks in York will be meeting at the fountain on Parliament Street at 1pm and then moving on to companies involved in the workfare scheme.
Workfare refers to a series of schemes created by the government with the stated aim of getting unemployed people into work. In practice, this means having them work full-time for a set period of time, working anything from four weeks to six months for around 30 hours a week.
People put on the workfare scheme are still only eligible for their basic benefits, with Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) working out at between a little over fifty and a little under seventy seventy pounds a week depending on personal circumstances. At 30 hours a week’s work that leaves people being paid around two pounds an hour.
Claimants put on the workfare scheme face strict sanctions if they fail to participate, including having their benefits suspended or removed altogether. The justification for the whole scheme – that it is intended to help people get into work – is somewhat undermined by the fact that it does nothing of the sort, with the amount of time on JSA spent by those on workfare being largely the same as those who are not.
Workfare, in its multiple forms, is increasingly being brought out as a supposed “answer” to the UK’s rising levels of unemployment. Quite aside from its main target, the long-term unemployed, workfare has been carted out as a catch-all solution for youth unemployment, being included in the government’s Youth Contract announced last November. In this, 18 to 24 year olds who have been out of work for three months or more.
Disabled people also face being forced into the workfare scheme, a step which, when combined with the atrocious behaviour of government-funded “assessors” such as Atos and planned changes to disability benefits will leave thousands of disabled people in poverty and/or forced into work for which they are unsuitable.
The impact of workfare goes far further than those directly placed on the scheme. Access to compulsory – and effectively free – labour allows companies to undermine paid workers in order to cut costs, as happened over Christmas when a branch of Asda sent home its paid workers early, relying on “work experience” staff to pick up the slack.
Earlier this year the Communications Workers Union (CWU) came out publicly in support of the use of workfare staff by the Royal Mail. Quite aside from the disgusting spectacle of an organisation claiming to represent workers coming out in favour of compulsory labour for pitiful “wages”, their decision – and that of any union which chooses to support, or not oppose, workfare in its industry – will likely come back to haunt them. Should workers attempt to take strike action, workfare staff will be faced with the choice of crossing a picket line and undermining their coworkers in struggle, or of refusing to attend work and finding themselves with severe sanctions, without even access to the meagre benefits currently being provided.
In the past weeks, companies have been pulling out of workfare left right and centre, a process which has caused a quite hilarious over-reaction from the government – with Ian Duncan Smith demanding a police crackdown on protestors and George Eustice putting the opposition entirely down to a “handful of communists“. Much of the press, meanwhile, has (wrongly) put the blame on the SWP.
While many companies have already pulled out, many are still in, both the companies (list from Boycott Workfare) such as A4e, who manage the Work Programme, and retailers and charities who make use of workfare staff (list from Boycott Workfare).
Contrary to the hysteria created by the government and its obedient media, opposition to workfare exists far beyond the confines of the British left’s alphabet soup of Trotskyist parties and their pet campaign groups. Disability campaigners, anti-cuts groups, claimants organisations, charities and more have all come out against the workfare scheme, and every indication is that the opposition will only continue.
In York, this Saturday’s protest has been called by York Welfare Campaign, a group affiliated to York Stop the Cuts campaigning on access to benefits and services, including housing, disability, unemployment and more. York Welfare Campaign meets every fortnight at 7:30 in the Corner Pin (just off Rougier Street), with the next meeting planned for Tuesday 6th of March.
York protest against workfare this Saturday 3rd March.
Meet 1pm at the fountain. Keep updated via Facebook.