The bosses of the 200,000 registered charities in the UK were urged not to take part in the government’s new ‘workfare’ programme launched today (Monday 28 April).
The new mandatory Community Work Placements require that jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants do six months work placement – or risk losing their benefits.
Unite, the country’s largest union, which has 60,000 members in the voluntary sector, branded the scheme as “nothing more than forced unpaid labour”.
Unite is supporting the group of voluntary organisations, which includes Oxfam and Anti Slavery International, that has launched Keep Volunteering Voluntary.
Unite’s reps in the not for profit sector will be raising the exploitative nature of the new scheme and asking charity managers not to sign up for community work placements which are being promoted by Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “This scheme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour and there is no evidence that these workfare programmes get people into paid work in the long-term.
“We are against this scheme wherever ministers want to implement it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector.
“The government sees cash-starved charities as ‘a soft target’ for such an obscene scheme, so we are asking charity bosses to say ‘no’ to taking part in this programme. This is a warping of the true spirit of volunteering and will force the public to look differently at charities with which they were once proud to be associated.
“It is outrageous that the government is trying to stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits docked.
“The hours demanded by workfare are greater than a community service order you would get for a criminal offence, such as punching someone in the street – this is just bonkers.
“What the long queues of Britain’s unemployed need are proper jobs with decent pay and a strong system of apprenticeships for young people to offer them a sustainable employment future.
“What is being introduced today is shoddy. It will displace existing workers and enslave work-seekers or see them join the foodbank queue. We urge our charities to have nothing whatsoever to do with this abusive scheme.”
Unite’s growing community section will be on hand to support unemployed people forced onto workfare schemes.
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940 and/or the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065.
Notes to editors
1. Find out more about Unite’s charity sector by visiting the Unite for Our Society campaign page.
2. Unite is organising unemployed members as part of its Community Membership
3. The Community Work Placement (CWP) scheme, part of a set of measures branded “Help to Work”, was announced by chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne at Conservative Party conference in 2013. Costed at £300 million and aimed at 200,000 Jobseekers Allowance claimants, it will begin on 28 April 2014 (see 1.22 and 1.23 here). The government's own description of the scheme can be found here.
4. Sanctioning of benefits claimants has massively increased under the coalition government, with 897,690 sanctioned in the year to September 2013, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker's allowance was introduced in 1996. Full details.
5. The Trussell Trust reports that 83 per cent of its foodbanks when surveyed reported that benefits sanctions, have caused more people to be referred to them for emergency food.
6. The new Community Work Placements require unemployed people to do more than twice as many hours of unpaid work (maximum 780 hours) than criminals doing community service (maximum 300 hours). Community sentences can be given for crimes such as damaging property, benefit fraud, and assault.
7. Studies into existing UK workfare schemes in the UK have found them to have zero effect on helping people find work. See a survey of the evidence here.
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• Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.