23 April 2012
One of the most vocal campaigners is Boycott Workfare.
The grassroots pressure group formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact aims to expose companies profiting from free labour while encouraging organisations to pledge to boycott it.
“Workfare is bad news for everyone because it’s replacing paid work with forced, unpaid work and putting people in an easily exploited position,” said campaigner Joanna Long.
“Those involved are often not given the right health and safety equipment and made to do the worst tasks that undermine paid work and the minimum wage.”
Although headlines focused on the exploitation of youngsters, Joanna is keen to stress that hundreds of thousands of people of all ages are involved in the schemes.
“There are five schemes in operation and work experience is just one of them,” she said.
Grotesque scheme Joanna and her colleagues believe there is no need for any government agency or employer to ask any individual to work for free.
“When we look at where these placements in particular are taking place it is with companies that are making millions of pounds of profit,” she said. “They can afford to pay wages and are choosing not to.
What’s more this is at a time of high rates of unemployment and the fact that the government is putting all of its energy into a scheme that doesn’t create a single job, that actually replaces jobs, is really grotesque.”
For more workfare facts see boycottworkfare.org
It is estimated that four million children, one in three, are currently living in poverty in the UK – one of the highest rates in the industrialised world. The introduction of workfare by New Labour, now ramped up on a massive scale by the coalition government, has only exacerbated the problem, according to the leading charity the Child Poverty Action Group.
“It contributes because while people are involved in workfare they are not able to seek or enter paid employment,” said CPAG spokesman Tim Nichols.
“This is a danger already identified by a survey from the Department for Work and Pensions because they don’t have time to look for paid employment while they’re working for nothing. It also affects quality of life because when people are not in workfare then at least their children might have the benefit of the parents being around. If people are working for no money then they’re financially poor and time poor.”
Tim believes if people were able to volunteer in areas that interested them it could have positive effects.
“We think that when people are doing it voluntarily there is a better match to what that person’s skills or interests are and you get far better engagement from the person if they are doing it on their own initiative rather than being forced into it,” he said.
“Fundamentally, workfare is an opportunity squandered because it’s good to get people active and experienced in work but you must do it voluntarily rather than through compulsion.”
Help fight injustice, see cpag.org.uk