Saturday 8th December was a national day of action against Workfare, in Birmingham protesters from Boycott Workfare, Birmingham Against the Cuts, Disabled People Against the Cuts, Anonymous Birmingham and Birmingham Food not Bombs gathered outside Poundland a local company using Workfare. The groups we’re also joined by protesters coming from the nearby UK Uncut Starbucks action were Starbucks were targeted for not paying tax. After handing out leaflets for a while the group decided to occupy Argos, conveniently just round the corner. There have been reports of a case in Birmingham where someone applied for a temp job at Argos, but didn’t get it and then subsequently found themselves sent to the same Argos store but unpaid on workfare. During the occupation over a thousand leaflets were handed out to shoppers and by the end of the occupation the once busy queues had all but disappeared. After this success the group moved on to Superdrug who although not using workfare in Birmingham, in Brighton, have said they will not be taking any paid christmas temps on this year whilst they continue to get free workfare labour straight from the job centre. The demonstration finished at McDonalds who made £10m from the government work scheme without creating a single job. At McDonalds Food not Bombs began to hand out free vegan burgers along with the leaflets taking potential customers away from McDonalds.
In 2008 the DWP themselves admitted that workfare schemes don’t work [PDF, page 5]. There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. Saying no will mean sanctions of up to 3 years for unemployed people and 70% of benefits indefinitely for disabled people. The loss of money is particularly harsh in light of all the other cuts to benefits, public services and rises in energy bills and leads to severe hardships. What is particularly worrying locally is Sifa Fireside, a local homeless shelter, have reported “housing benefit is increasingly suspended if people are being sanctioned by Job Centre Plus” , leading to increased homelessness on top of an already out of control homeless crises in Birmingham.
The fact that the Work Programme actually reduces your chances of finding a job, whilst Mandatory Work Activity has no effect on unemployment levels but increases the number of people claiming disability benefit, suggesting that it may worsen health conditions, on top of over half a million sanctions handed out in 2011, and job centres being given targets for people to sanction. Workfare should not be viewed as an attempt to “fix the economy” or “reduce unemployment” but should be seen as an attempt to punish society’s poorest and most vulnerable, it is an act of class warfare. This is a campaign that is winable however, as there is a growing list of company’s who have pulled out of of Workfare as a result of being targeted by the Boycott Workfare campaign.