Victory for Haringey Solidarity GroupThe Anti-Workfare Campaign

In the last issue of Rebel City (Summer 2015) we published an article from Haringey Solidarity Group about their long-term campaign against North London Hospice. We are pleased to announce victory. Here is their press release.

28/07/15 – MEDIA RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NORTH LONDON HOSPICE PULLS OUT OF WORKFARE

Following 9 months of protest from Haringey Solidarity Group [1], North London Hospice has agreed to stop taking part in the government’s workfare scheme. The charity, which has been using the six-month forced, unpaid “Community Work Placements” [2] to staff its charity shops, has agreed to replace all forced labour with the work of volunteers. Running 18 shops in North London and a major supplier of Community Work Placements, the charity’s pledge to pull out will have a significant impact on the scheme’s viability in Haringey.

Under Community Work Placements any jobseeker who hasn’t secured employment for two years can be forced to work for free for six months or be sanctioned – losing their benefits for between 4 weeks and three years. Last year over 560,000 claimants were sanctioned (a shocking one in five jobseekers) [3] resulting in rent arrears, hunger, and poor mental and physical health. Although the government still refuses to publish data on sanction-related deaths, we know these sanctions have resulted in cases of suicide and death by other causes. [4] Charities are increasingly unwilling to use the controversial scheme and almost 600, including Oxfam, Marie Curie, The Children’s Society and the Red Cross, have signed a pledge never to use forced labour. [5]

Until this month North London Hospice was one of the few charities in Haringey to remain involved in the scheme. Haringey Solidarity Group has been in discussions with the charity’s senior management for 9 months, taking a variety of actions against the organisation including picketing the shops and, latterly, occupying their shops at Turnpike Lane and Crouch Hill. [6] While North London Hospice told Haringey Solidarity Group and the media they ‘intended’ to pull out of the scheme, they continued to actively recruit for placements.

They have now committed in writing to pulling out of the scheme. Pam McClinton, CEO of North London Hospice, told Haringey Solidarity Group:

“The Board have decided that North London Hospice will no longer initiate any new placements through the CWP scheme. We are committed to honouring existing placements. The last of these placements concludes in December 2015.”

Tony Woods, member of Haringey Solidarity Group, says: “We are pleased North London Hospice has finally realised that it is unacceptable to force people to work 30 hours a week for no money. Volunteering has to be voluntary and work should be paid, otherwise people are being exploited. We will be keeping a close eye on North London Hospice to make sure they keep their promise to have completely left the scheme by December this year.”

Notes to editors

1. Haringey Solidarity Group is a group of local people who want to get rid of the current system which places profit and power before people’s real needs. We support and participate in local campaigns, spread ideas and help create effective opposition in our community. You can see our website here.

2. The “Community Work Placements” scheme, originally announced by George Osborne as “Help to Work” on 30th September 2013, is one of a number of schemes which uses the threat of sanctions to force jobseekers into unpaid work. These schemes are collectively known by opponents as ‘workfare’. See the provider guidance for CWPs here.

3. A study of UK government figures by the University of Glasgow shows that 568,430 of the 3,097,630 individuals who claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) during 2013/14 were sanctioned.

4. A cross-party parliamentary committee report on benefit conditionality, published in March 2015, notes that the DWP has carried out 49 ‘peer reviews’ into the death of a benefit claimant. According to DWP guidelines, peer reviews are undertaken when a suicide is associated with DWP activity.

Although the DWP refused to specify to the committee how many of these deaths were linked with sanctions, an FOI request revealed recently that one in five benefit-related deaths involved sanctions.

Among the most well-publicised sanction related deaths is that of David Clapson, who died from diabetic ketoacidosis (caused by an acute lack of insulin) on July 20th 2013.

5. The pledge and a full list of signatories can be found here through Keep Volunteering Voluntary, which encourages charities to refuse to use workfare.

6. You can see reports of Haringey Solidarity Group’s occupations here (from the Barnet and Potters Bar Times) and here (from Haringey Solidarity Group’s website).

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