Workfare at the British Heart Foundation

5 Sep

Forget second hand furniture – the British Heart Foundation is the place to go if you want to understand the reality of workfare. I popped along to my local store this afternoon in the hope of speaking with someone about their experience of workfare. The policy director of the BHF had announced that every store had people on work placements from the government’s various schemes and so this seemed like a good place to start. Speaking with the manager, she looked around the room and counted those on Mandatory Work Activity, ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 today’ she informed me, adding ‘we do have pure volunteers as well’. I certainly had come to the right place to witness workfare at work. Three men were at the back of the room hammering at a wardrobe, a young woman was answering the phone and arranging for donations to be collected by the van, another woman was sticking price tags on sofas – all of these people were here because, as one of them put it, ‘there is no choice’, if they refused they would lose their benefits.

Before I could even ask a question, the young woman at the desk hearing why I was there, said quietly and emphatically ‘it’s not nice here, it’s not nice here’. She went on to tell me that she had a qualification in retail and so ‘it’s not benefiting me at all’. She wanted to work with animals but had been told by her job centre advisor that they would not help her in pursing this interest, instead she’s found herself stuck here for a month. I mentioned to her that Boycott Workfare were protesting against BHF’s involvement in workfare this weekend and she became very excited ‘come here and protest when we’re here! That would be so fun!’

I went over to the three men who were fixing a broken wardrobe. ‘It’s a punishment’ one of the men told me as he hammered a nail into the wardrobe ‘it’s nothing to do with work experience, if you miss a day your benefits are stopped, it’s about stopping people from claiming benefits…Yes, I really appreciate this work experience, the 13 years of work I’ve done managing clubs in London really wasn’t enough’ he says good naturedly. ‘It’s a punishment because you are in the same boat as a probation person’, he turns to the man who is hammering the wardrobe with him who is there on probation ‘no offence’ he says. ‘I’m unemployed and he’s a criminal’.

I speak with a black woman who tells me workfare makes her feel ‘mad…it’s absolutely slave labour – absolutely – it’s the 21st century. They took me out of slavery and put me back in slavery.’

Charities are the new face of workfare with politicians stressing the words ‘community benefit’ in order to make workfare seem more acceptable and friendly as they attempt to expand it on an incredible scale. But as is clear from the people I spoke with whoever workfare is for, it is a punitive, degrading, and exploitative practice.

 This Saturday join Boycott Workfare’s UK-wide day of action against charity involvement in workfare. The London action will be meeting at 11.30am outside Nat West which is opposite Camden town station and will take a tour taking in the charities involved in workfare on the high street.

16 Responses to “Workfare at the British Heart Foundation”

  1. W.King September 5, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    A good piece i think. I think a lot of those who support the scheme forget that these are people being punished for being unemployed in an economic situation that has no room for them.
    And the money going to these ‘providers’ could be much better spent on things like real training and support.

  2. Grafter September 5, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    I refused a BHF placement under New Deal a decade or so ago. Thankfully (but only because the alternative was dire), I was able to suggest and undertake an activity that was more useful to me and also of some community benefit.

    The current regime is horribly oppressive and still impacting on my family, which includes a carer – now a jobseeker after a bereavement – having saved the Govt thousands in nursing care.

    The Govt talks about the negative aspects of welfare dependency while being blind to the killing of the spirit and other harm from their own policies.

  3. Editor September 6, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    Reblogged this on kickingthecat.

  4. gogwit September 6, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    Hmmm, do charity shops really need slave or enforced labour? Doesn’t this rather undermine their ethos and degrade, somewhat, the meaning of charity, and what is meant by being charitable.
    Enforced labour is not voluntary labour, it is slavery, it is unethical and it is wrong.
    In my opinion, of course.

  5. Mike September 6, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    If someone has no qualifications and/or experience at all then fair enough, working at a charity store might do them some good. In the case of myself I used to be a workshy layabout until I was sent to Help The Aged years ago which led to me getting a work ethic and actually getting a paid job in the same store. However, years later and I’m expected to go and work in Poundland for a month at 30 hours a week just to get my benefits, despite the paid staff only working 15 hour shifts… and something has gone wrong. Even then, if you don’t get a job within a year you’re sent back to a workfare scheme regardless of what you are doing. In my case I was expected to leave my college course to attend a placement. Despite the fact the placement wouldn’t give me any benefits in obtaining work in the future, while the college course has got me into university (and also off benefits considering I’m getting student finance). If it hadn’t been for a small loop hole with my girlfriend moving in with me that meant I was off the scheme (she’s on ESA) I’d have been forced to quit my college course entirely.

    When the government would rather kick someone out of a course that they are, supposedly, trying to use to help people improve themselves (After all, the government do keep saying they want people to go to college and university), just to go to a placement at a charity store, then it’s clear that the scheme is not working.

    If someone is already doing something to better themselves, or has experience in a certain line of work, then there is no benefit to these schemes, it’s purely a way to try and kick people off benefits, and unfortunately the government knows there will be little in the way of outrage against it at the end because of the amount of people who ignore the facts and just say “why shouldn’t they be made to work for their money?”

    Thankfully, I doubt this government will survive the next election, less thankfully we have to put up with the damage they are doing, and accept that it’s also unlikely the next lot in will remove the workfare scheme considering it was put in place during Labour’s run.

    • something survived... September 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      I’ve been made to quit academic high-level courses because of the DWP. They keep saying I’m not allowed, though there is no job on offer anywhere and the hours haven’t been over 15 hours of tuition a week.
      There’s an unwritten rule that people are (if unemployed) not meant to be intellectual, intelligent, cultured, academic; or to do volunteering that is alternative that they organised for themselves.

    • Ghost Whistler October 18, 2012 at 10:07 am #

      So becuase you coudln’t find any means to occupy your time while unemployed the rest of us have to tolerate this appalling scheme?

      I’m sorry but I have no sympathy for your point at all. You are falling for the government’s propaganda even if you think it’s ok if someone ‘hasn’t the experience’ or they need to develop a ‘work ethic’. Theere’s no such thing: people are motivated to work if they are doing something they can invest emotionally in that rewards them to a commensurate degree (and not just financially, though thanks to our awful capitalist system, that’s important).

      This scheme is intrinsically wrong and completely exploitative. In my opinion there must be 100% resistance to it on every level. We cannot give even an inch of compromise on this. To think charity shops are happy to exploit people under threat of absolute poverty is a national disgrace.

      • Mike November 16, 2012 at 2:03 am #

        Please pay attention to my post, I never said I agree with what they’re doing, and I hate, with a passion, Workfare.

        My only point was that there are some who are lazy as fuck, and I was one of them in the past, that doesn’t mean “everyone should tolerate the scheme”, it’s more “if someone leaves school with fuck all, and then just signs on and clearly intends to do fuck all with their life, then they should be made to do something as it might give them a work ethic”, but anyone clearly looking for work, or who has legitimate experience and such should not be forced into workfare for any business.

        It’s short sighted to say that those who ARE lazy should get off scot free, and it’s equally stupid to say that because there are those who are lazy everyone should be punished. The middle ground needs to be reached, but the middle ground needs the government to yield a lot more than just halfway.


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