Tag Archives: workfare

Interesting articles and actions

14 Mar

I’ve got a small collection of some infuriating, some exciting articles/links that I’ve come across recently. I’ve tweeted them out enthusiastically, but I think they deserve a bit more attention so I thought I’d have a go at putting them together in a blog post.

Firstly there’s the vile Hammersmith and Fulham council who have used the Localism Act 2011 to narrow the already incredibly restrictive criteria for accessing social housing. Here Hammersmith and Fulham state that those who ‘have given something back to the community’ will be prioritised – showing how workfare is creeping into housing policy as people are forced to ‘volunteer’ in order to access housing instead of housing being allocated according to need. The situation at the moment already means that people are not getting housing to meet their needs – the criteria to access social housing is already very narrow and local councils have all sorts of gate keeping techniques to stop people who are eligible from accessing it. London Coalition Against Poverty has done a lot of great work supporting people getting their homelessness rights (read their pamphlet here) and will be looking into local councils in London to find out what their new policies are with plans for action around this.

On the subject of housing, there has been another protest occupation of a council owned residential property that Camden council were selling off. The protest by Camden Housing Action Group was against the sell-off of council housing and social cleansing, and against the law that criminalises squatting residential buildings. Two people in the protest occupation were arrested under section 144 that criminalises living or intending to live in an abandoned residential property. The court case should be interesting as it was clearly a protest occupation with no one living or intending to live there. Section 144 criminalises homeless people. Here it is being used to criminalise people taking direct action on the housing crisis. Challenges like this – using abandoned residential building for protest occupations, social centres etc – to the law are really important to make this law impossible to enforce. ‘Empty houses, homeless people, that is what should be illegal!’ The two will be in court on Friday 28th March – show them your support on Twitter, facebook etc.

Yet more inspiring housing action – the Focus E15 mums are fighting for their right to secure social housing in the home borough of Newham. Kate Belgrave has been following the women’s’ campaign and Johnny Void has written a good article on them too.  

Crowbar Sisterhood published their March newsletter with lots of really cool events in the making. “Crowbar Sisterhood is an inclusive group for all current/former/wannabe squatters who identify as women, including transgender women, and AFAB (assigned female at birth) genderqueer/non-binary trans people who feel a connection to women’s communities.”

The Empty Cages Collective is a newly formed group in Bristol made up of people who have been directly affected by the prison-industrial complex and who have been in prison-related struggles and support. They have called for a year of action and organising against the prison-industrial complex and have organised a Tear Down the Walls speaker tour to help kick this off.  Keep your eyes on their website for future events and texts on the prison industrial complex and abolition in the UK.

I love this collection of refusal of work cultural artefacts collected by Novara Media. It’s a shame that the majority of these expressions against work also have shit gender politics – the exception being the absolutely awesome Dolly Parton and Co. in 9 to 5 whose militant anti-work and feminist politics sees them lassoing their boss and taking over the workplace.

There’s the Boycott Workfare week of action (29 March to 6 April) against the new Community Work Placement scheme which is due to start on 1 April, forcing people to work unpaid for 6 months or else face losing subsistence benefits.  There’s loads of suggestions for local actions on the blog and Boycott Workfare can offer support with promotion, stickers, and leaflets. Workfare providers like Seetec have complained that they’re struggling to find workfare placements because of all the actions people are taking. Let’s make sure that this latest and longest scheme completely collapses.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth are celebrating their first birthday this April. There will be details of a social event on their website soon so if you’re south London based and angry at high rents, benefit cuts, gentrification and more come along and meet the group and have cake.

I think that’s everything. I just stumbled upon this Hackney isn’t crap anti-gentrification walking tour from 2008 which I’ve bookmarked for later. 

Boycott Workfare Welfare Action Gathering

17 Feb

Boycott Workfare’s welfare action gathering on Saturday was a massive success. 80 people from groups across the country came to participate in the day of workshops based around info and skill sharing on the various welfare issues we face. The programme was packed, with sessions on JSA, ESA, housing, fuel poverty, and more, with people remarking on the difficulty of deciding which workshop to attend when there were clashes. We organised the gathering because supporting claimants to know and enforce their so-called rights, and claimants organising together and shaping the campaign, has always been a major part of what we do. For this to happen effectively local mutual support groups are key (it was from a London Coalition Against Poverty group that Boycott Workfare came out of) – we’ve distributed thousands of ‘How to Avoid Workfare’ leaflets but along with these, we really need a buddy or a group of people when challenging Job Centre Plus. The gathering was called to support the growing number of local groups so that we can build on the impressive work of challenging workfare and sanctions across the country through mutual support and direct action, like the examples shared with us early on in the day of the occupation of the £3 million council house and a blockade of the workfare exploiters Salvation Army.

The space to share these sorts of stories, experiences and tactics is how all the sessions were structured allowing the massive amount of knowledge held by everyone there from direct experiences of struggling within and against the welfare system to be collected together. If you’ve got notes from the day, send them to Boycott Workfare to be collated with the ones they’ve taken, and feel free to post below. I particularly liked the comment in the mutual support group discussion asking how we could build counter power like that in late 1970s Italy. We didn’t quite get round to discussing this in the session, but we did have a really interesting discussion in the limited time we had.

A diverse range of grassroots groups participated including Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, London Coalition Against Poverty, Disabled People Against Cuts, Fuel Poverty Action, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, Leeds Hands Off Our Homes, Hackney Digs, Bristol Claimants Union, Birmingham Claimants Union, Brighton Benefits Campaign, Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group, Crossroads Women’s Centre, Refuted, Universal Automation, and possibly some I’ve forgotten, as well as people from places without a group but looking to start one. The gathering allowed people to make thick ties with other people and groups with loads of really valuable discussions happening within and outside the workshops throughout the day. It was really wonderful seeing so many new people, hearing inspiring stories, coming up with new ideas for actions (keep your eyes peeled) and new networks of support (e.g. informal email based groups for working tax credits and a mutual support group discussion). The workshop on Universal Automation has lead to some new ideas for this awesome app and I’m sure that lots more will come out of the day over the coming months.



Awesome workfare picket as part of Boycott Workfare’s Week of Action

13 Jul
Percy says NO! to workfare

Percy says NO! to workfare

Anti-workfare protesters leafletting outside M&S

Anti-workfare protesters leafletting outside M&S

I had so much fun this afternoon on an M&S workfare picket today.

Feminist Fightback, North London SolFed, Rhythms of Resistance, and Boycott Workfare descended on M&S off Mare Street, Hackney. As the hot sun scorched Hackney, the samba band rang out across the street interspersed with chants of ‘M&S pay your workers’. Passersby were loving the samba, with two children clapping along as they waited for a bus and then improvising their own instruments with two twigs. People stopped and joined the demo to chant ‘M&S pay your workers’ with us. There was loads of support and good vibes from people. We handed out so many ‘How to Avoid Workfare’ leaflets and leaflets explaining about M&S’ use of forced unpaid labour that we had to rush off and photocopy another batch.

Lots of people stopped to speak to us about their experience of workfare, people spoke to us about how they had been sanctioned or threatened with sanctions. People thanked us for the rights leaflets and advice we gave them. One man who joined us said, “I’ve never been on a picket or demonstration before, but I’m so angry about what they’re doing, it’s exploitation.” He said he’d stay in touch and come to future demos. He kindly went off and bought us all bottles of chilled water. Another guy asked what we were doing and asked “but they get paid social security”, but that’s not a wage, that would work out at a quid an hour, and then M&S will get rid of their paid workers. “You’ve got a point” he said, genuinely convinced, and it seemed, converted.

There were two community support officers inside the store all day but we managed to enter the store in pairs to hand out leaflets and speak with the workers (and to enjoy the cool air of the refrigerators). The manager had warned workers not to speak to us and we were then escorted from the shop shouting that they should pay their workers. When we were outside again the whole group joined in a rousing chant of “M&S hear us say, we won’t work for JSA”. One person who’d stopped to speak with us remarked “Now that’s what I call a demonstration, just going in there and telling it straight!”

After a solid two and a half hours of leafletting, we started to pack up. North London SolFed are hardcore and kept on going.

It was great spending time talking in the street with strangers and making connections, encouraging them to stay in touch and let us know if we could support them. Hackney did have a welfare group ‘Hackney Welfare Action’ (part of London Coalition Against Poverty) but it’s sort of fizzled out, but from our picket today there’s definitely a lot of people who would be interested in being involved in a welfare action group. I headed back to south London feeling good – it’s all about the street solidarity!

Welfare action in Edinburgh

29 Jun
ACE! Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh

ACE! Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh

Here are some notes from our recent trip to Edinburgh to meet Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. The first is a short version, the article below has a bit more detail.

We headed up to Edinburgh this week to meet with the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty folk. A group who we had read and heard lots about but hadn’t seen in action IRL.

The group has been running for decades, giving solidarity for low income people in their city. After being evicted from their first home in the 90s, the group re-occupied the space numerous times before the council gave up and let them have it for two years. Once the lease had run out, they found themselves threatened with eviction again and were under siege for 6 months (in what has been dubbed an Italian style social centre – in both countries squatting is completely illegal), until being violently evicted by police. Their home since 1997 has been the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, a small, beautiful, and homey space.

From here they run a weekly drop in session for benefit claimants, low-paid workers, and those with debt or housing issues. Run largely as a one-to-one advice session, there is still a sense of collectivity and solidarity as people talk with one another while they wait, exchanging nightmare stories and survival tactics, and most importantly, empathy. With no help to be found elsewhere, sitting down with someone to fill out yet another dreaded DWP form is inherently radical, breaking the feeling of isolation and hopelessness.

ECAP also have a buddy system to accompany people to ATOS and Job Centre appointments, providing safety in numbers, strengthening claimants positions, and sharing ways to get through the brutal processes laid before them.

Larger direct actions the group have used to fight for claimants rights include occupying A4e to demand their right for claimants to have someone accompany them to interviews and a mass visit to a local councillor with a woman who had been hounded from her home by Edinburgh city council over the bedroom tax. The group have also held numerous pickets and occupations of workfare stores.

Walking around ACE, the area is covered in their brilliant posters, creating a strong feeling of solidarity in the streets, reassuring people that they do not have to struggle alone, but that welfare is a collective issue and will be exposed and acted upon in this way. The group also hold regular leafletting sessions outside Job Centres.

Meeting and talking with these folk about their actions was really valuable and enjoyable. With more claimants action groups getting going, it’s great to make these links and share ideas and information.

Breaking: We just heard this morning that Bristol are setting up a claimants group as well! Woo!

Favourite poster

Favourite poster

ATOS poster

ATOS poster


We’d heard tales of A4e occupations to overturn sanctions and read inspiring anti-workfare action reports from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and so asked if we could visit them to share stories, ideas, and sanction smashing tips. As we try and get our own south London welfare action groups going and with the welfare system getting more and more brutal and unbearable we thought chatting with these folk would be helpful.

There is plenty to be inspired by in London and elsewhere, simply take a read of this LCAP booklet and a one off JSA and ESA skillshare at the Eileen house squat months back, but the ECAP group have decades of experience in direct action, solidarity, and support for low income people and we were keen to hear and learn about how they do things.

There were plenty of great stories to be heard. Back in the 90s the council stopped funding for an unemployed workers centre and tried to close it down. The person who had been employed to work there locked out the unemployed people from their own centre and so they found a way back in and refused to leave. The paid worker came back and removed the computers and photocopiers and locked it up again. The determined group found a way back in again and were able to remain there as the lease was for 2 years. After the lease was up, the council tried to kick them out, resulting in a 6 month siege (inspired by the prolific Italian social centres – in both countries squatting is completely illegal) and violent eviction by the police, arresting 20 people. Since 1997 ECAP has been running from the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, a beautiful and homey space with tonnes of interesting literature and other stuff (an old photo in the toilet with a massive banner drop ‘No way JSA’ – old skool resistance!). Every Tuesday since 1997 they have held their advice and support session for people with benefit, housing, or debt issues. In the last two years these sessions have seen more people visit partly as word about them gets out and partly due to the impacts of welfare cuts.

We sat in on a Tuesday session which was busy from start to finish. People sign up to be advisors for each session, usually there are 5-6 people there to run it, and people can drop in between the hours of 12pm-3pm to speak with the advisors. Advisors will consult and talk with other advisors when helping someone, and claimants get chatting with one another whilst they wait, so there is a sense of collectivity and a sharing of knowledge and ideas. But at times, it did also feel a little like a one-to-one advice service. We asked if there was a way to make it more collective to break down an ‘advisor’ ‘client’ separation and hierarchy which can happen (indeed, one advisor noted the power differentials that may exist from the start between someone who has the free time to volunteer there and those who may be in a vulnerable situation). Turning it into a larger meeting for people to make collective decisions would mean they wouldn’t leave until 10pm because of the number of people they see, but they did suggest that perhaps there were ways of working in small groups. This would also mean that several advisors would get to know one claimants case and this would help create better continuity – so if one advisor isn’t there one week, others will be up to speed. Working in smaller groups would also emphasise the knowledge and experience that claimants too have of the system so that advice sharing is not just one way.

Sitting down filling out a dreaded form with someone is radical. It combats the immense fear and alienation of doing it alone. As someone at the space said, “there is no help anywhere, this is the only place there is”.

One man told us how he’d been helped by ECAP and was now helping others by attending ATOS and job centre interviews with people. This is another really important thing that ECAP do – providing buddies for appointments in order to provide support and make challenges. He took a bundle of ECAP posters to stick around his neighbourhood. Around ACE we’d seen them fly postered everywhere (they have an active fanbase who flypost their brilliant posters over the city, despite the warnings carried on them that they are not for fly postering). Including one of our favourite ever posters. As the man pointed out “we need this solidarity in the streets” and that’s exactly how it feels when you walk down the street spotting them. The group also show solidarity with claimants with regular leafletting sessions outside Job Centres.

As well as advice sessions and buddies, ECAP also take collective direct action. When A4e refused to let claimants have somebody accompany them to their appointments, ECAP used a combination of legal and direct action. They continued to accompany one person to his A4e interviews and so A4e sanctioned the person for not attending their appointment. ECAP escalated and occupied the offices as a group, handing out leaflets, until the police removed them. A4e backed down.

In the Monday evening ECAP organising meeting, we also heard about how the group had visited on mass a local councillors surgery to support a woman who had been hounded from her home by the council demanding the bedroom tax she should have been exempt from. “He’s afraid of large groups” someone remarked. Hearing of this sort of community mobilisation and solidarity is really heartening. We also got to speak about the Boycott Workfare campaign and discuss ideas about workfare campaigning and what we can do about the post-Work Programme ‘hit squads’ in which claimants are subjected to even more vicious weekly interviews. It was really enjoyable and valuable to discuss and share our workfare ideas (for example calls for more Job Centre occupations) and activities and make stronger links with other folk outside of London. We also got to share our respective propaganda. We took up a bundle of Occupied Times anti-work issues which went down really well and we collected some of their leaflets on Universal Jobs Match and their brilliant posters.

We also learnt of a dog in Italy that would always chase after the police trying to bite them. Did they train it to do that we asked. “The owners said the dog did it autonomously!”

Breaking: We just heard this morning that Bristol are setting up a claimants group as well! Woo!

Our anarcho-adventures in Scotland also included catching the film All Cats Are Brilliant as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The drama follows a young woman’s life in Athens as she tries to deal with her partner’s imprisonment, pressurising parents, her work as an artist and babysitter, walking her dog Durruti. We weren’t quite sure what to make of the film (and we were curious about what the packed cinema thought of it too – cos they didn’t look like an ACAB sort of crowd…) – was it appropriating anarchist politics because this is ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ or was it a faithful attempt to portray anarchist ideas and struggles, the brutal clampdown by the state on anarchists and the very personal toll this takes. Was it critiquing problematic aspects of the anarchist community – there were certainly some bad gender dynamics, the isolation Electra felt within the radical ‘community’ – or was it simply repeating them…There were some really nice scenes in the film as well as a couple of cringe points to it, so we left with mixed feelings.

Lambeth council’s ‘welfare’ – cutting benefits, fighting for police

24 May

This has turned into quite a rant – it’s quite long and incoherent, but I wanted to talk about the welfare cuts in Lambeth, mental health, the police, and what scum Lambeth council are. I just got really sick of all of the propaganda they’ve been putting around. I hope some of it makes sense and is interesting.

Lambeth council benefit cuts campaign

Woman: “Hello, I was calling to get advice on the latest benefit cuts”

Benefits helpline: “It’s not us you want to speak to, I’ll put you through to Lambeth Living”

Gets redirected to Lambeth Living

Woman: “I saw some posters up with scissors cutting across a pound sign. I was calling for advice. My benefits have been cut because of the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cut. I work in the public sector so my pay has been frozen for the last couple of years. My pay check doesn’t get me to the end of the month any more and this was before the most recent cuts. I wondered if you had advice on income maximisation?”

Lambeth Living: “We haven’t heard about that [the benefits advice campaign that Lambeth are running, which advertised the first phone number as a place to get advice]. We don’t know about that…the cuts have come in, they’re happening”

Boy does my friend know that they’re happening. Before the crisis my friend had figured out a way to just about survive on low wages and low status at work both of which compound her already severe mental health issues. With the cascade of cuts things have got significantly worse for her.

Now all she has money for is food. She walks everywhere as public transport is too expensive – this means that she is then even more exhausted during the time free from work, making survival even more difficult and deepening her depression. Important time and energy is taken up fighting for the benefits she needs. I attended the housing office to support her with her claim and witnessed the suspicion you are treated with as you go through an exercise of humiliation proving how little you have.

Life at work has only got worse with the cuts. Whilst struggling to deliver a decent library service in the face of long-term underinvestment and the more recent cuts, library staff have been under increased pressure as well as surveillance and bullying from management. Council staff are not allowed to speak out against the council, but anyone who visits a library can see the diminishing welfare of the staff as well a witness a service that is only just functioning. Now the staff have been told that they will be providing welfare advice as well as the library service (which always doubled up as social services anyway as vulnerable people sought assistance here).

Supporting welfare cuts

“The cuts are happening” so goes the Lambeth benefit cuts campaign. Lambeth argue that this is the doing of central government, which indeed it is. But Lambeth council are implicated in it too. They are supporting these brutal cuts. Their posters, depicting scissors cutting through the pound sign, state what everyone on low incomes knew already. The posters encourage acceptance and acquiescence. The council could have written anything on these posters, how about “Lambeth let’s organise/loot – luxury for all” but instead they informed us that benefit cuts were happening and that is that. We can get some patronising advice about how to cope with deepening poverty apparently – although the phone call above suggests that the council has failed to tell its staff of this service/campaign. I resented seeing these posters in my neighbourhood which were effectively adverts for welfare cuts. Them enforcing their reality onto us as if their could be no struggle. The absence of any kind of opposition and outrage on what is being inflicted on our communities is complicity with the cuts. Lambeth have not spoken out against these brutal and violent welfare cuts and this is why they are scum – there’s (lots) more to come to support this.

Councillor Edward Davie shows his support for so-called ‘welfare reform’ in his article for the Guardian in which he expresses contempt and suspicion of those on benefits, repeating the myth that benefit fraud is actually a thing. The council’s Emergency Support Scheme (which replaces central government’s social fund which was cut this April) facilitates the role out of another disastrous aspect of ‘welfare reform’ – Universal Credit: “ The council wishes to encourage people to take up Credit Union membership so that they have access to mainstream support and a proper bank account in the run up to the implementation of Universal Credit. Making Crisis Loands conditional on membership achieves this, reducing the likelihood of people getting into difficulty in the future. Charging a small amount of interest allows money to be ploughed back into the pot to help more people.” http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s51837/05%20Cabinet%20report%20171212%20-%20Emergency%20Support%20Scheme%20-%20FINAL.pdf

Of course, in this document about the Emergency Support Scheme, those vindictive words ‘personal responsibility’ appear as a stated aim of the scheme.

More Lambeth council propaganda

Letter from Lambeth Welfare Reform Team

The Work Programme can help you LOL

Lies and misinformation

Another round of Lambeth propaganda posters informed residents that their council tax had been frozen for another year. Lambeth here are again smug and self-congratulatory. However, this is simply not true for 20,758 residents who have seen their council tax benefit scrapped and an increase in the amount they must now pay. On average, they will have to pay £2.12 extra a week, with the greatest amount being £7.68. This may not sound like a lot, but when your pay or JSA already struggles to get you to the end of the month, suddenly losing £2 a week is a big deal. Whilst other local authorities decided to maintain council tax benefit for those who need it, deciding it would be more costly to administer and collect from those who simply do not have it, Lambeth council decided to pass it on to some of its poorest residents (pensioners, disabled people, carers, those affected by the benefit cap will still receive council tax benefit). They are most definitely not on our side.

Lambeth council had apparently consulted on what scheme should replace the centrally administered Council Tax Benefit, however a friend who had responded to this ‘consultation’ told me how the consultation form had been guiding to what Lambeth wanted to hear. She had wanted to propose collecting council tax from second homes in the borough in order to keep council tax benefit but this was not presented as an option by Lambeth and there was nowhere for her to write this suggestion.

Letters from Lambeth Welfare Reform Team partnered with the homelessness charity Broadway have been sent to the 658 families who will be affected by the benefit cap, these letters have also appeared in my local library. A colourful scene of a residential street mocks the reader who is informed that they will be unlikely to remain in their home. “Work is an option that will have to be considered” we’re informed patronisingly by people who clearly have no understanding of the current crisis, one of the consequences being 1,700 people applying for 8 jobs at a local Costa cafe, meaning that waged work is simply not an option. Nor do they seem to know that many housing benefit claimants are already in paid work (over 90% of new claims made between 2010-2011 were made by those in paid work); or that those not in paid work do spend their days working but do not receive a wage. In order to ‘help’ people into waged work, Broadway claim to be working in partnership with the local Work Programme providers. These Work Programme providers sanction claimants with relish, taking away their only means of subsistence. You stand a better chance of getting paid work if you’re not on the Work Programme than if you are. Yet, as the letter acknowledges itself, people are mandated onto the Work Programme – if they do not participate they will lose their benefits. Lambeth Council and Broadway charity are working in partnership with providers who can further impoverish claimants.

Whilst Lambeth council claim to be powerless to act against central government cuts – which we know is false, seeing as they are happily enough driving them through – in areas where it does have significantly more power, Lambeth has consistently acted against its residents and on behalf of large developers and gentrifiers. The council have allowed developers to ditch their commitments to social housing on the Brixton Square development. The developers of Vauxhall Sky Gardens have also applied to ditch their commitment of 31% ‘affordable’ housing to 0%. Whilst the social housing that had been promised would have only been a tiny fraction of what is needed (in a borough which has severe overcrowding, an ever increasing housing waiting list, and hundreds of families being forced from their homes with the forthcoming benefit cap) it would have been at least some kind of tokenistic gesture that the council acknowledge the urgent housing needs of its residents. Instead, the ‘needs’ of developers gentrifiers are of greater interest to the council.

100 more ACAB

Social day cut


The most infuriating, sickening, and insulting part of all of this is that whilst Lambeth council fail to take an active stance against these brutal welfare cuts, they suddenly do speak out and campaign when it comes to police cuts. At my local GPs I was met with a pile of postcards depicting two cheery looking police hats perched upon the figure 100 demanding ‘100 more police’. Demanding 100 more police in a borough where communities are terrorised and targeted by the police, where the police bully and beat up and kill those with mental health issues shows Lambeth’s disturbing vision of ‘welfare’. Welfare provision has morphed into the policeman’s boot. Of course, welfare has always been a form of domination and control, but now the boot, which had previously nudged at us, is now kicking us in our stomachs and pushing our faces into the concrete.

100 more police will apparently ‘make Lambeth safer for women’ – says the council which is closing one o’clock clubs (one mother told me how important these places were for women, she identified domestic violence as being linked with women having nowhere outside the house to go to), drastically cutting their incomes, and taking away autonomy through their promotion of the Work Programme.

The disgusting and abusive treatment by the police of those with mental health issues (last year, a video went around on Twitter showing police men attacking a mentally ill man outside Brixton library. A protest was held outside the police station that evening against their violence to our communities) parallels the contempt that the council shows. In a borough which has a proportion of people with mental health issues in Lambeth is 12 times the national average, the council has taken away bus passes from mental health patients, ended a weekly social session (see photo above), and outsourced some mental health services to a charity which sees work as conducive to good mental health (rather than thinking more critically about the role of work and acknowledging its role in compromising mental health). No doubt there have been other cuts to mental health services which have been unreported. In the face of these cuts, it seems the police will be left to ‘deal’ with those affected by the cuts, as more police is what the council deemed important to campaign for over other, less violent, forms of welfare. This is the ‘welfare’ that Lambeth are promoting for our increasingly impoverished communities.

Isolation feeds sadness

Isolation feeds sadness

The letters dropping through people’s doors, telling them they may have to work, or ‘manage their money better’ or whatever other crap Lambeth have come up with, are part of individualising the welfare cuts. That they are a personal problem, that must be dealt with on this level, whether it means you are forced from your home, end up needing a food bank to feed your family, or walk yourself everywhere to exhaustion. As the 1968 graffiti declared, “isolation feeds sadness”. To combat this feeling of isolation, helplessness, and self-blame, local residents are organising together to deal with their issues collectively, to challenge the disrespect experienced by people trying to access housing and benefits” as London Coalition Against Poverty eloquently puts it. Residents have been coming together as South London Welfare Action and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth where, based upon and inspired by the models of LCAP and ECAP, they discuss the problems they are facing, provide support for each other, and collectively decide what direct action to take. These groups allow people to see that it is not an individual issue or failing to be struggling with benefits or housing, but one that is common to us all. Through leafletting and holding meeting for these groups, we’ve met our neighbours and talked with each other. It was inspiring to listen to people talk about their situation and be so enthusiastic about the groups and taking action together. As one woman said to me when we were discussing housing problems: “Everything is going up, but my wages are the same, my social rent has gone up again this year. Gas, electric, food are all going up as well. I would definitely like to be involved.” In the face of our communities literally being torn apart by welfare cuts, this coming together seems like the most important thing that we can do.

Lambeth have created an interesting ‘profiler tool’ which allows you to view the benefit cuts ward by ward. Worth taking a look at here to try and get an idea of what is happening to our communities. Does not come near to speaking with people about the cuts and crisis though.

Housing and anti-work articles

8 May

I recently wrote an article for Red Pepper magazine about bedroom tax organising happening across the UK. I had great fun at a rowdy town hall meeting in Crawley and was moved and inspired by a Leeds’ meeting in which a group of strangers created an incredible feeling of togetherness by the end. I loved speaking with people. I was saddened and enraged by their stories, but also inspired and hopeful. Read it here.

My prolific use of the hashtag #WrongToWork got me an invitation from the Occupied Times to rage against work. I just visited LARC to cram my pannier bag full of this issue on the topic of work. I chatted with one of the Occupied Times folk about the importance of free radical media that you can hold in your hands and pass on to others (after listening to Novara with me yesterday, my mum said she’d like to read more about politics but doesn’t have the internet at home, so OT and other free zines are really important). The OT collective all work for free. They could do with help folding the paper and distributing it, so contact them if you can help. My article is here. There’s also an ace article on workfare (link for this not up yet, but will add it when it is) and a fantastic workfare infogram.

Finally, I read this last night and it made my evening.

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.

*face palm*

2 Aug

The two big national demos for this autumn in which hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets against austerity measures both rather feebly make demands for work their central purpose. The NUS has come up with the slogan ‘Education, Employ, Empower’ for their demo on 21st November, the Trades Union Congress has declared, ‘A future that works’ for October 20th.

Really??? Is this the best the left can offer? More work? Will this inspire people?

A lifetime of wage slavery where jobs seem to be divided into two groups – those that are so badly paid that your work is inherently devalued and you struggle to live, and those that many of my graduate acquaintances have moved into which seem to involve a lifetime of meaningless spreadsheets. Not to mention the proliferating forms of work – workfare and unpaid internships – where you don’t even receive a wage.

I’m reading Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States’ at the moment. In 1903 in Kensington, Pennsylvania child workers marched to Washington to demand an end to child labour. They held a banner that declared ‘We want time to play’. 10 year olds managed to come up with better demands than the NUS body who have had a whole century of history since this march from which to learn. I’d much rather march under this slogan.

I’m rather partial to the odd national march, but surely we’ve got to come up with better slogans in order to encourage others to join us. Abandoning the aspiration to work, and acknowledging it as the problem, is a good place to start.

Barking and Dagenham Against the Cuts First Meeting

10 Jun

I headed out to Barking yesterday afternoon to attend the first meeting of Barking and Dagenham Against the Cuts, which awesomely shortens down to BAD Cuts, to give a short talk about Boycott Workfare. They had organised an afternoon conference with talks from groups such as Keep Our NHS Public, Defend Council Housing, and the Coalition of Resistance. We then broke down into smaller groups in order to discuss jobs, benefits, pensions, health, housing, and multiculturalism in more depth and to generate ideas for local action.

I attended the session on housing and jobs, benefits, and pensions where we had some lively and inspiring discussions. It was a great opportunity to listen to people’s stories about the local area and the difficulties they are facing but also to come up with ideas together of how to resist the cuts. One woman described how it was becoming common for her to see families outside their homes with all their possessions having been evicted and that other families were living crammed into one room. Listening to stories like these really brings home the reality and horror of the cuts.

After both sessions we had generated a list of action points for local action. People seemed  genuinely interested in taking action against workfare in the local area – with workfare sleuthing and workfare walks of shame – which was great to hear. And it was empowering to have generated this list of things that we can do. Expect some activities in Barking and Dagenham soon and if you live there – get involved!

One man in particular had a moving story of how the cuts are personally affecting him – I won’t detail it all here as I didn’t get the chance to ask him if he’d mind me writing about him. He works at the local Remploy factory but his job is now under threat. He spoke of his fears of being unable to pay his rent and what he would do without his job. ‘There are no jobs out there, we’re being put on the scrap heap’. Our group came up with plans on how we can organise resistance to the closure. Keep checking BAD Cuts website and if you’re in London, get ready to hop on a train at Fenchurch street to Barking to help defend their factory!

Although the number attending the conference wasn’t too large, it’s exciting to see a new anti-cuts group form and come up with lots of action plans. No doubt, as the group hit the streets with various actions – the numbers will grow.

Central London shut down of workfare stores

4 Mar

Running is one of my worst things. But yesterday afternoon I found myself running up and down Oxford Street with one hundred other workfare protesters. We’d gathered in Central London to take action against high street stores profiting from forced unpaid labour for benefits. After two weeks of online and street protest, this Saturday was our National Day of Action Against Workfare with actions happening all over the country.

We weren’t convinced by the government’s ‘concessions’ this week – and were also clear that this was not the end of workfare as there were four other workfare schemes that had been overlooked by the media. We wanted to remind people of these and to show the high street stores that our campaign had not ended with the weak government response. If they continued to participate in workfare schemes, we would be outside and inside their stores raising this issue until they stopped.

We met outside BHS which had since pulled out of workfare schemes, reflecting the impact of the last two weeks of public pressure. From here we would head to our secret location. In the quickest example of consensus decision making ever we decided there and then that we would shut down a workfare store and set off following two Boycott Workfare flags that were held above the crowds. In a wonderful police radio conversation reported by @thinktyler one was heard saying ‘they don’t seem to have a leader’.

We passed Topshop which was heavily guarded by gigantic security guards – they’d clearly got this action confused with UK Uncut. We left them be and headed further on. Our group surged along the streets with the police jogging to keep up to form a moving kettle around us. We ran around them trying to get in front of them so that we’d be able to enter the high street store to fully shut it down. But they seemed to have done some research because when we approached Pizza Hut, two police officers had managed to get in front of us and block the doors.

Pizza Hut was our first target because it is part of the Work Programme – the government’s much lauded workfare scheme that is costing billions of pounds of tax payers money but will do absolutely nothing to alter the unemplopyment figures and is basically about bullying unemployed people and pushing them onto workfare. The Work Programme gives billions of pounds to companies such as A4e who are being investigated for fraud and G4S which was involved in the murder of Jimmy Mubenga.

We stood outside Pizza Hut and unfurled our huge banner declaring ‘If you exploit us – we will shut you down’. From here it was put to the group whether we deemed the Work Experience scheme to be workfare still, in the light to the government’s ‘concessions’. Considering the direct and indirect sanctions that are still in place in the Work Experience scheme there was immediate agreement that companies involved in Work Experience were still fair game. We passed out maps of the area which had helpfully marked all these companies and encouraged people to decide where we wanted to go next. The flags were raised and we were off. The police joining in too trying to get to the stores before us but not knowing which one it would be. Everywhere we looked seemed to be a company involved in workfare.

All of a sudden I was in McDonalds – looking behind me I could see police blocking the doors and pushing protesters away, in front of me were surprised looking customers and staff. I explained we were there because of workfare that was forcing people to work unpaid and was undermining people’s jobs before being bundled out by the police. It was a shame that the encounter in McDonalds was so short as we were unable to have meaningful discussions about why we were there and to hand out leaflets.

Another splinter group had managed to get into Pizza Hut but were quickly removed. The action was so fast paced and fluid. It was very effective as we were able to target stores and get into them to effectively shut them down. Perhaps it sounds a little silly – dodging the police, getting into stores, getting chucked out. But I genuinely believe that this sort of direct action is one of few effective actions that we can take. Ideally we would stay in one store and shut it down for a couple of hours, using it to hold discussions on workfare. But the police were under strict orders to not let this happen – and also we wouldn’t want all the other workfare stores to get let off.

We were off again – this time rushing along the back streets of Oxford Street. People had got into the Holiday Inn, which is involved in the Work Programme, and also, one woman informed us, used to employ illegal immigrants for very very low wages, before this new flow of free labour from the Job Centre. The police removed the protesters and lined the steps of the Holiday Inn looking like a rather strange football team photo.

Our tour came to an end here as we were exhausted from all the running. But we reminded the Holiday Inn that we would be back until workfare was scrapped. Workfare is a punitive policy which exacerbates issues of unemployment and poverty – there is strong public feeling against it and yet the government are still trying to roll it out. However, yesterday, actions took place all over the country against workfare. And will continue to do so until it is ended with living wages and welfare rights secured for all.

Be sure to check out other reports, tweets etc. from other actions across the country. The media have done an appalling job on reporting workfare (just watch Jeremy Paxman’s inept chairing of a workfare debate on Newsnight) and particularly the National Day of Action. It’s up to us to report the news ourselves.