Exclusive: charities blackmailed into dropping work scheme

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A Glasgow group currently raising funds for Nepal is one of three small charities claiming to have been bullied recently

29th April 2015 by Robert Armour 7 Comments

Charities are being blackmailed into ditching government work-for-benefit schemes by a campaigners – with some being threatened with closure if they continue.  

Three charities – one of which is currently helping survivors in Nepal – have told TFN they are being forced to drop their involvement after being blackmailed, intimidated and bullied by campaigners associated with Boycott Workfare.

The campaign group denies this but the organisations, which all support vulnerable people, have told TFN of their despair at being forced to drop the scheme because of intimidation waged against them.

Tactics used involve instigating spot checks from council officials, health and safety visits, inspections by the fire brigade as well as staff being approached by unidentified people saying they are working for a “slave labour” employer.

A campaign of anonymous, threatening phones calls, emails and letters then accompanies this. All of these can happen in just one day and continue indefinitely, the charities claim.  

Despite overwhelmingly positive outcomes being achieved for the majority of individuals taking part, the charities say this harassment just isn’t worth it.  

One charity, Glasgow the Caring City, is currently supplying vital aid well as engineering expertise to Nepal.

It said it ditched involvement because it couldn’t compromise this kind of life-saving work.

It suffered a week of abuse until it contacted the organisation to say it had abandoned the scheme.

Ross Galbraith (pictured), the charity’s international projects manager, explained: “We were made aware of the sanction regime people on workfare were being subjected to so we decided it was morally wrong for us to continue.

“We thanked Boycott Workfare for making this known.

“But then the intimidation started. We had visits from the council, Fire and Rescue Scotland spot checks and health and safety representatives.

“Workers were approached by anonymous people on their way into work, claiming to be from the Department of Work and Pensions.

“I was only after managing to contact the group a week later that it stopped.”   

The charity was set up in May 1999 to help those made homeless by wars in the Balkans, as well refugees arriving in Glasgow.

It has since branched out to offer health, security and education support to vulnerable children around the world.

Around 70% of those on the scheme went onto positive outcomes

It also runs a series of social enterprises training people for employment, some of whom have disabilities and barriers to work.

“For small organisation like ours the last thing we can afford to do is compromise  our own social enterprises,” said Galbraith.

“The partnership we had with LearnDirect (who run the scheme on behalf of the DWP) was very successful.

“Over 170 people came through our doors as part of the scheme and around 70% of those went onto positive outcomes.

“We had very few complaints from people taking part. In fact many came back to volunteer with us in their own free time.

“They didn’t replace the work of paid staff; they’re involvement was entirely different.

“It is therefore with deep regret we have had to abandon our involvement.”

Another small Glasgow charity which supports vulnerable people told TFN it feared for its future after receiving threatening phone calls and emails.

A spokesperson said: “We thought we were doing good by helping out unemployed people. They were, to a person, happy to help us.

“But we started getting threatening phone calls – one saying there would be a fire if we continued taking part in workfare.

"So we had a management meeting and decided that, whatever our principles, we couldn’t jeopardise our safety or the future of the charity.”

Another charity said it had been effectively blackmailed into subsmission by campaigners. 

"We resent these blackmailing tactics. They claim to be representing the vulnerable but instead they are intimidating them," said a spokesperson.

"Anyone who challenges them are subjected to abuse and terrorism. It's not responsible behaviour – there are other ways and other approaches to achieve the same outcomes."    

Boycott Workfare calls itself a “a grassroots campaign,” formed in 2010 “to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare”.

Mandatory work activity (MWA) schemes are designed to give work experience to people who have been on benefits for long periods. Jobseekers work at least 30 hours a week, while continuing to be paid just their benefits, doing activities which benefit the community such as placements with charities.

Refusal to take part can result in having benefits sanctioned for months.  

A spokesperson for Boycott Workfare told TFN: “The impact of workfare and the sanctions that underpin it are so severe that the issue evokes very strong feelings among a wide range of different organisations and members of the public.  

“Boycott Workfare does not condone harassment or intimidation. 

“However, we do believe that the public has a right to know if an organisation is using workfare. 

“We have a long track record of peaceful and effective campaigning to expose workfare and its consequences.”

Comments

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30th April 2015 by mairi mackechnie

what an extraordinary article. anyone who supports workfare should first be forced to undertake it.https://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/

30th April 2015 by Adam Green

Unemployed people should really be being offered paid work rather than being forced to work under threat of removal of support, especially when there are not enough jobs available. Charities have a responsibility to their local communities, not just those nationally and abroad (as per their remit of charitable activity). That responsibility also means to not undermine welfare by supporting forced work policies. I find this article ludicrous in many respects, particularly it's claims about "positive outcomes". While there will be some who cast threats and use blackmail against workfare supporters (can't say I totally disagree), wouldn't you also say that it is blackmail to threaten to remove welfare if someone does not work for free? People CHOOSE to volunteer. People are FORCED into workfare. BIG difference.

1st May 2015 by ECAP

Since we're on the subject of blackmail. Then a claimant being threatened with a 13-week sanction - which, for a JSA claimant, would mean them losing over £1,000, for refusing to undertake a 4-week MWA workfare placement with a charity - must also qualify as blackmail?As for Learndirect, for every claimant they get into a MWA placement with a charity they get paid several hundred £££ - which comes from the UK taxpayer via the DWP. To avoid confusion, it is not Learndirect (Scotland) but Learndirect UK who have the MWA contract for Scotland.And the charities themselves appear to be unaware that the MWA placements they offer are not covered by their Employers' Liability Insurance. How? There are only two categories of staff that can be insured: volunteers and employees. A claimant cannot volunteer for MWA, it is mandatory. Consequently, since they are not a volunteer or an employee - they remain uninsured whilst on placement with the charity. This applies to all other government workfare schemes. Charities participating in workfare schemes may also wish to consider the fact they can be fined up to £250 for every day they operate without adequate liability insurance. Not to mention the additional adverse media publicity such a hefty fine would attract!

1st May 2015 by Catherine Haigh

if these organisations were so concerned about improving the lot of vulnerable people they should have done their research about workfare before joining such a scheme.

5th May 2015 by John McArdle

CC: Boycott Workfare; Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty; Disabled People Against Cuts DPAC; Inclusion Scotland;TO THE EDITORWe are absolutely appalled that TFN has suggested that our excellent allies, Boycott Workfare, are in any way involved in any activities that amount to criminal acts [http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/tfn-news/management/exclusive-charities-blackmailed-into-dropping-workfare]This is a libellous allegation and had you named an individual we would now be preparing legal action against you.Sick and/or disabled people, in particular, are wrongly being found fit-for-work by DWP/Atos/Maximus and are being compelled to work for these parasitical organisations for nothing on pain of losing their meagre incomes altogether.They face sanctions, hunger, homelessness, despair and in many cases suicide. This is an irrefutable fact which has been well documented and will be well understood by your readership.We are utterly outraged and this scurrilous piece of writing - we cannot bring ourselves to call it journalism - and bitterly disappointed that it has appeared in TFN whose editorial line has usually been so supportive of disabled and unemployed people's grassroots struggle against oppression. It has damaged the trust and esteem in which we had heretofore held your paper.We do not expect to read headlines and stories worthy of the Daily Mail in literature published by SCVO. You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.We urge you to now do make restitution by admitting fault, retracting your allegation and issuing a full apology to our friends and comrades at Boycott Workfare with immediate effect.Boycott Workfare is made up of loving and kind activists who are in the business of saving lives, not destroying them.In solidarity with Boycott WorkfareJohn McArdleon behalf ofBlack Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights 'Black Triangle'Edinburgh

5th May 2015 by iain moncrieff

Compulsory labour at way under the minimum wage is the real villain here. Charities usually take on paid staff and volunteers WHO WANT TO VOLUNTEER. Nothing wrong with that. Charities don't normally compel people to act as slave labour, Government does- WITH YOUR CONNIVANCE. You are either being disingenuous or ruthless , with the benefit of the doubt I'd say ruthless.

12th May 2015 by David Gillon

Wow, what a spectacularly nasty article. It claims to be about protecting 'the vulnerable'. yet it is precisely the existence of workfare and related schemes, and yes, 'slave labour' is an entirely appropriate label, that have terrified disabled people like me out of the benefits system. Isn't the exploitation of disabled people, declared unfit for work, yet threatened with sanctions of potentially indefinite duration unless they participate in indefinite workfare something you should be focussing on? (ESA sanctions apply until you comply with JCP demands, rising to 100% of benefits after four weeks, yet it is easily possible to find yourself being required to undertake something actively dangerous to your health). Isn't the active participation by charities in that exploitation rather more appropriate a focus for your journal? Boycott Workfare, whether through the group or individual campaigning, is a campaign that has been underway for several years, with the responsible charities having long since realised that workfare is incompatible with their aims, or simple morality. Those last few charities hanging on are well aware that leading charities have concluded workfare is immoral, but choose to discount morality for some ideological or fiscal justification, and isn't that rather more worthy of your examination?