It’s not just benefit claimants who’ve spotted that Tesco seem to have a more ethical approach to sanctions than many major charities. Chris Grayling’s new strategy seems to be aimed at putting charities at the heart of any future forced labour schemes.
The Mandatory Work Activity scheme is set to be vastly expanded whilst the new Compulsory Community Work, which is currently being trialled, will see some unemployed people forced to work for six months with no pay. These placements could be at private companies, but it is stipulated in the guidelines that any forced labour must be for the benefit of the community (although this could include ‘working toward the profit of the host organisation’).
A now disappeared Freedom of Information request to the DWP revealed that many people on the Mandatory Work scheme had been forced to work in charity shops.
With the private sector running to the hills due to the outburst of protests aimed at workfare, all Grayling has left to save him is the charitable sector. A piece in the Mail over the weekend describes Chris Grayling as impressively robust. This means that even the Mail can’t believe the cunt hasn’t been sacked yet. His career is hanging by a thread and he’s desperate for some charitable assistance himself.
The Mail suggests Grayling has identified the possibility of workfare slaves telling customers they are unpaid labour (or spitting in the food) could have been the ‘Achilles Heel’ which led to so many High Street names pulling out of the Work Experience programme. He doesn’t appear to care if the same thing happens to charities.
Essentially Grayling seems to be asking charities whose side are you on? Funnily enough this is the very same question hundreds of people have been also been asking organisations like the Salvation Army, Barnardos and the Disability Works consortium over the last two weeks.
Charities are now falling over themselves to say that benefit sanctions are a bad thing. This hasn’t led to a single one of them handing back their lucrative contracts for the ‘Work Programme’ scheme which has sanctions at it’s very heart. Their excuses, that they don’t sanction people the Jobcentre do, or that they have to be involved in this programme to help ‘shape and influence’ it, grow flimsier by the day.
Most front line staff of these organisation despise the sanctions regime as much as the people they work to support. Many are furious and bewildered at their employer’s continued kowtowing to ever more abusive government schemes targeted at vulnerable people.
The problem comes from those at the very top of the charity sector. Many charity chief executives run the organisations like personal fiefdoms. Without even share holders to keep them in line, their personal power can dwarf that of their equivalents in the private sector. Unions are notoriously weak in the third sector. Boards of Trustees are stuffed with cronies, toffs and minor celebrities who if they manage to make one meeting a year consider themselves Mother fucking Teresa (who was a vicious old cow, just by the way). Charity Presidents and Patrons, with little real power are elected for PR purposes only. Take Stephen Fry’s recent appointment as President of MIND, a role which allows him to think he’s doing something to help people with mental health conditions, whilst simultaneously doing precisely fuck all.
Charity bosses often don’t do that much either, unless you count attending hugely expensive seminars, eating lunch and making the occasional speech as work. This doesn’t stop them taking huge salaries with the top 100 charity bosses now earning in excess of £166,000 a year.
They justify this by reminding themselves how much more money they’d have if only they weren’t so wonderful and went to work in business instead. The truth is most of them wouldn’t last five minutes in the private sectors. The shoddy response to the workfare row has demonstrated that. Where private companies took swift and decisive action, forcing the Government to negotiate, charities have dithered and attempted to hide their role in the Work Programme and benefit sanctions.
Charity bosses tell themselves they have to take tough decisions, that they have more worthy considerations than their lowly service users or workers. Usually these tough decisions involve fucking over their users in the name of picking up a fat Government contract. The continued existence and growth of the organisation (and their salary) is far more important than the aims and activities the charity was established to carry out. They convince themselves that if it wasn’t their organisation involved in workfare then it would only be someone much more horrible. Like liberal concentration camp guards, they think that they might somehow modify or influence ever more abusive measures aimed at their service users. They even manage to convince themselves that attacks on the people they were established to support might actually be a good thing really. They think they might be displaying ‘tough love’, the same paternal horseshit fake philanthropists have inflicted on the working class since Victorian times.
Ever ready to take their thirty pieces of silver, they comfort themselves with all the good work they will be able to do with the money, like printing leaflets, or having lunch with the Queen. And should the troublesome users of their services complain they smile patronisingly, safe in the knowledge that sometimes the poor souls just don’t know what’s good for them. How could they, many of them didn’t even go to university.
And like all self-serving elites they prop each other up at their swanky 500 quid a day conferences. Ever ready to pat each other on the back, they lament that no-one understands just how difficult life is for charity executives and the terrible weight they carry. Then they have another vol-au-vent.
Few, if any of these charity bosses have any concept of the poverty their users face on a daily basis. It is unlikely any of them have any experience of the benefits system. Almost none of the heads of disability charities are disabled themselves. Homelessness charity bosses have never experienced homelessness. That doesn’t stop any of them acting as self-appointed experts on things they can’t understand. And because they don’t understand they continue to work hand in glove with successive government’s to attack and destroy the lives of vulnerable people.
There are rare exceptions. Oxfam and Shelter both appear to have made strong statements attacking workfare and are refusing to involve themselves in any DWP schemes which utilise benefit sanctions. Whilst neither of these organisations are perfect, it shows it can be done. The sky would not fall if the big charities rejected Grayling’s frantic pleas to rescue workfare. In fact, for their users at least, the world would be a slightly better place.
So for all those charities involved in Work Programme, Mandatory Work Activity, Community Work, and any schemes involving forced labour and sanctions, the questions remain. Are you on the side of your service users? Or are you on the side of Chris Grayling and the Government?