Tag Archives: Scope

Scope Pull Out of Mandatory Work Activity (again)

bhf-workfare-protestIn a humiliating snub to this Government’s welfare reforms, disability charity Scope have pulled out of workfare for the second time in just six months!

Scope first claimed to have pulled out of workfare in July, claiming they were extremely ‘disappointed’ that Boycott Workfare and others had been protesting about their use of forced labour.  The charity claimed a ‘robust placement agreement’ ensured that no-one was forced to work at the charity against their will.  Yet just a month earlier a DWP Press Release featured a case study in which a claimant was “referred to a Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placement in a Scope charity shop – a referral that the claimant was reluctant to accept.”

Under DWP rules it is impossible to volunteer for Mandatory Work Activity (the clue’s in the name).   Once referred a claimant will have benefits stopped, possibly for three years, should they leave the scheme.  Scope have not yet apologised to Boycott Workfare for their misunderstanding of how Mandatory Work Activity operates – which led to them wrongly suggesting the campaign is opposed to genuine volunteering.

Scope are still sub-contractors to deliver the Government’s Work Programme, the scheme under which sick and disabled claimants can now be sent on workfare for an unlimited period.

Scope are the fourth major charity to pull out of workfare after the DWP announced that sick and disabled claimants can now be forced into unpaid work.  British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Age UK have also announced they are pulling out of the scheme in the last month.

Whilst these announcements are welcome they will be greeted with scepticism.  British Heart Foundation (BHF) have only said they are ‘moving away’ from the scheme.   There are reports of claimants still being referred to unpaid placements with the charity.

Yesterday a small but determined Boycott Workfare protest visited the BHF furniture shop in Brixton (pictured above).  Just a week earlier sleuths from the campaign had spoken to one person in the store who confirmed they were still taking unpaid placements referred from Jobcentres.  Whilst no workfare workers were present yesterday, it remains to be seen if they are genuinely pulling out of workfare altogether.

The protest also visited @superdrug and @poundland, both of whom profit from unpaid staff.

The DWP themselves are responsible for much of the confusion.  When the workfare row broke out at the beginning of the year the Government claimed benefit sanctions had been lifted from the scheme.  In truth only workfare placements at private companies became ‘voluntary’.  Those who refused to volunteer for the likes of Argos and Superdrug risked being sent on Mandatory Work Activity with a charity instead.

Until the DWP stop enforced work completely then all schemes should be considered mandatory by charities who support genuine volunteering as opposed to mandated workfare.

Some of the charities still using workfare include: @Papworth_Trust @salvationarmyuk @Capability_Scot @TCVtweets @CSV_UK @RSPCA_official @RBLI

Universal Credit Will Destroy Volunteering And Charities Only Have Themselves To Blame

A major charity for volunteers have warned that Universal Credit, the flagship welfare reform being introduced next year, will restrict volunteering.

Volunteering England are one of the largest organisations in the UK established to promote and ‘celebrate’ volunteering.  It was reported over the weekend that the organisation have already been contacted by several charities concerned about the new benefits system and how it will impact on their ability to recruit and employ volunteers.

Under the new rules, claimants will only be permitted to volunteer for 17.5 hours a week, or will face brutal benefit sanctions. Claimants are to be expected to spend 35 hours a week actively seeking work, of which only half of this time can be spent volunteering. This flies in the face of previous statements by this Government which have sung the praises of unpaid work.  Only unpaid work which has been arranged for benefit claimants by the state or welfare to work parasites like A4e is now to be acceptable.

Mandatory Work Activity is at the heart of Universal Credit and means 30 hours a week unpaid work for charities or other organisations with a ‘community benefit’. As the name suggests, this workfare scheme cannot be volunteered for and is used as punishment should someone be deemed not trying hard enough to find a job by Jobcentre officials.

Astonishingly someone caught volunteering full time whilst claiming Universal Credit could be sent to go and volunteer full time somewhere else as punishment for volunteering full time. Not for the first time Iain Duncan Smith’s back of the envelope welfare reforms are as laughable as they are draconian.

In a somewhat garbled statement on their website, Volunteering England seem to misunderstand the nature of the benefits system by suggesting that only those in the “all work related requirements” group will be subject to the new rules. This is likely to be the largest group of claimants making up all those currently claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance along with those judged ‘fit for work’ by the callous and shambolic Atos disability denial system for sick and disabled claimants.

Whilst Volunteering England are correct about who the rules will apply to, they are wrong to say that those claimants paid the sickness or disability components of Universal Credit “will still be free to volunteer as much as they want.”   The reality of the benefits system is that anyone who volunteers full time whilst claiming the sickness or disability component of Universal Credit will have it used against them to judge them ‘fit for work’. This has long been standard practice at the DWP, even under the old Incapacity Benefit regime. Bizarrely once judged fit for work, they will no longer be allowed to volunteer full time. Unless the Government orders them to.

The end of full time volunteers will prove catastrophic for the charitable sector.  Even if charities exploit the never ending workfare schemes to source volunteers, they will find that genuine volunteers, who care about the aims and activities of the charity will disappear.  Instead these most motivated of workers will be replaced by short term workfare staff only there under threat of benefit sanctions.

For charities working with ex-offenders, homeless people, substance misusers or other disadvantaged groups, volunteers are often a vital link between the university educated charity professionals, and those they aim to support.  Simply having someone on the team who has ‘been there’ and understands the problems facing service users can make a huge difference.

Often these volunteers go on to establish careers in the voluntary sector themselves, a route into work which will now be denied for all but those who can afford to support themselves financially whilst they volunteer.  If there’s one thing the Third Sector doesn’t need it’s more posh graduates, with their eye on a lucrative career in charity management, working with ex-offenders or homeless people .

Unfortunately charities must take their share of responsibility for the upcoming train wreck that is Universal Credit.  Had the so called third sector  organised together and rejected the brutal workfare and sanctions regime introduced by this toff government they could have stopped welfare reform in it’s tracks.

Instead they organised themselves to maximise income from welfare reforms by forming coalitions such as Disability Works in the hope of picking up fat Work Programme contracts.   Not content with profiting from the most brutal welfare regime in Western Europe, charities like Scope and Barnardo’s have fallen over themselves to recruit unpaid staff on mandatory government schemes.

Scope even had the nerve to criticise the Boycott Workfare campaign for challenging them over their use of forced labour.  A statement on Scope’s website claims they are ‘disappointed’ about the campaign highlighting their use of unpaid workers sentenced to Mandatory Work Activity.  The charity  attempted to slur Boycott Workfare by suggesting the campaign had been targeting the Scope’s use of volunteers as opposed to those working for them unpaid under threat of benefit sanctions.  Boycott Workfare’s response to Scope has seemingly been ignored by the charity.

The truth is that no-one has undermined volunteering more than the charities who have been so happy to make use of forced unpaid labour.  When Universal Credit begins next year thousands of genuine volunteers will be forced to give up their unpaid positions.  The major UK  charities who have toadied up to this government in pursuit of lucrative contracts and free labour will only have themselves to blame.

Scoping Out The Workfare Exploiters

Yesterday Boycott Workfare called for people to contact the charity Scope as part of the week of action against workfare.

Once more people picked up the phones, or took to social networking sites, to demand that Scope refuse to have any more to do with forced, unpaid labour.

This led to Scope issuing a furious denial, claiming that Boycott Workfare were attacking Scope’s use of volunteers.  This was far from the case.  Scope are involved in providing Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) placements in their shops.  These are four week full time workfare placements which are inflicted on unemployed people deemed by the Jobcentre to not be trying hard enough to find work.  There is anecdotal evidence of Mandatory Work Activity being used as a punishment should someone fail to ‘volunteer’ for other workfare schemes such as Work Experience.

Whilst Scope claim all their workfare workers are ‘volunteers’ the evidence suggests this is far from the case.  A recent press release from the DWP hailed a Scope charity shop which had conscripted a ‘reluctant’ workfare worker:

“A claimant with a poor work record appeared to be doing little to find work. The Jobcentre Plus adviser thought that Mandatory Work Activity could give them valuable up to date work experience and improve their work ethic. The claimant was subsequently referred to a Mandatory Work Activity placement in a Scope charity shop – a referral that the claimant was reluctant to accept.”

More evidence of Scope’s involvement with forced labour emerged on twitter when @awesomesauceuk tweeted:  “Being sent on Mandatory Work Activity. Was supposed to be interviewed but wasn’t. Will “work” in Scope for 4 weeks from Fri 13th. #MWA

When Mandatory Work Activity was first proposed, the Social Services Advisory Committee (who advise Government on welfare) warned that the scheme was likely to target the most vulnerable and strongly recommended it should not go ahead.  They also noted, that despite Scope’s statement, claimants cannot volunteer for MWA, noting that this rendered the scheme punitive rather than a measure to help claimants back into work.  Predictably the Government ignored the Committee’s recommendations.

Sadly Scope’s involvement with mandatory Government schemes doesn’t end there.  Scope are a member of Disability Works, a consortium of charities formed to maximise income from the Work Programme.

Claimants of sickness and disability as well as unemployment benefits are placed on the Work Programme for a period of two years.  During that time charities such as Scope have unprecedented control over claimant’s lives, with the power to mandate participants to almost any activity they wish.

Currently people on sickness or disability benefits cannot be mandated to workfare, although the Government have floated plans to change this.  Claimants can however be subject to sanctions for missing a meeting, failing to attend a training course or any other ‘Work Related Activity’ that providers like Scope may dictate.

Whilst the Disability Works charities have claimed they are not involved with the sanctions process, this argument has been shown to be disengenuous, if not downright dishonest.  Work Programme charities are required to raise a Compliance Doubt should a participant fail to carry out mandated activity.  A Compliance Doubt is a referral to the DWP to sanction a claimant’s benefit.  Whilst the DWP have the final say on whether a sanction is applied, it is the Work Programme charities, like Scope, who are responsible for setting the process in motion.  Basically the DWP are the judges and Scope are the coppers, quite happy to make money from policing sick and disabled claimants.

The homelessness charity SHP (formerly the The Single Homeless Project) has already handed back their Work Programme contract after claiming the brutal sanctions regime may cause vulnerable people to have to ‘beg and steal’.  Sadly the big disability charities, which along with Scope include Mind, Mencap and Leonard Chesire Disability have no such scruples.

10,000 sanctions were applied to claimants on sickness  and disability benefits last year.  Many of these were due to Compliance Doubts raised by the charities involved in delivering Work Programme.  Sanctions are devastating for all claimants, leading to abject poverty as well as the risk of Housing Benefit payments being stopped endangering people’s homes.  To apply sanctions to claimants who are sick or disabled however is a new level of brutality.  Sick or disabled claimants may have special diets as part of their treatment, pay more in heating costs or have other costs such as fares to hospitals and GPs to manage.  To callously strip vital benefits away from this group, many of whom have life-threatening conditions, is unprecedented on the history of the Welfare State.

That charities like Scope should be part of this attack on the very people they claim to be established to help is beyond belief.   Work Programme, workfare and connivance in sanctions is fast bringing the entire charitable sector into disrepute.  It’s time that so called charities like Scope say enough is enough and hand back these savage contracts that have caused so much damage to sick and disabled benefit claimant’s live.

Boycott Workfare have re-issued their call to complain to Scope along with a response to yesterday’s statement. Scope are on twitter @scope.

Also taking place today is a communication blockade of poverty pimps A4e called by Liverpool Combat Workfare.