Shame of the Third Sector: How Charities Got it Wrong on Workfare

Several major UK charities now found themselves being in the unfortunate position of being less ethical organisations than corporate bastards Tesco due to their continued participation in the government’s workfare schemes.

Hot on the heels of Tesco announcing they  “will not be taking part in any mandatory (workfare) scheme set by the Government”, Oxfam and Marie Curie have also said they will no longer use workfare workers.  Housing charity Shelter confirmed that they stopped using the scheme last year after concerns that it was not in the interests of potential volunteers.

However several major UK charities, including Age UK, Cancer Research, the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Barnados and the PDSA have so far remained quiet on their use of forced labour.  Chef Executive of the BHF, Peter Hollins, earned a whopping £153,000 in 2008, and the average salary of the top 100 charities Chef Execs is now over £166,000.  These vast sums don’t appear to have trickled down though and the chances are that the person serving you in a British Heart Foundation shop is a workfare slave, paid nothing other than the pittance available on Job Seekers Allowance.

Charities have always used volunteers, and no-one has objected to that.  What the hundreds, if not thousands of people, who have contacted Tesco this week are concerned about is the punitive measures now being used to recruit these so called ‘volunteers’.  Workfare staff, as well as being unpaid, have no workplace rights.  If they are dismissed for any reason they face having their benefits sanctioned, leaving them destitute and possibly homeless.  Increasingly people who are sick and disabled are being bullied onto workfare schemes, and plans revealed in the Guardian show that they could be forced into permanent unpaid positions with charities and businesses alike.

Many workfare workers have complained of no longer having the time to look for paid work properly due to workfare schemes.  Some, like Cait Reilly, who is currently taking legal action after being forced to work in Poundland, were already volunteering and on the way to gaining a career.  Benefit levels are so low that many workfare staff go without lunch.

This isn’t a few hours a week doing good deeds or helping organise a local church fete.  Charities are using workfare staff full time, in what were often previously paid positions. As many charities now have gained contracts to carry out public services, something Cameron claims to want more of, then this could depress wages across the public sector.

And whilst charities are feeling the pinch just as much as every else, with Chief Execs living lives of luxury, then any justification charities need to use slave labour to survive ring somewhat hollow.

Unfortunately, for some charities, their involvement with this scheme goes even deeper than merely exploiting workfare staff.  Over 300 voluntary organisations have been listed as sub-contracters to administer the government’s Work Programme scheme including household names such as Mencap and the Prince’s Trust.  Many of them, some who already use workfare staff themselves, will be some of the key organisations responsible for helping to implement the scheme.  In other words they may be directly responsible for pushing vulnerable people into workfare whilst the DWP hovers in the background threatening benefit sanctions for non-compliance.  Under Work Programme claimants can be forced to work 30 hours a week with no pay for up to six months, something far more draconian than the Tesco workfare position which caused public outrage.  Astonishingly these charities have signed contracts which gag them from even being critical of the DWP and the workfare scheme.

So far it hasn’t quite been plain sailing however and many charities are already raising concerns that workfare isn’t turning out to be quite the gravy train they hoped for.

That charities should be quite happy to be actively involved in press-ganging vulnerable people into forced labour, and only really raise concerns that they aren’t making enough money out of it, reveals an astonishing gulf between charity bosses and the people they claim to be there to help.

At the forefront of this has been the Disability Works Consortium, an alliance of charities working together to maximise income from workfare,  and which includes MIND, SCOPE (who’s shops are riddled with workfare staff), The Leonard Chesire  Foundation, Action for Blind People and Mencap.

It’s not that these organisations have been unaware of the problems of the workfare schemes and the distress they have brought to some people’s live.  Disabled People’s Organisations, claimants groups, and perhaps most importantly their own users, have told them time and time again that workfare is exploitative, demeaning and damaging to wages and conditions for everyone.  But these charities have chosen not to listen, instead jumping through ever more complex moral and intellectual hoops in order to justify the hundreds of thousands of pounds they’ve been raking in.  Just like free market ideologues and bankers, charities have taken the position that what ever makes them the most cash just happens to also be the morally correct thing to do.

Everyone agrees that disabled people should have the right to work, and access to  support and training.  No-one disputes that for young people volunteering can be a way to gain valuable experience.  The problem is that consent has been removed from the system and  the threat of starvation and homelessness has been used to bully people into unpaid labour.  It’s really not a difficult concept for charities to understand and now the public have been made fully aware of what’s going on they have rightly shown their contempt for the whole shoddy operation.

Participating charities should hang their heads in shame for colluding in (and profiting from) this abuse of the most vulnerable in society.

The road the charities have taken has given soft cover to some of the most brutal welfare policies in the Western world.  Policies that have failed everywhere they have been implemented.  Policies which are now leading to a situation where someone with terminal cancer could be forced to work night-shifts stacking shelves at Tesco, or day shifts stacking shelves in a charity shop, all for no pay.

These charities are just as vulnerable to commercial pressures as the likes of Tesco, Matalan, Sainsbury’s and TK Maxx who have all now pulled out of mandatory workfare.  A threat to withdraw donations and boycott the  shops of MIND (@mindcharity), SCOPE (@scope), and Mencap (@mencap_charity) may well help focus their minds.  As resistance to workfare spreads, not for the first time, the likes of SCOPE could see angry mobs of disabled people and claimants outside their shops and offices.  It’s time they pull out of these schemes completely, tear up the contracts and issue a clear condemnation of any scheme that uses threats of benefit sanctions to force people to work for no pay.

The collapse of workfare is near complete as the corporate sector runs for the hills in the face of public fury.  All that’s left propping it up now is these charities, who depend so much on the support of the public for their very existence.  We should not be squeamish in holding them to account for their actions every bit as fiercely as we have done to the likes of Tesco and Poundland.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

82 responses to “Shame of the Third Sector: How Charities Got it Wrong on Workfare

  1. Mencap? wtf!? SCOPE? wtff!? MIND? *headExplodes*

  2. Myself and some others have been busy calling our local Tesco Asda, (sainsbury don’t use workfare) etc.

    Can anyone supply us with the names of the last few charities still using workfare and I will post these details on another blog site and get busy pestering them.

  3. The provider guidance rules for the Community Action Programme state that the provider must report a participant (ie slave) if they fail to attend for any reason whatsover. In other words, if you miss your shift at Tesco because you had a family emergency or they don’t want to allow you to attend a doctor’s appointment, or indeed anything, you can very easily find yourself sanctioned. The provider will of course say it’s not them that makes the final decision, which is, technically, true. But that’s cold comfort to someone so penalised.

    This whole thing is odious beyond belief. Quite frankly I’d like to see Grayling turned into a workfare slave.

  4. I wrote about this a while ago at Where’s the Benefit?. Good news about Scope, but crap that it’s taken it becoming a scandal to drop out, rather than just because it was wrong.

    • incurable hippie,

      I completely agree the work program should be against everything charities stand for yet so many sold their soul so easily to jump on board. that’s why I want a complete list of them who are still dragging their heels to remove themselves from the program.

  5. Charity is big business for some these days, there’s no difference in how it operates than any other corporate entity.

  6. If this is the case where chief execs are paid £100,000 plus, then how is it charitable and it’s an obvious tax loop hole then.We are a charity and would not even consider taking payed renumeration of any kind, due to that money could be used where and what it was intended for.

  7. does anyone have a list of the charities who are sub-contractors?

    – a little more pressure on all of them wouldn’t go amiss.

  8. The DWP appear to have been fibbing a bit though, it appears some of the sub-contracters did little more than agree in principle to provide a small aspect of work programme, such as providing legal or housing advice, in a telephone conversation

    So its not clear how actively involved many of them are, best way to find out is ask ’em

  9. well said, johnnyvoid; some of these charities have pretty poor track records in employing the people they set out to support, involving those people in strategic planning, and numerous other shortcomings too

  10. Pingback: Shame of the Third Sector: How Charities Got it Wrong on Workfare » DPAC

  11. Excellent that SCOPE are bowing to pressure. I’m truly shocked at some of the charities that are exploiting people in this way. I’d expected better.

    Truly remarkable and utterly contemptible hypocrisy.

  12. i suppose the upshot of this will be, charity shop staff all having to be independently wealthy

  13. I worked in a Barnardo’s shop for a year as a willing volunteer and worked in every area of the shop. During that year we received many unemployed of all ages from BEST who chose placements with us rather than being sat in a classroom all week with 1 computer for every 5 people. They worked full time for us for 4 days a week (the 5th being at BEST) for benefits plus transport. Not one of them was trained on anything but steaming and sorting and we relied on their labour to keep going. Although they were based in a retail environment, they barely went anywhere near the shop floor. There was never any prospect of paid work with us.

    • Sheryl Odlum

      exactly which proves even charities are just using people for free labour while they can, I am truly disgusted. I try to keep up to date with what is happening with Barnardo’s because my mum was virtually brought up by them in her youth, however it seems all have sold their souls now in favour of something much less benevolent.

  14. the BHF does have an income of £125 million, you do need someone compotent to run that, surely?

  15. I can confirm that st michales in hereford a charity shop use workfare as my freind is doing his forced workfare there and BRITISH HEART FOUNDATION its un real they meant to help people not exploit them is this why they being run like a fully fledged business and not a charity and why is it that they aint being targeted like tesco as no body should escape all them that are targeting the unemployed by exploting them for there own gain should be named and shamed and may be if more them that are unemployed joined in when we take action then may be we would get a full stop to this as unlike the goverment we are all in this together and all taking action together gets better results keep up good work people those that are taking action

  16. and SCOPE may just have hived the work off to it’s Scottish arm Capability Scotland we’ve been informed so that needs to be checked out too still

  17. Is it not time that one of the celebrity-style,high profile human rights lawyers took the British Hitler (I.D.Smith) to the European Court over The Welfare Reform Bill & other nefarious practices?

    • Hi Miki67

      I have been banging on about this for ages before Hitler manages to take us out of the EHR which he is pushing for all the time.

  18. I have said it elsewhere:we are,without doubt,re-entering the age of slavery.

  19. Paula TransPanther

    Oxfam in Wigan were running this scheme 2 years ago. I have never seen people supposedly “volunteering” abused in such a disgusting and heavy handed manner. They tried it on with me in the same way one day (somebody must have assumed I was a workfare slave not an actual real volunteer, still coerced due to illegal discrimination.. must have some sort of job… in order to receive nhs treatment) and I walked out of the door..

    My most recent experience of charity shop work we actually helped a forced volunteer because she had been volunteering with us previously and it seemed sensible (and fairer) to let her serve her month with us rather than being sent to Tesco.

    • Paula your story needs to go in the local paper at the very least as this needs to be made public, I am also disgusted to read how a charity tried it on with you just for believing you were a work slave, arn’t charities supposed to treat everyone in the manner they promote themselves?

  20. No one should have any illusions about the big charities that allegedly represent the interests of disabled people. They’ve been first in the queue to grab every penny they can no matter how grubby the deals they’ve signed up to. I shall be targeting the truly despicable Capability Scotland (which exploits its own disabled employees so god knows how they treat their workfare slaves) but really they’re just the tip of a dirty iceburg.

  21. Pingback: ‘How Charities Got it Wrong on #Workfare.’ #mhuk #ukmh #workscare | Dawn Willis sharing the News & Views of the Mentally Wealthy

  22. if theres a job to be done well why not give someone a job the tories are having a wet dream about this

  23. Pingback: Chris Grayling is a Lying Bastard | the void

  24. I have read all the above…and would like to share my experiences of sheer neglect working as an unpaid “slave” on a scheme in a charity shop.. Firstly to strip me of my indivduality and human rights,when I first got there, I had to take off my coat and hang it in the staff area, ON A COAT HOOK WITH THE COATS OF THE PAID WORKERS!!!!!!!!! I was then forced into converstion with other members of the Team who took an interest in me, I felt oppressed as if the volunteers knew I was different.. After completing a health and safety assesment…I was forced to drink tea and eat biscuits with the other volunteers. OWN BRAND biscuits …not a Hob Nob or Jammie Dodger in sight!!! … I was further shocked to realise that as the shop sold clothing.. i was expected to hang, tag steam and sort CLOTHES along with the manager and other volunteers….It was disgusting that I had to drink lots of tea that day…have my lunch paid for and spend time interacting with people who seemed to care..The very worst thing was missing five days of Jeremy Kyle.

    I totally agree with Miki67, this is exactly how Hitler Started, when he was released from Prison, his story ‘Mien Kampf’ was actually about his struggle in an Austrian Charity Shop – ‘Mein-d’, where he saw his oppressed country men being given the opportunity to gain valuable experience and confidence.

    I agree It’s history repeating itself, that self styled Hitler Ian Duncan Schmit will be annexing Croydon soon and we’ll see the Tanks roll into Welwyn Garden City…….. it’s a warning from History

    Just stop tarring SOME bad experiences with that massive brush that it is ALL experiences…….

    • Paranoid Eyes,

      sorry you had to go through that and I have noticed from several stories told on the subject that claimants appear to be treated worse and more condescending when working for charities???

      I think there is more of a public outcry and understanding because of the Tesco fiasco which DWP agree was a mistake, a mistake huh I just found the following where superdrug are doing the same.

      Vacancy from
      Job No:EAN/29944SOC Code:7111WageJSA + TRAVEL EXPENSESHours25 HOURS PER WEEK TBALocationFISHPONDS ROAD BS16DurationPermanentDate posted17 February 2012Pension detailsNo details held

      This is a Work Experience Opportunity for 18-24 year olds. Retail placement available with Superdrug on Fishponds Road. Duties as required by the Store Manager. … -EAN-29944

      Is that a mistake as well then????

  25. Let’s take our stuff we’d normally give to charity and bring it to church halls once a week so the poor can get stuff there for far less than some charity shops are charging now. I’ve noticed prices creeping up over the last few years and I don’t want stuff I’m donating being out of reach of the poor who need stuff. Charities must learn they cannot play the politics game with impunity – the donors can stop the flow of goods to them and give it directly to poor people.

    • I agree with you Ann,

      I used to give everything to charity shops but not now after I was told by a volunteer worker that the regular staff take everything out of donations they want first paying next to nothing for it and then putting the rest out in the shop.

      yes you are right some of the prices are so hiked now anyway that I prefer to wait for sales and then buy what I need at that time as some sales prices are lower than the charity shops round my way if you can believe it.

    • that’s a good idea Ann. There must be enough churches with food banks now for it to work.

  26. yeh…great idea guys…lets all get tarred with the humungous brush eh????have u listened to your selves.??? you can give your unwanted stuff to who ever you want its your career choice..lets not forget that its not just “poor” people who shop in charity shops…what about dealers, people who trade on ebay etc…When all the funding for drop in facilities , counciling and supported housing schemes dries up because of lack of public support are you going to be the ones to open your doors to help people??? yeh go and give your unwanted pants to the “poor” i am sure they will be really grateful..

  27. they shouldnt in an ideal world…but we dont live in an ideal world…so these services are very much needed…i know many of my close friends have had envaluable support from certain charities..and if the funding was there from other sources ie.. government then maybe there would not be a need for these organisations but there is …am i also missing the point of a chairty shop….is it not to raise much needed funds for a particular cause??? not to provide cheap goods ??? there are untold shops on the high street that provide that service..

  28. and so whats your point?????? in my experience…myself…members of my close family and at least three of my close friends have been helped by Mind…not one of the big players in your hitlist…so you tell me how me supporting this charity is a bad thing when they have provided me personally with fantastic support…??? and many many other people as well???

    • actually MIND is one of those who will benefit from the Disability Works programme substantially. I’m not saying local groups aren’t good but many service users wouldn’t share your view about the corporate aspects of MIND’s organisation.

    • My only problem with charities is them using work fare claimants to work for them instead of volunteers as it takes away what a charity is supposed to be about that’s all…. well to me at any rate.

      I am also not keen where financial studies have shown missing money between income in and expenditure and I am referring to millions not short change.

      • i think this is an unforseen outcome, because the charity shops have signed up, they can have volunteers who arte signing on, and only when there are not enough willing volunteer do they lumberted with un willing workfare bods

        • Hi Axel, sorry but I still do not agree and never will to enforced non paid labour, it sends a very bad message out that claimants or other sectors of society who find themselves in the unfortunate position of not having a job can be used and abused to receive their pittance in benefits.

          Its a slippery slope we need to stop.

          What did charities do before they could sign up for enforced labour slaves? they just got on with it and waited for volunteers which is right and correct.

          There are also many stories about how work fare claimants have been treated by charities as well as if they are somehow beneath them well my answer to that snobbery is do the right thing and opt out of the scheme.

  29. yeh and if u look on the break down of expenditure on the charities commission link u will see that they actually paid out more to projects than they got in!!! that 13 million is not profit by the way and is small fry compared to other charities on ur list….and as i have been a service user myself i cn only speak as i have found and how other people have been supported….

  30. guest..i understand where ur coming from…but if you have to do a placement somewhere then surely doing it for a charitable organisation is better than a big corporate?? it must look better on a cv. for example…and you could just gain the confidence u need to go back into a real job…its maybe not right but i am sure not all claiments are treated unfairly its just the good stuff never gets aired as its not good media.

    • get a grip
      agreed we do not often hear about the good and I am sure there must be some somewhere but I am also convinced the bad probably outweighs the good at this juncture of life in the UK.

      I do not agree with forced slavery for anybody charity or otherwise and certainly not for our young people who need a real job not some fake training course stacking shelves for large profit making corporates when that should have been a real job with a real interview and real pay.

      I do not need a CV I have several and worked all my life in a professional capacity it is only illness that has stopped me continuing with my career. I have nothing to feel guilty about as I worked all my life to pay into a system for myself and others and did so willingly only to be informed as soon as I had to stop working I am now labelled a scrounger, Like hell I am a scrounger I have helped enough thank you and feel entitled to be annoyed.

      Way I see it I am owed a lot of money, where did all my money go and a lot of people feel the same. If we added up what a person my age has paid in to the system over the years we would have been better off keeping that money and paying for our own services when we needed them not having it stolen from us by rich schoolboys who think they are above everybody else in life wile continuing to defraud.

  31. thanks for your healthy debate here people….have enjoyed the banter….good luck to dpac…happy campagning…

  32. Quest: usually they used ordinary volunteers, of whom, some were signing on and willing but i beleive things changed and they could no longer have volunteers, who were signing on and this is why they had to sign up top workfare

    there was an odd case, in shropshire, where a girl, was working for the local museum, in a job she wanted to do but had to leave because the dole had decided there was no chance of a job appearing there, so she got tgransferred to poundland

  33. I worked for SCOPE in one of their shops, briefly, about 15 years ago and was treated like crap. Although employed part time (16 hours) they expected me to be available by phone at all times in case I needed to cover for absent staff. In the days before mobiles, effectively this meant house arrest between 9 and 5 on all days the shop was open.

    They employed two people with disabilities for an extra £10 a week on top of their benefits. One was a young man with cerebral palsy and the other a young woman who was introduced to me as “this is ……., she’s a Slow Learner.” She was bullied by the manage and treated as a skivvy, it can’t have done anything for her confidence.

    Scope sent me on a “training course” run by a young teacher who had qualified from the same teacher training college as me a year earlier. She apparently wrote a report about me saying that ” I showed very poor understanding of basic concepts.” This “very poor understanding” hadn’t prevented me from getting 12 GCSEs, 4 A levels, a degree and the same qualification as her, nor has it prevented me doping postgrad qualifications since. When I challenged this “judgement” I was ignored.

    I left in disgust, and they refused to pursue my complaint as I was “no longer an employee.”

    I have never given Scope a penny in donations since, and I never will. It certainly opened my eyes about what a “caring organisation” they were.

    • MAUD JANE,

      I am hearing this a lot now and am disgusted by their attitudes and obvious abuse of people in all manner of ways. I really do not know the answer maybe it may change a little now they are getting thrown to the forefront of negative media, one would certainly hope so.

  34. that should say “coping with” not “doping” although that is basically what this so-called “teacher” accused me of being, a dope who was too thick to work for Scope!

  35. Nobody can force me to work for the NAS for nothing, wait a minute I already do.

  36. I have a confession to make. I was a slave labour employer.

    Read my confession here.

  37. Some of you just don’t get it.
    Voluntary means you VOLUNTEER.
    Forced / Mandatory means you DIDN’T volunteer.
    Then,there’s the issue of a fair day’s wage,for a fair day’s labour…but that principle has gone down the drain…
    Plus,how much do you think the top doggies in these ‘charities’ take home in pay & bonuses? These charity shops,which sprang up in the Thatcher era (no surprise there) are called ” the poverty business ” with good reason. They are a fucking GOLDMINE for their head office uber capitalists.

  38. Pingback: Charities and Workfare: The Sad Truth | the void

  39. Pingback: Now Chris Grayling Attacks the Foundations of Democracy! | the void

  40. Pingback: Now Chris Grayling Attacks the Foundations of Democracy! ~ The Void | Black Triangle Campaign

  41. Pingback: Benefit Sanctions Treble In Just Two Years – And There’s Far Worse To Come | the void

  42. Pingback: First Statistics Reveal Work Programme To Be A Shambles | the void

  43. Pingback: Scoping Out The Workfare Exploiters | the void

  44. Pingback: Birmingham Trades Council » What they didn’t tell you at the Age UK’s For Later Life Conference

  45. Pingback: Mencap Sponsor Workfare Award At Poverty Pimp Love In | the void

  46. Pingback: Mencap Sponsor Workfare Award At Poverty Pimp Love In

  47. smudgeissmudge

    There is SOME ageuk shops with placements and shop managers are been encouraged to carry on by the one person who should be against it (company as a whole is against workfare) shops managers have Area managers as there boss. The way around this is signing them up as a reg volunteers but without the Voluntary meaning. And when placement ends. Leavers form sent off so no longer on volunteer database.

  48. I’m working a few hours for 3 days a week at a charity shop. On jsa my advisor first sent me to oxfam, who didn’t want to take a forced worker but gladly still interviewed me. The advisr told me to look for another one. I got the one where I am and this is a disorganised place. I was even told about a mistake which I didn’t make, as the ticket showed the time was earlier than my start time. Work is not easy In these shops, I’ve been told I’m good at it by the managers, I know I am, I worked in good shops and telephone customer service years, but I don’t like being taken advantage of. The manager can’t even remember what days i work and I was expected to show new people how to work the til, pack stock and serve all the same time, when I only was there 4 weeks at that time. Something very wrong about it all. Even had to work bank holiday. Wasn’t asked if I needed to be off for my child.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s