The Conservation ‘Volunteers’ Who Are Forced To Work Unpaid

combat-workfareThe continued exodus of charity shops from the Government’s workfare schemes leaves the Mandatory Work Activity scheme looking perilously close to collapse.

Oxfam, Marie Curie and Shelter, who all refused workfare in their stores, have now been joined by others. Scope say they are ending mandatory work schemes as have Age UK (though not necessarily in their independent stores). Cancer Research UK have said they are pulling out of mandatory work activity placements. Meanwhile British Heart Foundation have said they are ‘moving away’ from mandated work, though have continued to take placements in their stores.

It now seems that the largest providers of mandated workfare are likely to be conservation and environmental charities such as The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), a misnamed charity who have been quietly building an army of unpaid workers.

TCV (formally known as BTCV) , have previously boasted of employing 20,000 unpaid workers on various government schemes since the 1980s. They currently hold lucrative contracts with the DWP to deliver Mandatory Work Activity. The so-called charity have forced 589 people into unpaid work, often for private companies on this scheme alone.

This is on top of the countless people who have been forced to work without pay on their conservation projects.

Sue Pearson, a spokesperson for the charity, even boasts of how they have attempted to get round DWP rules which state placements must have a ‘community benefit’.  Speaking to the Guardian, Pearson explains how claimants forced to work in a food preparation factory had been required to “gather up recycling materials” in order to meet DWP criteria.

TCV are the worst kind of workfare exploiters. As well as bullying people into working for no pay, they also put jobs and working conditions at risk by sending claimants to work for free in profit making companies.

With such an eager attitude towards exploiting benefit claimants, it seems likely that TVC will be quite happy to make use of new rules which mean that sick and disabled claimants can now be forced into unpaid work. A statement concerning the organisation’s use of workfare was updated on December 3rd, the day that workfare for sick and disabled claimants began.

It suggests they are already salivating at the thought of thousands more people to exploit, stating that they will merely undertake a health assessment of those they intend to force to work. Everybody on out of work sickness or disability benefits has been signed off as unfit to work by their own GP.

As part of the Week of Action Against Workfare Charities contact TCV this Friday 14th December and help expose the charity’s dirty little workfare secrets to anyone who thought they might be an ethical organisation.

TCV are on twitter @tcvtweets.
Find them on facebook at:
You can contact them directly to tell them what you think on 01302 388 883 or email:
To find your local TCV Branch visit:

Please share, tweet, blog and spread the word!

First published on Boycott Workfare

67 responses to “The Conservation ‘Volunteers’ Who Are Forced To Work Unpaid

  1. Pingback: The Conservation ‘Volunteers’ Who Are Forced To Work Unpaid | Welfare, Disability, Politics and People's Right's |

  2. Forced labour.
    Indentured labour.
    Slave labour.
    Next step: transit points.
    Isn’t Nazi-ism wonderful?

    • Well we have the workhouse already..

    • ” “That is why the Work Programme has helped 693,000 people already and we are prepared to spend up to £14,000 on one individual to help them get back to work,” David Cameron said, referring to the government’s main scheme which aims to find jobs for those who have been unemployed for more than six months.

      This is often contracted out to private firms who get paid for placing people in work.

      “We do have the measures in place to tackle this scourge,” he said during Prime Minister’s Questions.”

      • Ok so thats £14,000 workfare deliverers can get per person it finds work for…,
        But if claimant gets job on their own
        Does the workfare deliverer pay the money back to govt?

  3. Pingback: The Conservation ‘Volunteers’ Who Are Forced To Work Unpaid | Mental Health, Politics and LGBT issues |

  4. Dont these charities understand that to volunteer in the old term of the way, shows a caring heart to the charity. However this workfare the forced volunteering, does nothing but harm to charities, as being will link the people who do it out of the goodness of their hearts with punishment

  5. Just as the pulpit should not be tied to the dispatch box, charities should not be tied to government run schemes.

  6. Didn’t the Navy used to get their “volunteers” by snatching them off the street in years gone by?

  7. “Strength through Joy!”
    Tomorrow belongs to me…..
    …..c’mon, wake up, smell the coffee, get with the program…
    Arbeit Macht Frei, dontcha know?

  8. When you first wrote about this ‘charity’ I put a post on their Facebook page, asking them to clarify their position before I shared your article on my Facebook page. Still no response, surprise surprise.

  9. how disgraceful this is.
    now it needs to be exposed via hidden cameras/hidden microphones and leaked to national newspapers.
    whistle blowers are needed on this.

  10. I do voluntary work for a charity and just learnt from my JC that I am being classed as unpaid employed. Complete abuse of figures.

  11. talking of statistic there is a new non-profit organisation started up called FULL FACT it’s on line, totally right wing but they claim to be there to police incorrect facts being written by the media, it’s worth reading for the laugh.

  12. Compare what happened with the WPA program of Roosevelts New Deal (From Britannica):
    “During its eight-year existence the WPA put some 8.5 million people to work (over 11 million were unemployed in 1934) at a cost to the federal government of approximately $11 billion.The agency’s construction projects produced more than 650,000 miles (1,046,000 km) of roads; 125,000 public buildings; 75,000 bridges; 8,000 parks; and 800 airports. The Federal Arts Project, Federal Writers’ Project, and Federal Theater Project—all under WPA aegis—employed thousands of artists, writers, and actors in such cultural programs as the creation of art work for public buildings, the documentation of local life, and the organization of community theatres. The WPA also sponsored the National Youth Administration, which sought part-time jobs for young people.”

    There is soo much bad will towards those involved with our Work Program because of the huge waste of resources for little or no return. What business would ever set such a ridiculously low target return of 5% that Westminster accepts as the success benchmark. Any business plan put forward in the commercial world based on this expenditure/return ratio would be considered demented. We cannot even reach 5% which they gave as the “do nothing” employment rate.

    Instead of the extreme bad-will engendered through people being forced to participate in Work Program related stuff which has very little impact at the macro level in terms of generating genuine, fulltime, new productive capacity and employment (and what is seen as benefiting in the main select “training” companies), would it not be better having some form of voluntary program that build socially beneficial things that those who took part in could feel some feeling towards?

  13. Pingback: Could Mandatory Work Activity be on the Brink of Collapse? | the void

  14. I too have read about FDR’s new deal also and how this wily democrat used cheap labour to build and renew public projects and how he manipulated the hourly rate depending on what state he was in. Higher rates for the republican states so he could win votes. Whether it’s state or private everyone wants everything on the cheap and the working class pay either for the projects that are working on or through cheap labour.

      • I was at BTCV on three occasions during the New Deal time and remember many being taken by mini bus to a farm to do some sort of conservation. They used to put on their website pictures of patrons such as david bellamy. The last time I was at BTCV they put an application form in front of me for the British Heart Foundation and told me to fill it in before they packed me off to a placement at a store. I refused and said it wouldn’t be suitable for me and the trainer transferred me to another group of people on New Deal. I have my doubts concerning the British Heart Foundation pulling out of taking on placements. If they are serious then they should do it straight away.

        • Thats true..,

          Sometimes this sponsorship malarkey can get you into all sorts of palava..


        • “Furthermore, if we’re funding ‘results’, we are focusing on final interventions, and interventions that produce solutions. Many services don’t have easily definable nor final results. Great swathes of services don’t have positive outcomes – but act to mitigate the further worsening of negative conditions, social isolation, or social injustice. These aren’t ‘results’ in themselves, but provide important preventative and welfare support to individuals and communities. Such services could lose direct state investment, or needs assessment, or infrastructure support, or could be reframed around artificial and forced ‘results’, rather than the needs of the individual receiving the intervention. Users could be forced towards ‘results’ that are inappropriate, by providers needing to reach payment thresholds.”

          Ooops !!!! So this payment by results is riddled with problems then????

    • Yes and JFK could crack jokes about his father buying votes in self-deprecating style. I was reading again this morning Auden’s September 1st 1939 “For the error bred in the bone Of each woman and each man”. No person on this planet is perfect and no system is perfect because the people who participate bring their own faults to it. Oftentimes its compromise and choosing the least worst option and doing that which is for the common good as best we can. Auden was having to fight despair when he wrote that poem and the sky looked like falling down.

      In a way it’s a different war we gaze upon now rather what Auden saw yet the same root causes are at work “Each language pours its vain
      Competitive excuse”. We are told we must compete with our neighbours in a wage and hours race that spiral’s downwards and the only winners are the tiny few who build a mountain of wealth. Doing down your neighbour is now considered a virtue rather than a vice in the rat-race promoted by Westminster.

      The crumbs from the rich man’s table are getting ever fewer, such is the effect of unbridled greed. The invisible hand that Adam Smith wrote about isn’t working but is that any surprise? A moving hand which is dettached from a brain tends to produce huge boom and bust cycles. A hand that doesn’t have eyes cannot see the wasteland it creates in once stabe communities. A hand that doesn’t have a heart acts without mercy.

      The Social Darwinists hated the FDR’s New Deal. They hate anything which is associated with mercy, compassion, empathy i.e all the things that early in mankinds history were found to be beneficial in the rise of stable communities out of unstable anxiety ridden hunter gather communities. It’s ironic that they who promote Social Darwinism (though they cannot use that name now because of the Nazi’s) are at heart anti-evolutionary. They want to turn the evo-clock back to pre-civilization times when it it was every dog for themselves.

      If we reject everything because it isn’t perfect what is left?

  15. Rosemarie Harris

    I am also wondering why the British heart Foundation are not pulling out of the forced labour scheme at their stores? so we still won’t donate or buy from them i will email to ask why they have forced labour in there stores.
    The worst bit is a few of the unemployed might have given their time voluntary and the stores would have kept it’s name clean and could have benefited.

    • Steady supply of untapped labour…



    • If it is the case that jobseekers are going to be forced to work for private for profit companies then are they technically employed or unemployed?
      Because if it is the former then technically its moonlighting of which we were told the government were using aspects of work program to clamp down on.
      So that doesnt make sense as how are you meant to be actively seeking work of you are spending time actually working?
      What? Early hours of the morning?

      And if you are working for a company even though you are not a proper paid employee should you be expected to comply with company policy?
      And if the firm you are working for is bteaching health and safety can you refuse to work there without being sanctioned?
      And since the JC/DWP send you there should they check that the job is fit for purpose in that taking into consideration any medical condition you may have you are not liable injure yourself at that place or become ill as result of a lax in health and safety measures at the placement job.

    • Hello All and to Johnny especially..
      I look out for anything that looks odd or strange or appears on the net at strange times, especially when contraversial stuff going on or some aspect of govt policy looks bad. Ok so read and discuss and figure out what might be going on here.

      • It looks odd and strange but only in as much as reads like the musings of someone who may have a few misogynist tendencies & wants to use ‘figures’ to prove (the self-fulfilling prophecy) the belief that those on benefits can really live it up compared to those in paid work. Any of the slightly more nuanced reality not in there so conclusions are open to debate (but not many people replying to even bother to try).

        Unless I’ve missed something – didn’t spend very long reading it as it was making me feel a bit queasy.

        • Yeah but the thing is that often these blogs ate written by journos who are paid to write this guff to push an agenda to support a govt initiative in order to deflect any criticism..

          You notice stuff that looks dodgy at times , there are people who can spot that shit, some of it is crude and clumsy some of it is subtle other stuff is meant to muddy the waters.. Check out astro turfing..
          You will see.
          Oh i just posted what looks like a govt website or something like it , but it goes into this payment by results stuff, ive posted elsewhere. But i will post here in case ppl cant find it., it suggests in places that payment by results is er a bit flawed to say the least.
          Eg firms bending rules to get ‘results’

        • Ive found this that linked to the ncvo payment by results stuff, here is ‘concerns with regard to work program delivery’

        • ” Concerns
          1. The prime contract ‘Framework’
          DWP chose 18 prime contractors to deliver 40 Work Programme contracts across England and Wales. Of the 18 organisations chosen only two are CSOs. Of the 40 prime contracts offered by DWP only three were awarded to the civil society sector leaving 35 – or 88% – going to private sector organisations.
          According to DWP, tenders were assessed according to their ‘quality’ and ‘price’ with each component afforded equal weighting. Despite these assurances there are widespread concerns that far more premium was placed on price. There are also concerns throughout the welfare-to-work sector that much of the potential profit of Work Programme contracts was lost through the ‘bidding wars’ that took place during the tendering stage with some bids allegedly up to 50 per cent below the DWP maximum price. This arguably casts doubt over the ability of primes to pass sufficient funds onto sub-contractors. If both primes in an area have adopted this strategy, this leaves responsible sub-contractors in an area with no financially viable way of taking part in the Work Programme, losing their expertise.
          Due to the results-based payment model of the Work Programme, primes chosen for the Framework needed to display an annual turnover of at least £20 million and the financial capacity to deliver large contracts that require significant cash-flow. This scale enables – and requires – primes to shoulder the upfront and transitional costs associated with an outcomes based model. The size and complexity of the Work Programme contracts has excluded many CSOs from bidding to be a prime due to their relatively small reserves and limited access to capital. This has potentially led to a great deal of expertise and experience being lost. Furthermore, being excluded from the Framework has prevented some CSOs from becoming primes on other welfare-to-work programmes which demand far less financial capacity, such as the ESF Families programme.
          There is a concern that there is too much emphasis on using CSOs for service delivery rather than the wider commissioning, design and evaluation process. NCVO has long advocated that the role of CSOs should extend beyond the mere delivery of public services. Their connection with the community they serve and their capacity to engage with marginalised groups means that they have a much larger and more important role to play in shaping the overall design of services.”

        • @shirleynott well well not long after i posted that , along comes a tory party campaign saying pretty much the same thing, complete with equally suspectable statistics.. Hows that for timing.?

  16. Pingback: You are not a scrounger: A letter to a disabled reader « Keithpp's Blog

  17. I am currently on the work program (via Lifeskills/Ingeus) have been for eighteen months – complete waste of time – it is recognised that not a lot can be done to help my personal situation as an ex-offender. The ultimate embarrassment was being offered confidence building classes and form-filling classes. The fact that a vast majority of employers discriminate against ex-cons never gets mentioned, compared to the more PC, race whingers and those that discriminate disabled people and the elderly (quite rightly so).

    Anyway, here is my point; I am a volunteer with TCV and have been since a couple of months before I was gang-raped onto the Work Program. So my attendance as a volunteer enables me to be in a position to comment on a personal factual level rather than as a bitter and twisted curtain twitching individual or someone inflamed from troll blogs.

    In my experience – Yes, I do not get paid for my volunteering (but that is not the issue to me – the clue is in the wording) and yes when you are doing physical graft it is not unreasonable to want/expect pay. Nobody on our group is “forced” to work dangerously or to their physical injury. When you live miles from everyone as I do, the company of other decent people, feeling tired when you get home and being out in the fresh air is great. Otherwise, if I am not working, I wont leave the house for eight or nine days at a time, and that’s not good for anyone.

    What I do get, well financially my fares are paid, I get plenty of cups of tea and biscuits, I get treated decently by the volunteer officers, many of whom I am proud to call my friends. They are normal good people, of all ages who in my time of being there do it for fun, not for any other agenda. They do a lot of work for disabled projects and the community as well as seroius scientific projects. I have been put on a leadership course via TCV. I get out into the countryside and am involved in real conservation projects and have picked up a lot of experience and several skills whilst doing so. I have a good laugh with the others on the group. So I’m a fan of TCV in the main. When we are back after Crimbo I’ll ask about the points raised above now they have been brought to my attention. There may be people conscripted to come out with TCV, whether Community Payback or Work Program or through some mental disability mentoring scheme; I’ve found that people who come out in the pouring rain, get knee-deep in mud and rivers stay volunteering with TCV because they enjoy it and they like the people they volunteer with. We have people who have had to go through the ATOS test and they are not forced to go out with us, they do it, like I do because we have a good team.

    ALSO, by being a volunteer, the DWP work program Gestapo leave me right out, so do the providers at Lifeskills. If I had to stop volunteering and go on the work program “workfare” scheme in some supermarket and then did not get offered a job at the end of it, the resultant carnage would get me back in jail. After nine years of incarceration and 19 years free of offending since, that would be a step backwards. Having only worked six years in the last nineteen (and only when I lied on my CV about my criminal record) I know the truth about discrimination in life.

    So Johnny Void – “TCV are the worst kind of workfare exploiters. As well as bullying people into working for no pay, they also put jobs and working conditions at risk by sending claimants to work for free in profit making companies.” Sounds like Bollocks to me and bears no resemblance to what I have seen. I’ve found your previous posts quite amusing and indignant and I agree with a lot of what you are saying in general. Nobody in TCV is exploiting me or bullying me, save that one for the moody workfare providers and IDS.

  18. It should not be an either or situation between working for nothing for a voluntary organisation or working for nothing on the work programme. If you choose to work for this organisation for nothing and it is benefiting you in all the ways you stated then that is your choice and may well suit you better than having a decent paid job, but the majority of people in this country that are long term unemployed have probably tried all of those schemes while waiting for the elusive well paid job to come along and have got fed up with the exploitation and the ever decreasing benefits for the ever increasing voluntary workload. Good luck

    • Thanks Guy F,

      Your dead right it shouldn’t be an either or situation. Personally, I would rather volunteer for nothing doing something that I wished to do rather than working for pay (pittance) or no pay on the work program by conscription. It certainly doesn’t suit me better than having a decent paid job, as I have bills like everyone else and want to purchase a bit of retail therapy now and then. (Rather than having to save for two to three months to spend fifty quid and then worry about it after. ) If a decent paid job materialised then I would not be volunteering, end of. Nothing would make my boss (said tongue in cheek) at TCV happier than to see me in a job, that was paid and that I wanted to do. They have been more helpful to me than any state or state sanctioned support I have been offered.

      I’ve had exposure to my fair share of charities and voluntary organizations over the years. Some have been good ones ie providing help for disadvantaged people for the right reasons and some ego based as in the charity is morally sound but the back slapping in the office and the church is the real reason for peoples involvement.

      The way I see it – is the System is at fault, Politicians IDS, Grayling and the like to the service providers A4E and Ingeus et al.
      The quicker the work program goes tits up the better.

      I would be the first to support someone who was being exploited or bullied don’t worry about that. In my experience that isn’t the case with the TCV where I live, but as you stated it does suit ME in MY situation.

      I empathise with the long-term unemployed as I am one, I know full well how the holy grail of a well paid job works, it’s dangled on every inane course that the DWP conceive. The tragic exploitation of the long term unemployed and the abuse of the disabled is shit and politically based in my opinion. Power corrupts I’m sure you’ll agree.

  19. Mark A

    That you are pleased with your workfare placement does not mean that everyone is pleased with his or hers. Should people be forced to work unpaid irrespective of the amount of free tea and biscuits they get?

  20. I am not on a workfare placement Jeff I am volunteering my free time. It is outside of the work program or the DWP….. In my case volunteering also keeps the jobcentre Gestapo off my back. Double touch. For your info, there isn’t enough tea and biscuits to induce me to work for anyone for nothing and especially not on an enforced placement scheme, if the truth be known.

    No, people shouldn’t be forced to do anything especially unpaid work. That wasn’t what I was saying. My experience of being a volunteer with TCV and who also happens to be on the work program at the same time and my observations is my point.

  21. Mark A

    I’m afraid I will have to disagree with you regarding exploitation, because even if you are unaware of it ,the work that you do could and should be a paid job not voluntary , it could also be said you are setting a precedent for others to follow your example, i’m sure you will correct me if I am wrong.

  22. Every “job” should be a paid job Guy, because any form of “work” should receive some benefit to the person (hopefully financial) undertaking it. Otherwise we would all be living in one of those fabled left wing communist utopia’s instead of a centre right, EU fascist state.

    We will have to agree to disagree that I am being exploited though. Any work that I do could and should be paid for?
    Well that depends what the “work” is; clearing snow from in front of an old dears drive or carrying her bag back from the shops could be classed as work I’d class that as social conscience, being involved in conservation projects that benefit me and other members of my community at an end level I still wouldn’t really class it as work. Getting up five or six days a week to do nine hours in a factory or a shop or in a business that’s different.. I would well expect to get paid – a wage and not a minimum wage either. That is my definition of work.

    Far from setting a precedent, I would rather that people made their own minds up what is right for them and not follow anyone else’s example, I’m certainly not a role model material so there is no need for you to feel corrected.

  23. Mark A

    Jog on with your work then Mark if you don’t think it exploitative, there are plenty that would probably agree with both of us. It’s the fascists that have always looked to a Utopia of sorts via eugenics and the so called perfect race/political thought they belong to. Communism also has proved to be an imperfect philosophy, but only because it was not enacted as Marx and Engles had desired it to be structured. Nowhere in the communist manifesto did it state that there should be the introduction of a stasi or informants unlike that encouraged by the Gestapo in war torn Germany.

  24. Pingback: 2012: A Year of Lies and Blunders at the DWP Part 2 | the void

  25. sweetfannyadams

    Am grateful to be enlightened by this blog as to what is going on out there and different perspectives….
    I can see some merit in volunteering, especially under your circumstances Mark. It sounds like they are a good bunch and you are being reimbursed for your out of pocket expenses and get your tea and biccies.
    My problem though is that, with so much of the current policy, its the “one size fits all” approach.

    I can see Mark’s angle as I may well effectively be unemployable because of my age, my mental health condition and being a part time carer. In such a cut throat market place at the moment I probably wouldnt employ me to be honest, not when there are so many people going for every job and its so much an employers’ market and they can call the tune and dictate the terms of employment. I did volunteer in a charity shop for a year or so but only got that unpaid position because I kept quiet about my disability. I volunteer a couple of days a week now and am trying to retrain. I enjoy the company but I’m far from convinced that it will lead to employment because of my age and circumstances.

    The bit I just dont get about this whole “lets get them to volunteer” thing is how it truly benefits the economy. If people are not being paid to work (just reimbursed) how can they a) have the energy left to apply for a paid job b) have disposable income to spend to boost the economy and c) surely this is just depriving someone else of a paid job and seriously undermining basic employment rights. Also, even if said voluntary workers are building roads and airports and stuff (image of US southern states chain gain springs to mind), is this really a good thing? Again, surely people who have been properly trained as builders etc should be doing that…. I’m not knocking some carefully run projects for some people with particular circumstances but its the f***ing blanket approach that gets me. The nazi scattergun. I find it really alarming. “arbeit macht frei”? I’m glad that many of the major charities have pulled out.

    Am I being stupid? It just doesnt add up. Their economic theories/ practices dont make sense to me.

    • @sweetfannyadams if you look at true volunteer foundation of which i have posted on void . Its got backing from cameron and. Pickles its also got this pay to work thing plus they are always looking for corporate sponsorship

  26. sweetfannyadams

    You state you do not think even with retraining you will be employed because of your age, disability or circumstances and your probably right, but you are still being put through atos, esa , wrag or whatever and for a longer period since the deferring of pensions came in ( especially for women), therefore just prolonging the agony for those that have little or no chance of employment.

  27. Pingback: Boycott Workfare » Blog Archive » Charities shouldn’t make people poorer – day 5 in the workfare week of action

  28. Pingback: Birmingham Trades Council » Charities shouldn’t make people poorer – day 5 in the workfare week of action

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