“Millions of people across the country will get up today, leave their families and travel to work to carry out jobs that we all depend on. They will care for people, serve us food, clean the spaces that we all use and share. They will do more than a fair day’s work, but they won’t get a fair day’s pay.”
So said the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, writing in The Observer yesterday. What the Bishop didn’t mention is that some of those people will not receive any pay at all. In fact they could even be working – under threat of benefit sanctions – for the YMCA, the organisation of which he is the president.
Despite the Bishop condemning poverty pay, the organisation he heads uses workfare at both a national and local level. Throughout the country people are mopping floors, stacking shelves and serving customers in YMCA charity shops without being paid a penny. These people are the opposite of volunteers – they have been forced to work for no pay under the threat of brutal benefit sanctions on the Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) scheme.
Benefit sanctions can now last up to three years and mean children going hungry and rent going unpaid. Claimants are left in a desperate limbo, unable even to afford to look for work whilst they have no money for clothes, fares, stamps, phone calls and internet access. The end result is often crippling debt as both legal and illegal loan sharks cash in on the poverty created by sanctions.
This is what people face should they refuse a referral to mandatory work with the YMCA. Despite this the charity claims they believe people referred “should still be offered a choice about where the placement is undertaken and if at all possible, the placement should reflect their personal interests or skills.”
This shows a gross misunderstanding of this form of workfare which is used as a punishment aimed at those people that Jobcentre advisors have decided aren’t trying hard enough to find work. Not trying hard enough could mean refusing another form of workfare, or not using the spam, scam and spoof ridden government website Universal Jobmatch to the extent required. The Social Security Advisory Committee – who scrutinise social security legislation – warned that disabled people or those with a caring responsibility are likely to be the most vulnerable to sanctions handed out for being unable to attend Mandatory Work Activity (PDF).
The Archbishop has been silent on the use of not just low paid but unpaid workers by his own organisation. This is not the first time John Sentamu has been guilty of breath taking hypocrisy on the question of workfare. Astonishingly he has previously condemned workfare directly: “By all means, pay companies incentives to employ young people, but do not take advantage of the vulnerable by using them as free labour.”
The YMCA, along the The Salvation Army, are one of the few charities left involved in the repugnant MWA scheme after most decent charities pulled out in disgust. These two so called Christian charities never see the horrific suffering they cause when they report a claimant to the DWP for failing to attend forced labour in one of their shops. This means they pretend they have no part in the brutality of benefit sanctions that they are directly responsible for initiating.
In The Observer this weekend Sentamu says that “what workers really need is pay, not platitudes”. Yet he is still quite happy to give his name to an organisation which has become one of the last remaining cheerleaders in the charitable sector for forced unpaid work. If the Archbishop really cared about low pay or workfare then he would force the YMCA to change course – or resign.
Sentamu ends his piece with an appeal to the low paid, and presumably unpaid, by announcing “If you are paid less than the living wage, I want to hear from you.”
If you have been forced to attend or face mandatory workfare then why not join the Archbishop’s “national conversation about low pay in Britain”.
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