Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Charity work not fair

Charity exits workfare but leaves door open 
Article from current issue of Big Issue North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
A decision by Manchester- based homeless project Mustard Tree to end its involvement in the Mandatory Work Activity scheme for jobseekers has failed to satisfy the group that has been campaigning against the charity participating in the government’s workfare programme. 
Workfare – where people must work in return for benefits – dates back to the establishment of workhouses in 1834. It was re- introduced by the last Labour government and has been hugely expanded since 2010. Workfare critics argue that it punishes claimants, forces wages down and replaces paid employment. 
Benefit sanctions 
The rise in workfare has been accompanied by huge sanctions against claimants for allegedly breaching benefit rules, with over 587,000 claimants sanctioned between April 2004 and March 2015. One of the hardest hit groups during this period was disabled people, with sanctions up 30 per cent in one year. 
Boycott Workfare aims to “end forced unpaid labour for people who receive welfare”. The organisation has criticised charities that participate in the programme. 
From December 2014 Boycott Workfare Greater Manchester has put pressure on Mustard Tree to withdraw from the Mandatory Work Activity scheme for jobseekers, lasting up to 30 hours over a four-week period, by organising protests outside the charity’s offices. 
Other Boycott Workfare groups have held similar events outside participating charities. A number of charities, such as North London Hospice recently, have subsequently pulled out of the scheme. 
Campaigners have been urging all charity and voluntary organisations to sign the “Keep volunteering voluntary” agreement that currently has 637 signatories. They believe
that such opposition was the reason why George Osborne announced that the MWA programme would not be renewed in April 2016.
The chancellor claimed the decision was because the decline in the number of benefit claimants meant spending on employment programmes could be reduced. 
Suspicious motives 
The Mustard Tree charity had defended its MWA participation by claiming that those who had signed up were not ready for work and had benefited by the opportunities that had been made available. However, on 13 January, the charity altered its position and said it was withdrawing from MWA as “we have come to the conclusion that at this current time the best course of action that will ensure we do the best possible for the most number of beneficiaries is to withdraw from our engagement in this programme”. 
BWM spokesperson Gwyn Morgan said: “We critically welcome the announcement because it leaves open the possibility of Mustard Tree – which has never been able to provide any information that those on MWA with them have benefited from their experiences – later re-engaging with the workfare programme at any time. 
“We would like to see the charity join with hundreds of other organisations by signing up to a long-term policy of keep volunteering voluntary. Until they do we will always be a little suspicious of their real motives.” 

A spokesperson for Mustard Tree said: “We are not entering into any interviews on this topic.” 

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