Oxfam and YMCA to boycott Help to Work programme

A group of 30 charities plan to withdraw from a new government scheme in which the long-term unemployed will lose benefits unless they commit to options including six months of voluntary work

Department for Work and Pensions
Department for Work and Pensions

A group of about 30 charities and voluntary organisations, including Oxfam, the Conservation Volunteers and YMCA England, have said they will boycott a new government scheme in which long-term unemployed people will face losing their benefits if they do not commit to options including six-month "community work placements".

The government’s Help to Work programme, which will apply to people who have been on the Work Programme for the maximum of two years, will tell participants to either sign on at a job centre every day, take up a training course or carry out a six-month, 30-hour-a-week community work placement.

The CWP option is designed for claimants whose key barrier to work is seen as being a lack of work experience, motivation or both.

If people on the scheme refuse to do their allotted activity, they will have their benefits docked.

A broad coalition of charities and campaigning groups have launched a new campaign called Keep Volunteering Voluntary in opposition to community work placements.

The organisations said the option amounted to forced volunteering and that they would not take part in the programme.

Participants include the local infrastructure body Navca and the campaigning groups Boycott Workfare and the National Coalition for Independent Action

Daniel O’Driscoll, head of volunteering at Oxfam, said forced volunteering was an oxymoron and that Oxfam would not support the scheme because its effect on the support people received made it "incompatible with our goal of reducing poverty in the UK".

The NCIA said that organisations were boycotting the scheme because of a growing understanding of the impact of benefit sanctions on food poverty and homelessness. It said it opposed the scheme because the placements involved, at up to 780 hours, were more than twice the maximum community sentence that a judge could hand out for crimes such as drink driving or assault.

Andy Benson, co-director of the NCIA, said: "With community work placements, charities that have a genuine desire to help people could end up exploiting them instead. We must not be naive. The CWP scheme is the latest attempt to co-opt voluntary groups into doing ministers’ dirty work for them. We want real jobs and real volunteering, not real exploitation."

Joe Irvin, chief executive of Navca, said: "It ceases to be volunteering when people have no choice. Our sector has a proud record of supporting unemployed people into work through volunteering, and this latest DWP scheme undermines that."

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of the trade union Unite, which is also against the community work placement option, said: "There is no evidence that these workfare programmes get people into paid work in the long term. We are against this scheme wherever ministers want to implement it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector."

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