Two Scottish charities say they have withdrawn from the government’s mandatory work activity scheme after coming under pressure from people they believe were associated with the pressure group Boycott Workfare.
Glasgow, the Caring City, an aid agency that works in the areas of health, security and education, and Starter Packs, both based in Glasgow, said they received nuisance calls and other forms of pressure after Boycott Workfare – which is campaigning for the end of compulsory work placements for unemployed people – found out that they were hosting workers on the placements.
The Salvation Army, which has accepted people on mandatory work activity in some of its local centres, has been reported to have been the target of Boycott Workfare demonstrations outside its shops in Edinburgh.
Third Sector received no reply to a voicemail, email and tweet to Boycott Workfare before publication. Lynne Friedli, a member of Boycott Workfare, told the Herald Scotland: "We would never condone intimidation and harassment, but we do think that the public has a right to know if charities are involved in workfare.
"We have a long and very honourable tradition of peaceful demonstrations and campaigning, and if there's any suggestion of aggression or intimidating behaviour we want to know about it and we would be the first to deal with it."
Ross Galbraith, social enterprise manager at Glasgow, the Caring City, told Third Sector the charity had decided to stop participating in the programme after receiving nuisance calls soon after Boycott Workfare found out that the charity had been providing work placements through Learndirect, a large provider of training and employment services.
Galbraith said Boycott Workfare was alerted to his organisation’s involvement in the scheme when it dismissed from his placement a participant who had vandalised the charity’s property. The pressure group was initially constructive when it first approached the charity, he said.
He said Boycott Workfare had said it would encourage people to boycott the charity's one shop if it did not stop hosting placements.
"Upon reviewing the impact that could have on our business and for the participants, we decided we would stop participating in the scheme," said Galbraith. He said the charity had not wanted to do this because the programme had been a success, bringing strong benefits for all those involved.
Jennifer Campbell, manager at Starter Packs, a charity that sources general household items for people on low incomes, told Third Sector that Boycott Workfare asked the charity to disclose whether it was involved in the workfare programme on Facebook. When the charity said it was, it began to receive abuse online from people who disagreed with the programme.
"We had people coming into our shop demanding to know who was on the workfare programme and why we used them," Campbell said. "It got to the point where we were quite nervous about answering the phone or answering the door in the office, so we thought it was best to just withdraw from the programme."
She said that although she understood what Boycott Workfare was trying to achieve, it was not taking the right approach in targeting charities such as Starter Packs, which found it hard to attract committed volunteers by other means. She said that participants in the scheme had found it beneficial.
A spokeswoman for the Salvation Army confirmed that a small protest took place recently at the charity’s international headquarters in London.
"We’ve found, whether on mandatory work activity or a standard short-term work-experience placement, that people benefit from gaining work experience, a recent reference and in gaining confidence – and they also help their local community. We agree with the conclusion of the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s inquiry into benefit sanctions that a review of the current system of benefit sanctions is needed."