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Salvation Army comes under attack

22 March 2013

DEMOTIX

Protest: In 2013, the headquarters of the Salvation Army were occupied by campaigners protesting against the organisation's involvement with the Government's Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) programme

Protest: In 2013, the headquarters of the Salvation Army were occupied by campaigners protesting against the organisation's involvement with t...

THE headquarters of the Salvation Army were occupied on Monday by campaigners protesting against the organisation's involvement with the Government's Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) programme. A "workfare army" occupied its reception area for one hour, and banners were unfurled (above). It was part of a "week of action" co-ordinated by the campaign group Boycott Workfare.

The action was supported by the pressure group Christianity Uncut. A representative of the group, Chris Wood, said: "Workfare workers are not volunteers - their work is not voluntary, but obligatory, and they should be paid a living wage. Instead, they are being threatened with losing the benefits on which they live if they refuse to take part in this forced-labour scheme. We are deeply saddened that charities such as the Salvation Army and YMCA are undermining the good work they do, and their witness to Christ, by participating in Workfare schemes."

The director of employment services for the Salvation Army in the UK with the Republic of Ireland, Helen Robinson, confirmed that some centres had accepted people on MWA placements. She said: "People benefit from gaining work experience, a recent reference, and in gaining confidence - and they also help their local community. . . We would be extremely concerned if a person turned down a mandatory work-activity placement with the Salvation Army because of any doubts they had about the support and welcome they will receive from us and what they will be doing."

MWA was introduced in May 2011. Claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance are referred for a placement of 30 hours a week for four weeks, with the aim of enabling them to "re-engage with the system, refocus their job search, and gain valuable work-related disciplines", but also to demonstrate that the receipt of benefits is conditional on their willingness to work. Claimants who do not comply may be referred for a benefits sanction.

An evaluation of the programme published in December found that 61 per cent of the 798 claimants surveyed were positive about being referred. Analysis published in June, however, showed that claimants referred to the programme were off benefit for just four days more than if they had not been referred.

In February, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, criticised the programme in his column in The Sun. He wrote: "By all means, pay companies incentives to employ young people, but do not take advantage of the vulnerable by using them as free labour."

Question of the week: Should people on MWA placements be paid for their work?

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