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?