Some good news from North London, as Haringey Solidarity Group report that their nine-month campaign against workfare at North London Hospice has ended in victory. In their own words:
NORTH LONDON HOSPICE PULLS OUT OF WORKFARE
Following 9 months of protest from Haringey Solidarity Group, North London Hospice has agreed to stop taking part in the government’s workfare scheme. The charity, which has been using the six-month forced, unpaid “Community Work Placements” to staff its charity shops, has agreed to replace all forced labour with the work of volunteers. Running 18 shops in North London and a major supplier of Community Work Placements, the charity’s pledge to pull out will have a significant impact on the scheme’s viability in Haringey.
Under Community Work Placements any jobseeker who hasn’t secured employment for two years can be forced to work for free for six months or be sanctioned – losing their benefits for between 4 weeks and three years. Last year over 560,000 claimants were sanctioned (a shocking one in five jobseekers) resulting in rent arrears, hunger, and poor mental and physical health. Although the government still refuses to publish data on sanction-related deaths, we know these sanctions have resulted in cases of suicide and death by other causes. Charities are increasingly unwilling to use the controversial scheme and almost 600, including Oxfam, The Children’s Society and the Red Cross, have signed a pledge never to use forced labour.
Until this month North London Hospice was one of the few charities in Haringey to remain involved in the scheme. Haringey Solidarity Group has been in discussions with the charity’s senior management for 9 months, taking a variety of actions against the organisation including picketing the shops and, latterly, occupying their shops at Turnpike Lane and Crouch Hill. While North London Hospice told Haringey Solidarity Group and the media they ‘intended’ to pull out of the scheme, they continued to actively recruit for placements.
They have now committed in writing to pulling out of the scheme. Pam McClinton, CEO of North London Hospice, told Haringey Solidarity Group:
“The Board have decided that North London Hospice will no longer initiate any new placements through the CWP scheme. We are committed to honouring existing placements… The last of these placements concludes in December 2015.”
Tony Woods, member of Haringey Solidarity Group, says: “We are pleased North London Hospice has finally realised that it is unacceptable to force people to work 30 hours a week for no money. Volunteering has to be voluntary and work should be paid, otherwise people are being exploited. We will be keeping a close eye on North London Hospice to make sure they keep their promise to have completely left the scheme by December this year.”
This kind of committed, dedicated campaigning can really pay off. Like the construction workers who won the reinstatement of a victimised worker by breaking a High Court injunction against their protest, the Sweets Way occupiers making derelict homes habitable again, the Sotheby’s workers carrying on the fight against the sackings of workplace militants or the mass non-payment campaign that’s driving Irish Water to the brink of collapse, the committed, highly effective campaigning against workfare by the likes of Haringey Solidarity Group is an inspiration to all of us who want to take back power over our lives. If we’re prepared to stick around for the long haul, we can win real victories.