I was talking very recently with a group of people who are on a 30-hour-a-week workfare Community Work Placement (CWP) at at Haringey charity. Their workfare provider is the G4S subcontractor Urban Futures, finder of these 30-hour-a-week placements on which people must work or lose their benefits.
Anyway – one member of the group made a startling revelation as we spoke. This person said that until late December 2014, they’d been on a CWP workfare placement in the Marie Curie charity shop in Highbury and Islington.
The thing with that is – Marie Curie supposedly abandoned participation in forced workfare schemes a couple of years ago as a result of successful Boycott Workfare campaigns (shoutout to the Void here who reminded me MC had left).
So I rang Marie Curie and sent through some questions asking how somebody on CWP had ended up on a workfare placement in one of their shops when Marie Curie didn’t participate in workfare schemes, or take people on workfare placements.
The answer I got was intriguing.
Marie Curie’s media guy told me yesterday that Marie Curie does not support work placement schemes where people will lose their benefits if they do not participate – but that sometimes they ended up taking people on such schemes by… accident.
This bloke said that these accidents come about because disingenuous organisations and work programme providers come to Marie Curie and ask if the charity will take volunteers in its shops without telling Marie Curie that the “volunteers” are actually on forced workfare placements. He talked about the Highbury and Islington case in such a context. “We do try wherever possible to check if we are approached by companies or organisations that are offering us volunteers… but [if] they’re not quite honest with us….and if we do find that this is the case, we do end the relationship with that organisation… We will in many cases offer that volunteer a chance to volunteer with us, but under the deal that they won’t lose any benefits if it is not for them.”
He also said that sometimes, Marie Curie was “not made aware until after the volunteer has left that they were on one of these programmes.”
Intriguing, as I say. I must say that I struggled to imagine a scenario where a lot of people wouldn’t know immediately that someone was on a forced placement, because a) people on such a placement would talk about it and b) they’d be getting someone at the charity to regularly sign their attendance timesheets so that travel costs could be claimed, but it could be that I don’t have much imagination. It does all make you wonder, though. It has, for example, made me wonder how often these sorts of accidents happen and how many people turn up and stay on in workfare placements at organisations that have supposedly pulled out of workfare. At the very least, it makes me wonder how well organisations that have pulled out of workfare police their own anti-workfare policies and exactly how they do it. I think I’ll set aside some time on the weekend to do more wondering about all of this.
I’ve also rung Urban Futures to ask how a CWP provider like themselves – just as an example – would view the sort of placement accident described by Marie Curie. It certainly would be interesting to know Urban Futures’ view of unscrupulous work programme providers who aren always entirely honest about placement motives. I don’t always have much (any) luck when I try to get hold of people at Urban Futures, but you never know. This could be the big moment. I’ll let you know if anything comes through.
In the meantime, stay on alert for any more – err, workfare placement accidents.
Update: Sunday 18 Jan: Urban Futures sadly didn’t return my Friday call, so we’ll have another go this week.