Workfare: an attack on the poor

None of it is working

When the coalition government rolled out its plans to reform the benefits system it was a Tory party middle England wet dream come true – punish the poor, attack the young, exclude the vulnerable and deny those with the least what little they were entitled to. It was also a nod to the real power brokers of government policy – the big business interests whose profits need securing during the prolonged recession and whose tax evasion far outweighs those claiming welfare support.

Rather than spend their energy ensuring companies who have so far refused to pay their outstanding tax bills – estimated at £95bn a year – the millionaire’s government has targeted the benefits system as a means of saving money as part of their austerity measures. As a cost cutting exercise it allows the wealthy and business class to continue extracting millions out of the economy while taking from the most needy essential financial assistance.

Ian Duncan Smith, the Works and Pensions secretary, declared the reforms “ambitious” with the introduction of  ‘work incentives’ and a universal credit system with the explicit aim of ensuring less people will be able to claim less welfare, despite being fewer jobs on offer and little economic growth. The Welfare Reform Bill, having passed through the House of Lords, is now law and will soon affect everyone who claims some form of welfare assistance – from the young unemployed to disabled people, single mothers, the sick and those on low income.

One of the more malevolent changes to the benefits system is the workfare programme. Originally introduced by New Labour under Tony Blair, the Tories have now refined it as part of a package of ‘work incentives’ to be rolled out on a massive scale in the coming year.

The workfare programme is a compulsory scheme where the unemployed are forced to work for private companies or risk having their benefits withdrawn. It also means the participating companies have access to a continuous supply of cheap labour, undercutting and driving down wages in those work environments.

According to the grassroots campaign group Boycott Workfare: “Workfare profits the rich by providing free labour, whilst threatening the poor by taking away welfare rights if people refuse to work without a living wage”. Companies involved include big global multi-nationals like MacDonalds, HMV and Tesco.

As a response Boycott Workfare called a Day of Action on March 3rd and asked groups to target those companies profiting directly from the workfare. Over thirty five demonstrations, pickets and protests were organised throughout the country.

Anarchist groups who publicly supported the initiative included Brighton Solidarity Federation who were involved in anti-workfare actions locally, and called on Solfed nationally to launch a concerted campaign against workfare. Other Solfed locals active on the day were Liverpool and Thames Valley Solfed.

Edinburgh and Bristol Anarchist Federation both endorsed the day and joined in actions in their area and Lincoln Underground Collective took a tour of Lincoln to picket and protest companies involved in workfare.

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