Why we need to keep volunteering voluntary

To mark National Volunteers Week we’re joining over 650 charities and voluntary organisations in pledging not to participate in any government workfare schemes, which force unemployed people to carry out unpaid work or face benefit sanctions.

Keep Volunteering Voluntary is a campaign launched in April 2014 in response to the implementation of the government’s ‘Help to Work’ programme, which included mandatory 6-month placements in voluntary groups linked to benefit sanctions for non-compliance.

The campaign’s purpose is to end the use of workfare in the voluntary sector by encouraging as many organisations as possible to make a commitment not to participate in it, and to publicise that commitment. Over 650 organisations across the UK have signed up already thanks to the efforts of the volunteers running the campaign.

What’s wrong with workfare?

As the Keep Volunteering Voluntary team explain, workfare is the name given to schemes where unemployed and disabled people have to work in return for their benefits. The running of workfare schemes is outsourced to a range of public, private and voluntary sector providers, who sub-contract parts of their schemes to charities and community groups. Unemployed and disabled people referred to these schemes are required to carry out unpaid work in return for their benefits.

Not only do workfare schemes undermine genuine volunteering, there is no evidence that they help people to get real jobs. Furthermore, they put claimants at risk of sanctions (having their benefits stopped) – which are increasing – and destitution. The increase in sanctions is one of the key contributors to the huge increase in demand for foodbanks. As Oxfam point out, they refuse to take part in workfare schemes because ‘they are incompatible with our goal of reducing poverty in the UK.’

The solidarity economy is about supporting economic systems that support and enhance individuals’ lives without exploitation of either people, or the planet. Workfare schemes are at odds with the principles of the solidarity economy movement, and the values of the team at the Institute for Solidarity Economics.

The pledge:

“As charities and voluntary organisations we know the value of volunteering. Volunteering means people independently choosing to give their time freely to help others and make the world a better place. Workfare schemes force unemployed people to carry out unpaid work or face benefit sanctions that can cause hardship and destitution. We believe in keeping volunteering voluntary and will not participate in government workfare schemes.”

Find out more about the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign here – http://www.keepvolunteeringvoluntary.net/workfare-is-wrong

Photo by Daniel Thornton available here.

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