An alliance of students and Lewisham residents will march on Saturday as part of a national demonstration against the government’s controversial ‘workfare’ scheme, under which jobless benefit-seekers must work for free for sponsor companies.
The Department of Work and Pensions say the welfare-to-work plan for 18-24 year olds gives unemployed people the skills to get back into employment by offering them placements at big corporations, such as McDonalds and Tesco.
But plans to cut off benefits for those who leave the scheme after a week were scrapped when major employers threatened to pull out over public outrage that saw Tesco branches invaded by protesters.
The Right to Work campaign claims the scheme is mandatory and that it endangers paid positions by giving companies a source of free labour.
Goldsmiths students are now joining forces with local activists over Facebook to take a ‘Goldsmiths Tour of Lewisham’ in support of the Right to Work campaign’s national action.
The protests will target local branches of large corporations who are involved in the programme in an attempt to persuade them to pull out of the scheme.
Several corporations including Burger King have already stepped down, while Tesco has changed its rules to offer four week paid placements, or unpaid work experience on a voluntary basis only.
They were followed on Wednesday by Boots, who withdrew from a similar scheme, aimed at helping the long term unemployed find work, over the possibility of compulsory participation.
The same day Employment minister Chris Grayling released a statement listing other medium and large companies who have expressed an interest in the scheme, but insisted that it would remain “totally voluntary”.
The statement continued: “The sanction regime remains in place. Employers continue to have the protection with the use of sanctions for gross misconduct. It has never been an issue with the programme as only 220 people have been sanctioned since it started.”
However, Howard Littler, one of the Goldsmiths organisers and elected campaigns co-ordinator of the Students’ Union next year, called Grayling’s changes “smoke and mirrors” aiming to put people off campaigning against the scheme.
Littler also said that he hopes Saturday’s protest will “keep up the momentum”, hoping to pressure more companies to drop out of the scheme by targeting their local branches.
He said: “We are trying to protest against the government but that has limited affect. When you are actually affecting businesses at the bottom line, then they start worrying and they start to change their mind.
“At the moment what has been working is lobbying the companies on the street and boycotts, rather than the parliamentary method of sending letters to your MP.”