Homes for Haringey new target in campaign against compulsory unpaid work

DIY chain Homebase has withdrawn from a controversial government scheme for jobseekers after a series of protests outside their store in Harringay Green Lanes.

The protests by Haringey Solidarity Group and others (1) targeted the 'workfare' scheme, under which some people claiming Jobseekers? Allowance have been forced to work, unpaid, in order to keep receiving  
benefits. Refusal to take part may result in peoples? benefits being stopped. Last month this scheme to provide unpaid labour, that many call 'Workfare', was found to be operating in Haringey. The Homebase  
store on Green Lanes had over 20 workfare placements and benefitted from 750 hours of unpaid labour every week.


Haringey Solidarity Group has led a number of demonstrations outside Homebase Harringay in recent weeks to highlight the use of unpaid labour and to protest against the branch's decision to use people on benefits to work for free. (2) These protests, alongside pressure from consumers and the public across the UK, resulted in changes to the company's policy on a national scale. At a demonstration outside Homebase on Bank Holiday Monday, a manager from their Head Office stated that existing workfare placements at the Harringay store had come to an end, and that they were not intending to take on further unpaid workers from the jobcentre.

Felix Waterhouse, from Haringey Solidarity Group, said: "Workfare is simply wrong - it provides free labour for big companies while taking away people's welfare rights if they refuse to work without a living wage. It's great that local people standing up for workers' rights in Haringey have shamed Homebase into backing down. Now we need to take the fight to other companies using workfare in Haringey - such as the Council's own housing organisation."

Haringey Solidarity Group have now turned their attention to Homes for Haringey, the arms-length management organisation, wholly owned by Haringey Council which manages over 20,000 council homes in the borough.

Groundwork have been contracted by Homes for Haringey to run a 'Green Team'. Groundwork have been using the unpaid labour of people referred by the jobcentre - which carries a threat of sanctions for refusal to take part. Local residents discovered that people on the scheme have been doing work 'on the cheap' on Homes for Haringey estates which had previously been done by council staff. This could undermine the  
position both of paid employees of the Parks Department and also of traditional volunteer groups like the Friends Groups if the boundary between genuine voluntary work and compulsory workfare schemes is  
blurred.

On Tuesday 4 June activists from Boycott Workfare, North London Solidarity Federation and Haringey Solidarity Group attended a Homes for Haringey board meeting in Tottenham, to challenge them on Groundwork's unpaid use of benefits claimants on their estates. But the board refused to allow them to ask any questions on the issue.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, Homes for Haringey recently confirmed that they are involved in the government's Work Programme and have taken on 27 unpaid placements to their Green Team.  

Felix Waterhouse continued: "Homes for Haringey were determined not to discuss their employment  
practices tonight. But our protests will continue until they declare their opposition to the use of unpaid labour and come out strongly against workfare schemes on their housing estates. For Haringey Council to claim to oppose workfare while allowing it to be used on their own properties is a joke."