In the UK, there is a currently a vigorous and growing protest movement against the Workfare program. It’s been led by the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. The name of the campaign is Boycott Workfare (www.boycottworkfare.org). Australians would use the phrase “Work for the Dole” to describe Workfare. Many would use the expression “slave labour.”
Boycott Workfare describes its mission as follows:
“Boycott Workfare is a UK-wide campaign to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare. 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. We are a grassroots campaign, formed in 2010 by people with experience of workfare and those concerned about its impact. We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.”
Boycott Workfare names some of the failings of the Workfare program as including that it replaces jobs and undermines wages, which gives the campaign great relevance not just to those who are caught up in the scheme, but all people in the UK. Other problems include that the program does not include only those people classed as unemployed, but sick and disabled people too.
The UK government loves Workfare, because anyone participating in the scheme is no longer classified as unemployed, which makes the government look good and gives the appearance of the unemployment problem being tackled. Morally, though, Workfare is pretty hard to defend. As said by Richard Godwin, writing for the London Evening Standard:
“Workfare is fine in principle — people want to work — but so corrosive in practice. Previous schemes have proved illogical (you cannot make volunteering compulsory), ineffective (they don’t help people find work) and unethical (slavery was abolished in 1833).”
A particular concern of Boycott Workfare is that the scheme deepens poverty through a system of sanctions (cuts to benefits) that apply to people who do not conform to the expectations of those organisations that rely upon them for unpaid labour. It is reported that:
“Boycott Workfare says that at least 10 per cent of participants are sanctioned under workfare schemes.”
“The organisation published research in March showing that benefit sanctions are forcing young people to cut back on essential items including food, housing costs and toiletries.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is currently considering resurrecting a Work for the Dole scheme in Australia. Any reputable organisation will shy away completely from participation in Work for the Dole, just as many organisations, such as Oxfam and the Red Cross, in the UK have refused to participate in Workfare (these organisations are listed on http://www.boycottworkfare.org).
In the UK, the Salvation Army is a leading participant in and beneficiary of Workfare (the YMCA is also heavily involved – see previous postings about the YMCA and the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse). This involvement by the Salvation Army is not particularly surprising, even if disappointing. The organisation has a long history of exploiting unpaid labour, including child labour. The latter was common practice in the children’s homes it ran in Australia, where children in Salvation Army children’s homes report being sent out to work to private individuals and some businesses as unpaid (well, it was the children who were unpaid, anyway) domestics and farm workers, amongst other things. Molestation by people who received child workers into their homes and properties was not uncommon. The author does not know whether money changed hands when adults were allowed to enter some children’s homes and rape children in Salvation Army children’s homes. Media reports, however, have used the phrase “rented out” to describe the practice occurring in the Salvation Army Bexley Boys’ Home in Sydney.
Should Work for the Dole come back, the first question that must be asked is whether the Salvation Army will jump at the chance to increase its vast riches with a new army of unpaid workers who must do exactly what the Salvation Army tells them to do or lose their benefits? Or whether it will do the right thing and refuse to participate in the scheme, as other Australian organisations with greater social consciences will do. This is a pressing moral issue for the Salvation Army. It will have an opportunity to resist the temptation to get in on the action and make some more profits from disadvantaged people in our society and demonstrate to Australian society that it puts people and principles above profits. It deserves to be judged harshly if it does not.
But there is another question that is of direct and pressing relevance to anyone interested in child protection. Because should Work for the Dole come back, Abbott’s proposed scheme looks set to cover unemployed people as young as 15 years of age. And the Salvation Army, should it succumb to the lure of making even more money than it already does, could be a key player in the scheme. This is worrisome.
To say that the Salvation Army has been found wanting in its treatment of children, for failure to protect children, and in relation to protection of child abusers within its membership is to put things mildly. The Case Study 5 and Case Study 10 hearings of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have demonstrated this.
The author’s first point is that Work for the Dole should not be implemented at all. But if it is implemented, she has another wish. And that is that Tony Abbott will at least ban the Salvation Army (and any other organisation that has not yet cleaned up its act in relation to child abuse) from participating in the scheme.
As a final note, the author leaves the reader to think about this scenario:
- A 15-year-old unemployed girl is forced through Work for the Dole to work in a Salvation Army thrift shop. If she refuses, she loses her benefits. She’s then sexually abused by a Salvation Army officer or employee. How likely is it that this girl will risk that her abusers or one of his friends in the Salvation Army will not take revenge upon her by reporting her as non-compliant to the government so she loses her benefits?
- But let’s assume for the moment, for the sake of argument, that she takes this risk and goes to the Salvation Army. [NB: In this scenario, she doesn’t go to the police because she reads the Salvation Army webpage entitled, “Making a report of sexual abuse,” which says, “Anyone reporting instances of abuse is encouraged to contact our Professional Standards Office” (http://salvos.org.au/royalcommission/support/making-a-report-of-sexual-abuse/)] Given what we’ve learned about the Salvation Army in recent times, do you think that the Salvation Army would even believe her when she came to them for help? You’re invited at this point to recall recent reports of the Salvation Army’s response to parents of an alleged victim of Salvation Army officer Colin Haggar, in which the Salvation Army officers who spoke with the parents said: “Captain Haggar is in uniform and a soldier of the Army, so I ask you: who do we believe? A man in uniform or just adherents? You are just workers of the Church.”
- But even if you think the Salvation Army would believe her, what do you think they’d do about it? Here, the reader is invited to think about the evidence of Salvo officer Captain Michelle White, who recently blew the whistle on the Salvation Army and its reporting of child sexual abuse to the authorities. She told the Royal Commission that she told ‘Commissioner’ James Condon, Salvation Army Eastern Territorial Head, that “’I have a legal, ethical and moral obligation to report [an instance of a report of child abuse] to … the Ombudsman”. She said when she met with Mr Condon and pointed out a key aspect of child protection laws, he said he did not realise they had the types of reporting obligations she was outlining.
As the author says, the Salvation Army has a moral duty to refuse to participate in Work for the Dole if it eventuates. But even if you think Workfare’s a really great idea, you have to think seriously about which organisations are allowed to participate in it. The Salvation Army might not be such a great choice, but if the UK’s experience with Workfare is any indication, the Salvation Army will probably be one of the key players.
[Postscript: The author met the Salvation Army’s PR head, ‘Major’ Bruce Harmer, on Friday at a protest outside Sydney Salvo headquarters. She forgot to ask him if the page on the Salvation Army webpage entitled, “Making a report of sexual abuse,” which says, “Anyone reporting instances of abuse is encouraged to contact our Professional Standards Office” (http://salvos.org.au/royalcommission/support/making-a-report-of-sexual-abuse/) just hasn’t been updated by the army’s web developers because they’re all just so awfully busy with the upcoming Red Shield Appeal in May, or if it’s still the official Salvation Army stance to direct people away from reporting abuse to the police].
PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION: HELP OBTAIN JUSTICE FOR LEWIS BLAYSE FROM THE SALVATION ARMY.
Read more here:
See more here (pictures of protests against the Salvation Army and its involvement in Workfare in the UK – for sources, see ‘Read more here’ above):