by Robert Armour
SCOTTISH anti-poverty protesters have vowed to target charities including the British Heart Foundation and Barnardo’s Scotland over their involvement in the government’s unpaid work experience programme.
Anti-poverty campaigner started to target Scottish charities and businesses involved in the so-called “workfare” programme last weekend.
They have vowed to continue to target charities that are still involved in the programme after demonstrating with banners in Edinburgh at a British Heart Foundation shop and a Poundland store in the capital.
The scheme offers unpaid placements to unemployed people aged 16 to 24 to help them to gain work experience but has proven hugely controversial as sanctions can result if people leave placements early.
Many big companies and charities pulled out of the scheme after demonstrations at stores, such as Tescos, in London last month.
But campaign group the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP), has now said it will target those that continue to participate in the scheme until they are forced to back down.
Despite previously announcing which English businesses and charities were involved in the scheme, the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions recently refused to reveal which Scottish organisations were involved.
ECAP said it contacted BHF in the run-up to the demo urging it to follow the lead of Shelter, Oxfam, Marie Curie and other charities and withdraw from all workfare schemes.
Ethel McDonald of ECAP said unless charities gave up on the scheme, they would continue to take similar action as they did over the weekend.
“We think it disgraceful that charities like BHF and Barnardo’s are using these compulsory schemes,” she said.
“Workfare is being extended to many sick and disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance – how can charities believe it ethical to participate in a scheme where sick people are threatened with their benefits being cut in order to force them to work for nothing?
“This leaves us no option but to take action at their shops.”
McDonald said more people were joining the protest as word of the workfare scheme spread and were taking action against government contractors running the scheme.
BHF Scotland refused to comment on the action taken against its Leith shop or its involvement in the workfare programme.
However, Barnardo’s, which has workfare volunteers in some of its shops, defended the scheme saying it offered real opportunities for disadvantaged young people to gain experience in a working environment.
SallyAnn Kelly, acting director of Barnardo’s Scotland, told TFN: “The young people who have taken part in the scheme with Barnardo’s have found this a very useful opportunity. Candidates stay with us for eight weeks, in which time they learn new skills, gain experience and confidence. We have been in a fortunate position to offer some of our placements paid employment after they have completed the work experience programme with us.”
Shelter, which also took part in the scheme, said it had withdrawn after its board decided it was no longer appropriate to the organisation’s aims.