A Glasgow group currently raising funds for Nepal is one of three small charities claiming to have been bullied recently
Charities are being blackmailed into ditching government work-for-benefit schemes by a campaigners – with some being threatened with closure if they continue.
Three charities – one of which is currently helping survivors in Nepal – have told TFN they are being forced to drop their involvement after being blackmailed, intimidated and bullied by campaigners associated with Boycott Workfare.
The campaign group denies this but the organisations, which all support vulnerable people, have told TFN of their despair at being forced to drop the scheme because of intimidation waged against them.
Tactics used involve instigating spot checks from council officials, health and safety visits, inspections by the fire brigade as well as staff being approached by unidentified people saying they are working for a “slave labour” employer.
A campaign of anonymous, threatening phones calls, emails and letters then accompanies this. All of these can happen in just one day and continue indefinitely, the charities claim.
Despite overwhelmingly positive outcomes being achieved for the majority of individuals taking part, the charities say this harassment just isn’t worth it.
One charity, Glasgow the Caring City, is currently supplying vital aid well as engineering expertise to Nepal.
It said it ditched involvement because it couldn’t compromise this kind of life-saving work.
It suffered a week of abuse until it contacted the organisation to say it had abandoned the scheme.
Ross Galbraith (pictured), the charity’s international projects manager, explained: “We were made aware of the sanction regime people on workfare were being subjected to so we decided it was morally wrong for us to continue.
“We thanked Boycott Workfare for making this known.
“But then the intimidation started. We had visits from the council, Fire and Rescue Scotland spot checks and health and safety representatives.
“Workers were approached by anonymous people on their way into work, claiming to be from the Department of Work and Pensions.
“I was only after managing to contact the group a week later that it stopped.”
The charity was set up in May 1999 to help those made homeless by wars in the Balkans, as well refugees arriving in Glasgow.
It has since branched out to offer health, security and education support to vulnerable children around the world.
Around 70% of those on the scheme went onto positive outcomes
It also runs a series of social enterprises training people for employment, some of whom have disabilities and barriers to work.
“For small organisation like ours the last thing we can afford to do is compromise our own social enterprises,” said Galbraith.
“The partnership we had with LearnDirect (who run the scheme on behalf of the DWP) was very successful.
“Over 170 people came through our doors as part of the scheme and around 70% of those went onto positive outcomes.
“We had very few complaints from people taking part. In fact many came back to volunteer with us in their own free time.
“They didn’t replace the work of paid staff; they’re involvement was entirely different.
“It is therefore with deep regret we have had to abandon our involvement.”
Another small Glasgow charity which supports vulnerable people told TFN it feared for its future after receiving threatening phone calls and emails.
A spokesperson said: “We thought we were doing good by helping out unemployed people. They were, to a person, happy to help us.
“But we started getting threatening phone calls – one saying there would be a fire if we continued taking part in workfare.
"So we had a management meeting and decided that, whatever our principles, we couldn’t jeopardise our safety or the future of the charity.”
Another charity said it had been effectively blackmailed into subsmission by campaigners.
"We resent these blackmailing tactics. They claim to be representing the vulnerable but instead they are intimidating them," said a spokesperson.
"Anyone who challenges them are subjected to abuse and terrorism. It's not responsible behaviour – there are other ways and other approaches to achieve the same outcomes."
Boycott Workfare calls itself a “a grassroots campaign,” formed in 2010 “to end forced unpaid work for people who receive welfare”.
Mandatory work activity (MWA) schemes are designed to give work experience to people who have been on benefits for long periods. Jobseekers work at least 30 hours a week, while continuing to be paid just their benefits, doing activities which benefit the community such as placements with charities.
Refusal to take part can result in having benefits sanctioned for months.
A spokesperson for Boycott Workfare told TFN: “The impact of workfare and the sanctions that underpin it are so severe that the issue evokes very strong feelings among a wide range of different organisations and members of the public.
“Boycott Workfare does not condone harassment or intimidation.
“However, we do believe that the public has a right to know if an organisation is using workfare.
“We have a long track record of peaceful and effective campaigning to expose workfare and its consequences.”