This morning (Saturday 18th February), the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) joined the Right to Work Coalition and others to temporarily shut down the Tesco Express store opposite the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Across the nation today, similar actions are taking place to stop Tesco cashing in on unpaid labour, as part of the government’s Work Programme , which claims to be breaking ‘the cycle of benefit dependency.’

This is a key rotten plank of the Coalition Government’s vicious social policy which will mean that unemployed people, who are disproportionately comprised of people with disabilities, learning difficulties, mental health and substance misuse issues, will be made to work for nothing.  

Under the Work Programme, unemployed people are required to enter ‘work placements’ not for the minimum wage, but only for their Job Seeker’s Allowance. If people refuse, they will have their benefits removed. Often the jobs people are forced into involve dull, repetitive work, have the least sociable shifts and are in non-unionised workplaces. This undermines wages, reduces the number of paid jobs, erodes working rights and conditions and does not make economic sense.

SWAN notes that as many users of social care services are kicked of Employment and Support Allowance by Atos’ discredited Work Capability Assessments, they will then face this prospect of unpaid work as they are moved onto Job Seeker’s Allowance. Or destitution once their benefits are stopped This may be the fate in store for many people who are genuinely not able to work.

Over the past four months some 1,400 people have worked for Tesco without pay. Only 300 got a job with the company. Tesco made £4 billion in profits last year, whose CEO gets almost £7 million a year in pay.

Sam James, Joint National Chair of the Right to Work Coalition, commented to SWAN, 'this is a protest against the scandal of Tesco filling jobs with people who are paid nothing but their Job Seeker's Allowance, working alongside salaried staff doing the same work. Recently, Tesco put an up advert in a East Anglia, with pay listed as “JSA + expenses” – this was advertised as permanent, rather than part of a six-week placement scheme. This is free labour for Tesco – courtesy of the government. Already TK Maxx, Sainsbury and Marie Curie nurses have pulled out of the scheme. Now we want to ramp up the pressure on Tesco to do the same.'

SWAN opposes the broader ‘Workfare’ policy as stigmatizing and blaming of unemployed people for their own woes, following an economic crisis caused by the financial services industry.

SWAN believes in decent jobs, pay, terms and conditions for all. Social care service users, carers and workers are part of the 99%!

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