Demonstrators to besiege Edinburgh Jobcentre over sanctions and workfare

Demonstrators are set to descend on High Riggs Jobcentre in Edinburgh tomorrow morning to declare their resistance to benefits sanctions and workfare.  The protest at the Jobcentre by Tollcross will continue over lunchtime and organisers Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty say: "We aim to send a strong message that cutting people's benefits and forcing them to rely on foodbanks is not acceptable.  Sanctions and workfare not only attack the claimants directly affected, they undermine all workers' wages and conditions."

Ethel MacDonald of ECAP continued:  "An increasing number of benefit claimants are being sanctioned under the DWP’s increasingly repressive measures and more than ever the Job Centre is aggressively pushing the Workfare programmes. Just consider the barbaric numbers. According to Corporate Watch, 139,000 sanctions were handed out to Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in 2009 but this more than tripled to 508,000 in 2011, the coalition’s first full year in government. And the Child Poverty Action Group state that since 2010 sanctions have increased by 126%."  Sanctions can be from a period of four weeks to up to 3 years.
 
ECAP back claimants to contest sanctions and resist being sent on workfare.  Ethel MacDonald explains:  "Claimants are not prepared to remain passive victims - we are fighting back. With the support of ECAP, Edinburgh Jobseeker Jimmy recently overturned a four week sanction imposed after the Oxgangs Neighbourhood Centre refused to take him on a Community Work Programme workfare placement.  Workfare provider Learndirect falsely alleged to the DWP that Jimmy had been "very intimidating" to the placement manager - in fact he had just politely informed him that it was disgraceful that a community resource was participating in such exploiting schemes.  
 
ECAP and Jimmy met the Scotland area manager of Learndirect, insisted that Learndirect withdraw the sanction referral, and also wrote to the DWP explaining that it was Jimmy's democratic right to express his views on workfare to the placement boss.   The DWP have now overturned the sanction and are repaying Jimmy his benefits."
 
542 voluntary organisations have declared they will not take part in workfare and signed the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement.  The decreasing number of organisations still participating in the schemes are under pressure to pull out of programmes which lead to benefit cuts and sanctions.  ECAP regularly blockade and occupy workfare users such as the Salvation Army and DEBRA, and workfare providers like Learndirect.  And this week Brian Tannerhill denounced that the organisation he founded, McSence, were using workfare and called on the communities of Mayfield and Easthouses to tell the directors of the Midlothian social enterprise this was unacceptable. 
 
The Edinburgh action is supported by Edinburgh Anti Cuts Alliance, Greater Leith Against the Cuts, Edinburgh Industrial Workers of the World and Edinburgh Anarchist Federation, and is part of a Britain-wide Week of Action in the run-up to the General Election.  Co-ordinated via Boycott Workfare, demonstrations are taking place Britain-wide.

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EDINBURGH COALITION AGAINST POVERTY is based at the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh (ACE), an open campaign space & infoshop providing resources and solidarity. Resources available include free computer/internet access, cheap copying, free leaflets, books, pamphlets and mags for sale, and a library. Every Tuesday from 12 to 3pm support and solidarity is available for benefits, debt hassles, housing and other problems. Please contact us at Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty c/o ACE, 17 West Montgomery Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HA, 0131 557 6242 or ecap@lists.riseup.net. We invite you to join our solidarity phone tree and get involved. ACE is also open at other times for particular events (but the support and solidarity sessions are only on Tuesday).