Workfare & the Synergy Centre

April 9, 2016

Last month Brighton Benefits Campaign received information that the Synergy Centre in West Street was involved in workfare (working unpaid for your benefits under threat of sanction) having taken on claimants referred by Seetec – a private provider of the work programme infamous for the number of sanctions it hands out.

Representatives of the campaign therefore took a letter to the Synergy Centre asking them to confirm or deny whether this was the case, and explaining why workfare was destructive to both paid work and genuine volunteering. A long discussion followed, during which a very defensive manager and two directors of Synergy admitted that at least some of the ‘volunteers’ had been referred from Seetec, but indirectly via sub-contractors which they seemed to feel absolved Synergy from responsibility.  During the discussion,  they also revealed highly reactionary attitudes about unemployment and the unemployed, in stark contrast with the Synergy Centre’s claim to be a ‘progressive’ organisation, but ideologically consistent with their explicitly conservative statements online, such as this one:

‘In particular, Synergy will seek to develop ways of tackling the unemployment trap[1] and poverty trap[2] that constrain people living in deprived communities, particularly how to develop the necessary motivation and work ethics required to remain an active and productive member of society, even when access to paid employment may be limited by the recent economic downturn. In many modern welfare states, there are social payments, unemployment benefits or forms of social assistance which are close to alternatively achievable wages. This arrangement triggers a typical pattern of individual behaviour, because it represents an incentive structure where entering the labour market sometimes does not pay and as a result people stick with unemployment. Though this behaviour is rational in the short run, in the long run these people rob themselves of further possibilities for social mobility.’  (our emphasis)

A statement worthy of a Tory election address!  It is not progressive to attribute unemployment to an individual’s failings, rather than the failure of capitalist society.  It is not progressive to declare that in a welfare state, people choose a life on benefits over working, or that claimants develop particular patterns of behaviour (which is a frighteningly short step away from this pseudo-scientific nonsense).  It is not progressive to distinguish between ‘idle’ unemployed and ‘productive’ workers.  These are all right wing ideas which we have worked hard to oppose over the last six years!

Rather than replying to the letter, Synergy then passed the buck to the subcontractor who has been organising ‘volunteering’ as part of a project called Brightoning Lives, which is hosted at the Synergy Centre.  We received an email from Peter J.B. confirming that the ‘volunteers’ are claimants who would in any case be forced to do workfare, but maintaining that what they are doing is preferable to – for example – working in a charity shop.  While at times this may be true and some may find the work a positive experience, the fact remains that the people taken on by this project are not real volunteers but people in need who have been coerced into taking part. In addition some have been very unhappy at the kind of work they have been expected to perform.

Brightoning Lives flyer

According to its flyer, Brightoning Lives is offering ‘volunteers’ to work in people’s homes: DIY, dog walking, shopping. Anyone – even rich people – can phone and get free servants to tidy up their gardens or move their furniture. At a price… their leaflet states ‘pay as you can’.  Their publicity fails to mention that these ‘volunteers’ are actually benefit claimants forced to work for nothing or be sanctioned, or that the person organising Brightoning Lives is a sub-contractor of the Community Work Placement scheme.

Pending requests from individual clients, Brightoning Lives has offered unpaid labour to various voluntary organisations, for example the Permaculture Trust (where some ‘volunteers’ have complained they were expected to pull brambles without gloves). We also have evidence that Brightoning Lives has used claimants on workfare to decorate the interior of the Synergy Centre.  We are still waiting for a response regarding what other unpaid work claimants might be performing there.

BL at the Synergy

Workfare is an attack on paid work and on real volunteering, and we are now seeing it creeping into the alternative, creative and environmental sector. We hope that many other groups will join us in putting pressure on the Synergy Centre – which has rapidly become a popular venue with radical and left organisations – to end its involvement with workfare.

There will be a demonstration and rally outside the Synergy Centre at 11am on Sunday 17th April, to coincide with the 99% Festival.

Although Brighton Benefits Campaign has decided not to take part in the festival, this is a demonstration against workfare, not against the festival which was organised by the Brighton People’s Assembly in good faith before the issue arose.


Brighton Action Against Sanctions

March 14, 2016

Short video of the action on 9th March 2016 outside Brighton Jobcentre.



Day of Action Against Sanctions – Wednesday 9th March 2016

March 1, 2016

Day of Action Against Sanctions poster

On Wednesday 9 March protests will be held outside job centres across the UK and Ireland, in the biggest demonstration against benefit sanctions ever.

Brighton Benefits Campaign will be joining with Unite Community in a picket of Brighton Jobcentre.

More and more people are facing benefit sanctions. Half a million people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months alone. Many have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat.  In some cases people have died as a direct result of sanctions.

These sanctions are cruel and handed out for trivial reasons such as:

  • Arriving minutes late to a meeting
  • Not applying for jobs when waiting to start a new job
  • Attending a job interview
  • Missing an appointment on the day of the funeral of a close family member

This is not about getting people into employment but about starving them into submission.

Benefit sanctions must be fought against! 



        endsanctions UniteCommunity



Day of Action Against Workfare: Picket of Seetec 5/2/16

February 2, 2016


On Friday 5th February we will be picketing the local office of poverty pimps Seetec
Meet outside Tower Point, 44 North Road Brighton BN1 1YR at 11.30am

Seetec is a private company which profits from workfare – the forcing of those in need into unpaid labour under threat of destitution. People are referred by Seetec for six-month full-time stints of workfare, in unsuitable places, some at long distances from home. Seetec is also noted for its excessive use of sanctions to punish the slightest perceived act of non-compliance.

Even those who believe that the unemployed should be made to work must see that none of this makes sense either socially or economically. It is clearly NOT about saving public money, seeing as the benefits, the travel, and the profits of the private providers of the discredited Work Programme all come out of public funds.

It is certainly NOT about finding people jobs or cutting unemployment. How can anyone even be expected to search for a job while being forced into six-months full-time unpaid and unskilled employment, plus up to three hours travel a day, all the while struggling financially on miniscule benefit and in terror of losing even that?

Join us in saying Enough is Enough!
Time to end workfare, to sack the poverty pimps, and to recognise that welfare is a human right.

More info on Seetec:


Thursday 17th December: Lobby of B&H City Council & Brighton Benefits Campaign meeting

December 15, 2015



Tell our city councillors it’s time to reject the austerity scam and refuse to make cuts!

The council meeting will hear petitions from local residents on several important issues:

  • The restructuring of the Learning Support Service for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The petition has almost 9,000 signatures from parents and other concerned citizens.
  • Offering a generous welcome to refugees from Syria and other war zones. There are two petitions being presented, calling on the council to accept more refugee families. Facebook event page
  • The plans to increase council tax bills for the poorest 15,000 households in the city by at least 33% from April. This petition is still open for signatures. The final decision on this issue will be made at the council meeting.



Join us in organising for the new year, starting with action against a shameless corporate charity exploiting workfare.


Brighton Benefits Campaign meeting 18/11/15

November 16, 2015


There will be an open meeting of Brighton Benefits Campaign on Wednesday 18th November.  Meet in the bar of the Old Ship Hotel at 7.30pm.  We will use one of the side rooms.  This is an accessible venue.

We will be discussing a variety of issues including Council Tax Reduction, tax credit cuts and local workfare exploiters. Also planning actions to come.

Facebook event


Stop the Council’s Tax Attack!

October 18, 2015

Tax attack

Council Tax Reduction scheme 2016-17

Brighton & Hove City Council proposals mean much higher bills for people on benefit

Before 2013, Council Tax Benefit covered the cost of council tax for people on some benefits. This was in recognition that, if you qualify for certain means tested benefits, you can’t afford to pay council tax.

Council Tax Benefit was abolished by the government in 2013, and replaced with a council run scheme called “Council Tax Reduction Scheme”. Since then, the amount of help the poorest households in Brighton & Hove can get with their council tax bills has been cut from 100% to 85%.

The council are now proposing another cut in this help – so that it will only cover 75% of the full council tax bill. Some people will therefore see their council tax bills go up by 67% from April 2016. This is despite the fact that, in real terms, benefits are worth less than they were in 2012, so people are actually less able to pay, not more.

From April 2016, life for people on benefits will get even harder, because the government are freezing all working age benefits and making big cuts to tax credits. The council’s proposal will mean yet another blow for these very same households.

This is deeply unfair. It will increase poverty and push people into debt. It is also not a sensible way for the council to raise money.

The amount the council is owed in unpaid council tax has already increased substantially because they are asking people to pay who are simply unable to afford to do so. Trying to plug a funding gap by billing people who can’t pay the bill is not just unfair and unethical but impractical, and will lead to the council spending yet more on chasing debts. It will also put people under even more stress and strain, which is likely to lead to even more pressure on local services, such as mental health services.



Thursday 12th November


Synergy Centre West Street (opposite the Odeon)

Called by Brighton People’s Assembly against Austerity, Brighton & Hove Green Party, Brighton & Hove Left Unity, Brighton Benefits Campaign, CASE Central

Join us to hear first hand what this will mean for people in Brighton & Hove, and to share your story.  Speakers (details to come) and discussion.



Complete the council’s consultation by October 20th.  Tell your friends – many people don’t know this is going on.  Have a look at our briefing notes for ideas about completing the consultation.

Sign the petition

Spread the word through your networks


National Day of Action Against Pinnacle People – Friday 18th September

September 17, 2015

Hold a local picket

London (action by Kilburn Unemployed Workers)
Brighton (action by Brighton Benefits Campaign)
Bristol – Central
Bristol – Windmill Hill City Farm
St Austell

Take part in the Communications Blockade

Head office:
6 St Andrew Street

website contact form:

10 Minute Mail provides short term anonymous email addresses


0800 088 4000
0207 427 5160

Pinnacle People: ?
Pinnacle Places: 02074 275199

freepop fax provides a free online fax service


Refugees Welcome Here – National Day of Action in Brighton

September 7, 2015


A symbolic event for those who believe that refugees should be welcome in the UK has been organised in Brighton and Hove on Saturday 12th September, through the collaboration of local welfare campaign initiative Enough is Enough and welfare rights advice agency CASE, based in Hollingdean.

This will coincide with a national day of action in support of a major demonstration in London, which has been called in response to reports of refugees who are fleeing war, persecution, torture and poverty losing their lives or struggling to find a safe haven. Rapidly increasing numbers of organisations and individuals are calling on the government to make a humanitaritan and compassionate response and to meet its share of the responsibility to provide protection for those in need.

Brighton and Hove is known for its diverse and welcoming culture. The event on Saturday is for those in the city who can’t travel to London on the day, but who want to make it clear: REFUGEES ARE WELCOME HERE!

“Scarcity is a myth,” Pip Tindall from Enough is Enough stated. “There are enough resources for us all to share, and the rich have been making fortunes through the economic crisis. Now people are refusing to blame each other, and are holding out their hands to those most in need.”

Josephina Salamone from CASE explained. “The best assets for our society and for each of us are generosity and solidarity. What we allow the government to deny to ‘other’ people will eventually be denied to us: first refugees and migrants, welfare claimants and disabled people, single parents, the young and the old… eventually it will be your turn!.”

Other local organisations including migrant support groups are supporting the Brighton event, which starts at 12 noon near the War Memorial.

Enough is Enough is a positive campaign initiative of Brighton Benefits Campaign


Day of Action Against Pinnacle People – Friday 18th September

September 2, 2015


Why are we taking action against Pinnacle People?

Following drastic changes to the social security system introduced since 2009, sick and disabled people have faced a harsh test – the Work  Capability Assessment – designed to throw them off benefits and force them to sign on. Those found unfit to work (many on appeal) are placed in one of two groups entitled to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).  The support group is for those not expected to recover sufficiently to earn a living. The work related group is supposed to prepare sick and disabled people to ‘return to work’.

Despite the protection given to sick people on ESA under the law, it has come to light that Pinnacle People (who have the lucrative contract to conduct work-focused interviews for those in the work related activity group), are pressurising ESA claimants into doing job searches, under the supposed threat of sanctions.

Work related activity consists of volunteering, courses and so on, to make sick people ‘employable’. It does not include an obligation on them to look for work. The law states that people on work related ESA ‘may not be required to look for work’. This means they should not be required to do so, rather than they might not.

Benefit advisers have also reported that people have been made physically and mentally more ill by this incessant and unlawful pressure. Some ESA claimants have actually been asked to do more than healthy JSA claimants!

The bullying of sick and disabled people must stop. Figures just released show that thousands have died after being put through the WCA, and many have ended in destitution or even suicide. The system is not fit for purpose.

Benefits for those unable to earn a living through sickness or disability should return to being based on the reports of claimants’ own doctors or specialists. Private providers like Pinnacle People must not be allowed to make a fortune from poverty. And benefits must not be conditional – they are intended for our needs, not a reward.