On September 28th, Action for ESOL and Boycott Workfare teamed up to deliver a workshop for ESOL teachers on benefits cuts and changes. In recent years, there have been more and more conditions put on benefits, with a growing ‘sanctions culture’ at Job Centres and programmes like ‘workfare’ which threaten students with destitution if they don’t attend unpaid work placements or training. The teachers who attended were all concerned about their students’ wellbeing. ESOL students are particularly vulnerable to Job Centre bullying and sanctions because English is not their first language. It’s also hard for everyone, whatever their level of English, to keep track of the compliacted changes to benefits rules and how to navigate the system on the ground at the Job Centres.
During the workshop, Boycott Workfare gave detailed information about workfare and sanctions and Winvisible gave us vital information about Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and dealing with assessments. We ended the day by planning concrete actions to take things forward. We decided it would be useful to have an online space for ESOL and welfare information, and resolved on sharing best practice, resources and tactics for dealing with Job Centre Plus, ATOS and the benefits system more widely. As such, we’ve set up The Welfare and ESOL Support Network, which is a blog where ESOL teachers and students can share information, tactics and experiences. EFA London have already contributed 3 useful participatory lesson activities which can be used to discuss issues around welfare with a group of ESOL learners. EFA London believes that education is a tool for social change and that the classroom is a great place to organise action around issues, such as Workfare or other Benefits system injustices, which affect teachers and students. We’re excited that through our participation in this workshop, we’re building links with other organisations, teachers (and classrooms) across London who are also facing similar struggles. In the face of continual cuts to welfare and education, this sort of collective organising, mutual support and action is vital.