WLP2: Workfare and church investments

This is the second letter of the Weekly Letter Project. This week (yes, I’m late) I am writing to James Featherby of the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group.

Dear Mr Featherby,

I was pleased to see that the national investing bodies of the Church of England have adopted a policy on executive remuneration on the recommendation of the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG). I agree that excessive executive bonuses can contribute to short-term thinking and that taking a longer view may result in a fairer, and more sustainable, approach.

I note that the policy states that “it is important that such differentials are justified by some reasonable calculus linking higher rewards to greater contribution, skills and responsibility and that those who are lower paid are also rewarded fairly”. Point 10 of the report uses Biblical teaching to address the practice of withholding wages from employees, citing Lev. 19.13, Deut. 24.14-15, Jer. 22.13, Mal. 3.5 and James 5.4.

In light of this, I would like to suggest that in addition to excessive executive remuneration, “workfare” or work-for-benefits programmes be examined with great care. These schemes involve people on Jobseekers Allowance or other benefits being told they must take up “voluntary” unpaid work experience or lose their benefits.

It is difficult to see how such schemes will help to reduce unemployment or bolster the economy. Why should companies employ people at the minimum wage when they can have staff at taxpayer expense instead of their own? Additionally, benefit claimants who are on such schemes are very unlikely to contribute to economic growth: by definition, they will spend very little. These concerns are in addition to the ethical problem of compulsory participation in work.

There is more information about these schemes available at http://www.boycottworkfare.org, the website of a grassroots campaigning group. At that site there is also a “Union motion — boycott workfare” document (http://www.boycottworkfare.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/union-motion-Jan-2013.pdf) which I enclose and commend to your attention. The section “This Union Branch notes:” offers a good explanation of what the term “workfare” refers to. In my view the section “The Union Branch believes:” is consistent with Christian faith.

I would appreciate it if the Ethical Investment Advisory Group could examine this issue in depth. I would be delighted if you could recommend against investing in companies that make use of Mandatory Work Experience or other compulsory work programmes enforced by benefits sanctions.

Yours faithfully,

Kathryn Rose