Work Programme Declared as Breaking the Law
- 12 Feb
An Appeal Court has declared that the government's back-to-work schemes unpaid schemes were legally flawed.
Cait Reilly, a university graduate, claimed that requiring her to work for nothing at a Poundland store breached laws on forced labour, but the government said it was seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Tessa Gregory fought the case for Miss Reilly, 24, University of Birmingham geology graduate, and 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver Jamie Wilson, from Nottingham.
They both succeeded in their claims that the unpaid schemes were legally flawed, despite losing their original case, and part of this decision has now been reversed by the Appeal Court.
The government will have to quickly bring new regulations regarding the work programme to Parliament later in the day, but the case will be seen as a setback for the Department of Work and Pensions' (DWP's) flagship back-to-work schemes.
Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time, as the experience did not help me get a job. I was not given any training and I was left with no time to do my voluntary work or search for other jobs.
Miss Reilly said that in November 2011 she had to leave her voluntary work at a local museum and work unpaid at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham, under a scheme known as the "sector-based work academy".
She was told that if she did not carry out the work placement at Poundland, which involved stacking shelves and cleaning floors, she would lose her Jobseeker's Allowance.
Mr Wilson was told that his Jobseeker's Allowance would be stopped after he refused to take part in the Community Action Programme, which his lawyers said would have involved him working unpaid for 30 hours per week for six months.
Miss Reilly said she was delighted with the ruling, claiming that making her give up her voluntary work and sending her to Poundland was wrong.
Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time, as the experience did not help me get a job.
I was not given any training and I was left with no time to do my voluntary work or search for other jobs.
The only beneficiary was Poundland, a multimillion-pound company. Later I found out that I should never have been told the placement was compulsory.
I don't think I am above working in shops like Poundland. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working.
I agree we need to get people back to work, but the best way of doing that is by helping them, not punishing them.
Solicitor Tessa Gregory, of Public Interest Lawyers, said:
This judgment sends Iain Duncan Smith back to the drawing board to make fresh regulations which are fair and comply with the court's ruling.
Until that time, nobody can be lawfully forced to participate in schemes affected such as the Work Programme and the Community Action Programme.
All of those who have been stripped of their benefits have a right to claim the money back that has been unlawfully taken away from them.
This could not happen until the end of the legal process. The solicitor said she was confident this case would ultimately be won, but the government said there would be no compensation.
A spokesperson for the DWP said:
We have no intention of giving back money to anyone who has had their benefits removed because they refused to take getting into work seriously.
We are currently considering a range of options to ensure this does not happen.
The government says it will not be making retrospective benefit payments at all, but is initially appealing against the court's decision, so even if they are unable to find a way to change the decision, they will not have to pay anything out until the appeal process has gone through.
The government knows it needs to rewrite its unlawful regulations quickly. It said that it would bring new regulations forward straight away, allowing these schemes to continue and then jobseekers will be told, from now, to take part in back-to-work programmes or face the threat of losing their benefit if they refuse.
Mark Hoban, employment minister, also pointed out that the Appeal Court judges backed the High Court's view that requiring jobseekers to participate in the scheme did not breach their human rights.
The court has backed our right to require people to take part in programmes which will help get them into work. It is ridiculous to say this is forced labour. This ruling ensures we can continue with these important schemes.
We are, however, disappointed and surprised at the court's decision on our regulations. There needed to be flexibility, so we could give people the right support to meet their needs and get them into a job.
We do not agree with the court's judgement and are seeking permission to appeal, but new regulations will be tabled to avoid any uncertainty.
Ultimately, the judgement confirms that it is right that we expect people to take getting into work seriously if they want to claim benefits.
Main Source: BBC News
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