British gov't forced labour scheme ruled illegal

February 12, 2013

The British government's controversial back-to-work programmes lay in tatters after the Court of Appeal ruled their regulations unlawful on February 12.

Three judges unanimously ruled that the regulations which most of the schemes have been created must be quashed.

The ruling is a huge setback for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) whose flagship reforms have been beset with problems from the beginning, with campaigners and unions accusing ministers of effectively introducing forced labour.

The ruling came after graduate Cait Reilly and unemployed mechanic Jamie Wilson brought legal challenges against the schemes.

In November 2011, Reilly 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 she would lose her jobseeker's allowance.

Wilson was told he must work unpaid cleaning furniture for 30 hours a week for six months under the community action programme. He was stripped of his jobseeker's allowance for six months when he refused to do so.

The judgement could mean that people who lost their jobseeker's allowance for not taking part in the back-to-work schemes would be entitled to reclaim their benefits.

In his ruling, Lord Justice Pill said the challenges were to the lawfulness of the 2011 regulations made by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, under the Jobseekers Act 1995.

The judge said he was "unable to conclude that the statutory requirement for the regulations to make provision" for back-to-work schemes "of a prescribed description" had been met.

Public Interest Lawyers solicitor Tessa Gregory, who represented Reilly and Wilson, said: "Tomorrow's judgement sends Iain Duncan Smith back to the drawing board to make fresh regulations which are fair and comply with the court's ruling."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady hailed the ruling and said it "blows a big hole through the government's workfare policies".

"Of course voluntary work experience can help the jobless and it is right to expect the unemployed to seek work.

"But it is pointless to force people to work for no pay in jobs that do nothing to help them while putting others at risk of unemployment," said O'Grady.

The Unite union's general secretary Len McCluskey said the scheme was "was exploitative, cruel and a total waste of the talents of our young people".

A DWP spokesman said the department had "no intention" of giving money back to anyone who had been stripped of their benefits and was "currently considering a range of options to ensure this does not happen".

[Reprinted from Morning Star.]

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