A 24-year-old university graduate won her case in the London court of appeals Tuesday against a British government program requiring her to work for free at a Poundland discount store. The court ruled that forcing Cait Reilly to work for free as part of a government return-to work-scheme was unlawful.
Following the decision, Reilly told reporters that she was delighted with the court’s decision and stressed that her objections were not against the nature of the work. On the contrary, she said that she is now working at a supermarket but the difference is that it is paid work.
Work-for-welfare schemes in the UK.
Work-for-welfare-schemes were created by the UK government. The UK government has implemented austerity measures and welfare benefit cuts since it came to office in 2010. The two go hand in hand. Various return-to-work schemes have benefitted employers with ‘unpaid staff’, whilst few people gained ‘real and paid’ employment.
Such schemes have been in operation for some years. Under the Labour government unemployment claimants were ‘encouraged’ to take part. The schemes often involved claimants working at top name supermarkets for around £10 a week. The unemployed could still claim unemployment benefit and receive the £10 as a ‘top-up’ payment. These schemes lasted a month or two, involved some training and occasionally led to paid work. The paid work, however, was often part-time.
The UK coalition has operated a different type of return to work scheme.
Failure to comply with a placement on a return-to-work-scheme could lead to a loss of benefits. Cait was told that ‘if she did not carry out the work placement she would lose her jobseeker's allowance’ reports the Telegraph.
Until November 2011 Cait worked on a voluntary basis at a local museum. As a university graduate the work was useful for Cait. In November she was forced to quit her voluntary work, and take a placement as part of the "sector-based work academy" scheme. This entailed unpaid work at a local Poundland store. The work involved stacking shelves and cleaning floors. She did this for two weeks.
Cait, from Birmingham, and a 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver Jamieson Wilson, from Nottingham, began legal action. They both were successful. The schemes were declared ‘flawed and unlawful’.
Mr Wilson was told 'work unpaid, cleaning furniture for 30 hours a week for six months', under a scheme known as the Community Action Programme. He objected. As a qualified mechanic Jamieson argued that this work placement would not lead to real employment nor offer any useful training. As a consequence he refused to participate. Mr Wilson was stripped of his jobseeker's allowance for six months.
What today’s ruling means
Public Interest Lawyers, PIL, said ‘the Court of Appeal's unanimous decision was a "huge setback for the Department for Work and Pensions, whose flagship reforms have been beset with problems since their inception".’
According to the report in the Telegraph solicitor Tessa Gregory said “Today's 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."
UK Works and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith tried to concentrate attention on welfare reforms. The coalition government has played the old ‘divide and conquer’. Ministers have tried to put the working and middle class in the UK against each other. Attacking welfare benefits can be a vote winner, if a 'political publicity machine is well oiled'.
At last a spanner has been put in the works.
The government will appeal the decision. Ministers confirmed that they will attempt to tighten any legal loopholes. They maintain that judges supported return-to-work-schemes and claim the work is not 'forced labour''
Perhaps their energy would be better spent trying to create real jobs, ensuring wealthy tax dodgers in the UK pay their dues and preventing the Elite from profiteering.
Note: Poundland is a multi-million pound company.