No forced labour please, we’re British!

Here’s a story to chill the heart.

Unemployed Geology graduate Cait Reilly, aged 22, was forced to give up volunteering at the Pen Room museum in Birmingham (she was hoping it would lead to a curatorship further down the line) in order to work for nothing at Poundland, sweeping the floors on a government scheme.

She was told she would lose her £53-a-week Jobseeker’s Allowance if she did not submit to the “forced labour” of stacking shelves for the discount retailer, which did not have to pay her.

Let’s put this into context: Poundland’s annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000. Split among its 390-odd stores, that’s more than £54,000 – or enough to pay three extra employees, per store, on minimum wage, with cash to spare. That’s up from the previous year, when it could have paid two extra employees on minimum wage, with cash to spare.

Ms Reilly said in a Telegraph article: “There were five of us sent there. I was the only graduate. We were doing exactly the same work as the paid staff. It makes no sense.

“If the Government subsidises high street chains with free labour, they don’t have to recruit. It causes unemployment rather than solves it.”

Absolutely correct.

Ms Reilly has employed a lawyer to sue the government for contravening article 4(2) of the Human Rights Act, which states: ‘No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour,’ and I think many people around the UK will be waiting impatiently for the result of that action.

The Daily Mail appears to have reverted to its usual form (after the moment last week when one of its columnists actually stood up for disabled people, who are also being victimised by the current government).

That hideous harpy, attack columnist Jan Moir scribbled: “Cait, I really want to say this to you. Two weeks stacking shelves in Poundland — a breach of your human rights? Grow up.

“You might think that a student with barely an NI payment to her name would be happy to put something back into the pot, would be very grateful to be in receipt of taxpayer-funded benefits in the first place.”

Catherine Bennett in The Guardian leapt to pour acid on this attitude: “Many Daily Mail columnists, you gathered, would not have reached the ethical heights they occupy today if they had not, once upon a time, been willing to wash down the Tesco aisles with their own tongues – and, yes, to pay Tesco for the privilege. Forgive them, but what exactly is wrong with no pay for a decent day’s work?

“Annoyingly, for this school of thought, Reilly’s story requires a little finessing before she can be depicted as a total princess. Prior to Poundland, she was regularly volunteering – for no pay – in a Birmingham museum, hoping this would help her find a job in curating.”

The whole saga is the result of a scheme in which Job Centre staff have the power to force anyone claiming unemployment benefits to take part in “mandatory work activity” designed to get them used to working from nine to five.

The pilot scheme found that one in five who were ordered to take part in a four-week community project stopped claiming immediately. Another 30 per cent never turned up and had their benefits axed.

This result – people coming off benefits rather than submitting to being treated as slave labour – was treated as a huge success by Employment Minister Chris ‘Goebbels’ Grayling and his cronies.

A ‘source’ told the Telegraph: “What this demonstrates is that there is really a hardcore of claimants who have absolutely no intention of working come what may.”

I say: The people who refused to do unpaid work were absolutely right to do so and should never have been penalised for it.

If commercial work is available and needs to be done, then companies should be employing people to do it.

This scheme is nothing but another scurrilous attack on the people who are least able to defend themselves, by the most privileged and least deserving government in the recent history of the UK.

To describe this scheme as a success because it has deprived people of the income they need to survive, is sickening.

To those responsible, I say: Shame on you. May you suffer poverty and homelessness for the rest of your days and may good people shun you.

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9 thoughts on “No forced labour please, we’re British!

  1. Mike Sivier

    I’ve received the following comment from a gentleman named Nigel Wootton, on Facebook:
    “For about two months, Cameron’s regime has put adverts in Jobcentres that are targeted at young people aged under twenty-five, for slave labour in retail and distribution companies. The Jobcentre ad describes the pay as for “BENEFITS.”
    Young people are forced to work for up to seven weeks and up to ten hours per day for no wages. The jobcentres fail to tell the victims that there is a one week “cooling off period,” where they can choose to no longer do the unpaid work without losing their benefits.
    Most victims carry on with the slave labour for fear of losing their benefits.
    After the up to seven week slave labour scheme is completed, there will usually be an interview for a job at the company that benefited from the slave labour. Only about one in fifty of the applicants are given the job. The victim Geology Graduate in the Daily Mail’s article wasn’t even given an interview.
    She has sought a Judicial Review against the government for breaching her basic human rights, which, if successful, means that all the young victims of Cameron and Goebbels Grayling’s slave labour scheme should be compensated along with her.”
    Please forward this to any young benefits claimants you believe need to know this information.

  2. Mike Sivier

    Laurie Penny in The Independent ( has joined the protesters against these ‘work placements’.
    The article states: “There is nothing wrong with stacking shelves. There is everything wrong with stacking shelves for a wage that would amount, for a 22-year-old, to £1.33 an hour for an average working week, with no security, benefits or expectation of promotion: Ms Reilly was not even offered an interview after her placement.
    “The Department for Work and Pension’s claim that the practice of requiring people on benefits to work menial jobs for substantially less than the minimum wage is somehow about “support” and “help[ing] people off benefits and into work” flies in the face of dizzying dole queues and evidence that low-paid, low-status, high-stress labour may in fact be worse for people’s long-term prospects than living on a pittance of welfare benefits.”
    The ‘comments’ column also contains very good material – especially that by Sally Ross.

  3. Amzor

    I’m sorry, the Government are funding her to do volunteering? They are perfectly in their right to ask her to work for the benefits she’s receiving from the government! If she doesn’t want to work then she will have to stop receiving benefits and get a job while volunteering in her spare time… How on earth is it forced labour when she has the choice not to do it? And then for you to wish homelessness and poverty on the people responsible… How could you wish that upon anyone especially over something so trivial?

    1. Mike Sivier

      No, the government was forcing her to work – for something like £1.33 an hour, which is well below the national minimum wage – at a store run by a chain that is perfectly capable of employing three jobseekers – at minimum wage – in each of its 390+ outlets. If Poundland wants people to work in its shops, the company should pay them, not the government.
      The assertion is that the government is not within its rights to force this young lady to work for benefits – this contravenes the Human Rights Act. The choice not to do it would have been a choice to go without money and starve – no choice at all, really. This is why people like myself believe it was forced labour – the only other choice available was one that nobody would take.
      As for my wish for those responsible: This is not something trivial. It is a matter of whether the government, in collusion with big businesses, can render the minimum wage legislation irrelevant and force people to work for peanuts. I find that despicable, and I think that anyone manipulating the system in such a way should find themselves in the worst possible situation this would create, so they can know what it’s like.

  4. Amzor

    No no… While she was volunteering, the government was paying for her via benefits. She should not have put herself in a place where she’s relying on government benefits. Why should other people pay for her to volunteer when she could be working and contributing herself. It’s not as if she’s helping anyone in her volunteering, it’s for her own personal benefit. If she was caring for the elderly etc I’d be more sympathetic.
    As you said in your article, the purpose of putting people into work like the Gov did was to get them used to a 9-5 job and to gain experience before trying to find one themselves. Seems perfectly reasonable to me however perhaps she could have spoken to the people at the job centre about her volunteering w/e to see their opinions. If they were to still send her to work, it should have been then where she looked for another fulltime job rather than working for the benefits which as you say works out at a very small amount per hour. As either way, she wouldn’t have been able to volunteer so it was her decision (once again) to remain in pound land instead of going elsewhere.

    You are blowing it out of proportion, it is trivial, in fact, the government are trying to help people. The system isnt perfect but imagine you were hadn’t worked a day in your life and had no chance of getting employment. Being made to work for benefits would be wonders for your mental health as well as giving you experience to get another – much better paid – job than living off benefits = more tax to gov = better services for everyone. Makes complete sense I think you’re just being a little close-minded.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I see what you’re saying about the government paying for her volunteering at the museum but the point is that this was with a view towards getting a job for which she was qualified and that she wanted. Many people have found gainful employment in this way, and I don’t think you can say she should not have put herself in a place where she was relying on benefits. Be fair – she has applied for hundreds of paying jobs while doing this!
      Why should other people pay for her to work at Poundland when that company is perfectly capable of paying her a much higher wage itself? If the store had been paying her, rather than the government (and therefore the taxpayer) you might have more of an argument. Who was she helping by working at a shop, at no cost to the business? Poundland. Nobody else.
      People do work experience in schools to get used to a 9-5 job; this government scheme seems, to me, to be entirely about using taxpayers’ money to subsidise businesses that can pay their own way.
      I reiterate: She was looking for a full-time job when the Job Centre told her to work at Poundland, and the experience she was getting as a volunteer was helping towards that – more than sweeping floors in a chain store would. It was not her decision to go to Poundland; it was made a condition of her continued survival.
      The government may be trying to help people but it seems a strange way of going about it. I think the people they are trying to help are the big business owners, who are – as I have already mentioned – perfectly capable of paying people to work for them.
      Being made to work for benefits might do wonders for the mental health of people who would otherwise have done nothing but stay indoors all day, but this young lady was already going out to work and getting experience to get another – much better paid – job than living off benefits.
      Working at Poundland in order to receive benefits does not provide more tax for the government or help provide better services for anyone.
      It makes no sense at all.

  5. chrissy

    Hey Amzor,what gives? Come off it, Poundland are on a win-win situation, getting fulltime labour and not having to pay. Then jobseekers claiming they have worked at Poundland to prospective employers, hmm, that makes for a very good cv – not! Employers now are not going to be impressed that a person they are interviewing had to do forced labour at POUNDLAND. There are just not enough jobs to go round, due to certain reasons. Newspapers have actually said why, but I am not going to say why.

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