Would a Bill of Rights squash terrorism – or promote forced labour?

I have read only the BBC website report on the commission that was set up to decide whether we should ditch the Human Rights Act in favour of a new ‘Bill of Rights’, but a few things appear clear:

This is being treated as an argument between those who are pro- and anti- the European Union.

People are being asked to consider changes to human rights legislation as a way of combating terrorism.

Both – as we know – are well-worthy of debate, but I wonder why we’re not discussing the elephant in this room. We already had a very well-publicised human rights case in our courts this year, and it had nothing to do with terrorism; it was the case against the Department for Work and Pensions that was won by Cait Reilly, the graduate who was forced to leave her voluntary work in a museum to stack shelves at Poundland on the government’s Workfare scheme.

Oh, you still think she lost?

To refresh your memories, Ms Reilly took the DWP to a judicial review, claiming that being forced to undergo Workfare contravened article 4 (2) of the European Convention on Human Rights: “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.” Mr Justice Foskett found in her favour.

He stated: “I would be inclined to grant her a declaration that there was a breach of Regulation 4(2) in her case … Her original complaint arose from what she was wrongly told was a compulsory placement on a scheme that (a) impeded her voluntary efforts to maintain and advance her primary career ambition and (b) having embarked upon it, from her perspective, did not offer any worthwhile experience on an alternative career path. It is not difficult to sympathise with her position from that point of view.”

I know, it’s entirely different from what the mass media told us, back in August when the ruling was made. They cherry-picked this for us to digest instead: “Characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to ‘slavery’ or ‘forced labour’ seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking”.

The judge was actually saying that, if Ms Reilly had been properly informed of the regulations, she would not have been led to believe she was being put into forced labour. He said the issue arose “from events that occurred in the early stages of the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme when the advisers with whom they communicated were less experienced” and added: “Whether the problems … were merely “teething problems” remains to be seen. The issues raised … were properly raised.”

He went on to say: “Whilst there may be others who have experienced similar issues and have had similar problems, the evidence is that a large number of other individuals will have taken part in the scheme, some of whom would doubtless say they have benefited from it.”

We have since found the opposite to be the case. On November 27, we all heard that, during its first 14 months, only 3.53 per cent of jobseekers who took part in the government’s mandatory work activity programme – of which Workfare is a part – actually found a job for six months or more. They would have had a better chance of finding a job if the work programme had not existed.

I wonder what Mr Justice Foskett thinks now, bearing in mind his words then?

Whatever the case, the government is ploughing ahead with the scheme, and one has to wonder why. It is an embarrassment. It doesn’t work. It has broken the law on human rights.

What if it wasn’t supposed to get people into work, though? What if it’s supposed to do something different?

What if it’s a way of providing a cheap workforce to companies that may (or may not) donate money to the party currently in government, thereby also ensuring that unemployment stays artificially high in order to discourage the workforce from seeking increased pay?

What if it’s a way of funnelling taxpayers’ money off to profit-making companies such as the ‘Work Programme Provider’ firms, that receive £600 for each jobseeker referred to them, plus £200 for the ‘activities’ they offer to prepare those jobseekers for the world of work (see my article on David Dennis’s new book, Disregarded, for a first-hand account of that waste of time)?

If that was the case, then a law that had already led to not one, but two court actions against the government (the other being by Jamieson Wilson, also considered and upheld by Mr Justice Foskett) would be… how can I put it?


It’s just a thought, but if you don’t see the sense in it, you might just as well be buying your own set of chains.

3 thoughts on “Would a Bill of Rights squash terrorism – or promote forced labour?

  1. Gillian Kalter

    I live in Switzerland. The unemployment authorities are fairly severe here but all workers pay unemployment insurance and the unemployed receive an income on which they can live (80% with kids, 70% with no kids, of average previous salaries with a reasonable upper limit). Those who have not been in work, will still receive basic social assistance and have their basic medical insurance paid, dentist, necessary basic household items paid for. It’s still a tough situation and there won’t be any luxuries but you can retain your dignity and you won’t be hungry or cold. Should the equivalent of the work programme, where the unemployed, including people who are disabled, are forced into the most basic work for a pittance, be enforced here in CH, there would be riots in the streets and the Swiss are not known for riots. The work programme is too close to slave labour, too lacking in respect for the individual’s human rights, to be found acceptable here and I’m sure the same applies in other European countries. Keep up the fight!

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