Poundland said it had signed a deal with the DWP to take jobseekers on work experience on condition that it was voluntary [Image: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters].
Poundland seems to be turning into a serial abuser of jobseekers.
It is now five years since Cait Reilly (remember her?) took the DWP to court for forcing her to stack shelves at one of the discount retail chain’s stores. It was forced labour, not voluntary, the company paid her nothing (she only received benefit money) and pocketed all the profits.
In May 2013, This Writer worked out that companies using jobseekers in this way were making profits of almost £1 billion per year – and were being funded by the taxpayer to do it. The public purse lost more than £16 million in the 2012-13 financial year.
And they’re still doing it.
Because nobody has ever bothered to stop them.
Poundland has been criticised for employing jobseekers, without pay, for up to two months under a deal with the government.
Several of those who have worked on the scheme told the Guardian they had worked up to 30 hours a week for at least three weeks stacking shelves in Poundland. They were told that the work experience was voluntary but one said: “I had no say in it really.”
It’s not clear how many jobseekers have been used by Poundland under the scheme as the government said it did not collect information centrally and the work experience was managed locally by jobcentres across the country. However, one store in Bolton has taken on 21 placements since last August, according to information provided in response to a freedom of information request by the Boycott Workfare pressure group.
Criminal: Iain Duncan Smith has made the UK government into a criminal regime, illegally victimising its most vulnerable citizens.
Iain Duncan Smith took an metaphorical slap in the face from the High Court today when Mrs Justice Lang said his retroactive law to refuse docked payments to jobseekers was not legal.
The Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 was rushed onto the statute books after the DWP discovered the rules under which it had docked Jobseekers’ Allowance from 228,000 people, who had refused to take part in Workfare schemes, were illegal.
The ruling does not mean that everyone who was penalised for refusing to take part, or for leaving the scheme once they had started it and realised what it was, may claim back the JSA that had been withdrawn from them.
But anyone who appealed against a benefit sanction on the basis of the previous decision will be entitled to win their appeals and be repaid the withheld benefits – as Vox Political advised at the time. That payout could be as high as £130 million.
The judge said retrospective application of the 2013 law conflicted with the European Convention on Human Rights and “interfered with the right to a fair trial” of all those affected.
This is the latest twist in a legal challenge brought by Cait Reilly, a graduate who fell foul of the scheme, in 2012. She demanded a judicial review on the grounds that being forced to give up voluntary work in a museum (she wanted to be a museum curator) to stack shelves in Poundland breached her human rights.
Poundland no longer takes part in mandatory work activity schemes run by the UK government.
Mrs Justice Lang said today (July 4) that “the absence of any consultation with representative organisations” as well as the lack of scrutiny by Parliamentary committees had led to “misconceptions about the legal justification for the retrospective legislation”.
The 2013 Act introduced a new “draconian provision, unique to this cohort of claimants” which was “not explained or justified” by the government in Parliament “at the time”.
Mrs Justice Lang rejected the Secretary of State’s assertion that flaws in the 2011 Regulations were simply “a technicality or a loophole”, that the 2013 Act sought to give effect to Parliament’s ‘original intention’ or that repayments to benefits claimants would be “an undeserved windfall”.
She also recognised that it would be “unjust to categorise the claimants in the Cait Reilly case as claimants “who have not engaged with attempts made by the state to return them to work”, as asserted by the Department for Work and Pensions.
“This case is another massive blow to this Government’s flawed and tawdry attempts to make poor people on benefits work for companies, who already make massive profits, for free,” said solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, who appeared for the unemployed.
“Last year the Supreme Court told Iain Duncan Smith and the Coalition government that the scheme was unlawful. In this case the High Court has now told the Government that the attempt to introduce retrospective legislation, after the DWP had lost in the Court of Appeal, is unlawful and a breach of the Human Rights Act and is a further disgraceful example of how far this Government is prepared to go to flout our constitution and the rule of law. [bolding mine]
“I call on the DWP to ensure that the £130 million of benefits unlawfully withheld from the poorest section of our society is now repaid.”
So there it is, in black and white. Iain Duncan Smith has made the Coalition government a criminal organisation, guilty of 228,000 human rights violations.
This is a serious matter; some of these people may have been put in serious financial hardship as a result of the Coalition’s actions. One hopes very much that nobody died but if they did, those fatalities should be added to the many thousands who have passed away as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal regime for claimants of incapacity benefits.
Let us not forget, also, that we remain at the mercy of these tyrants. Iain Duncan Smith has announced he intends to waste yet more taxpayers’ money on another appeal. In the meantime, a DWP spokeswoman said the legislation remained “in force” and the government would not be compensating anyone pending the outcome of its appeal.
Victory at last: The Supreme Court’s ruling means vindication for Cait Reilly, who has spent nearly two years battling against a system that costs the taxpayer millions while failing to increase employment.
It’s a return to the drawing-board for the man we call ‘Returned To Unit’ after the Supreme Court ruled against Iain Duncan Smith’s Workfare appeal.
The five Supreme Court justices upheld a Court of Appeal decision, made against the government in February.
The case had been brought by Cait Reilly, a geology graduate who, while unemployed but volunteering at a local museum in order to gain experience towards getting a curator’s job, had been ordered by the Department for Work and Pensions to work for her benefits, stacking shelves at Poundland.
It should be remembered that Poundland is perfectly capable of employing its own workers on full wages. At the time, it ran 390 stores nationwide and made £21,500,000 profit in 2010 – enough to employ extra staff at all its branches and still make a good profit.
The amount it was saving by not paying Ms Reilly, coupled with the fiscal multiplier that adds around 60p to every pound she would have earned if she had been an employee, means Poundland could have made a £1,188.48 profit from the work she was doing for the firm at the taxpayers’ expense.
Total profit for all companies using benefit recipients on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ between June 2011 and July 2012 (878,000 people): £894, 416, 090 – nearly £1 billion.
Loss to the taxpayer: £16,933,000 (not including payments to Work Provider companies).
Together with another claimant, Jamieson Wilson, Ms Reilly brought a judicial review against the scheme, claiming it was a violation of human rights under article 4 (2) of the European Convention on Human Rights: “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour” – and the government lost the case.
Mr Justice Foskett stated: “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.”
At the time (August 2012), the right-wing media slanted their reports to make it seem that Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson had lost, but this was soon rectified because the government appealed against the ruling, which stated 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.
The problem for Mr… Smith was that Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson were not the only ones to have been misled in this way, and the ruling opened up the government to claims for compensation, from thousands of benefit claimants, for millions of pounds that had been taken away from them because they had refused to take part in the ‘work-for-benefits’ schemes. The illegality of the regulations meant the DWP, under Iain Duncan Smith’s supervision, had broken the law more than 228,000 times – RTU is a criminal more than a quarter of a million times over.
In any case, evidence quickly piled up, proving that Workfare doesn’t work. 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.
This did not prevent the Department for Work and Pensions from appealing against the ruling and, in February, the Court of Appeal responded – by upholding the claim that the scheme was unlawful.
This meant that anyone who was penalised for refusing to take part, or for leaving the scheme once they had started it and realised what it was, could claim back the Jobseekers’ Allowance that had been withdrawn from them for non-compliance. The payout could have been as high as £130 million.
Smith wasn’t going to have any of that! He launched emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of the decision and change the regulations retrospectively, making it impossible for benefit claimants to demand payouts of between £530 and £570 each for decisions made while the illegal rules were in force.
Lawyers and campaigners branded the DWP’s move as “repugnant” and “unbelievably disgusting”, saying it undermined the rule of law. This blog concurs with that assessment. It is an appalling abuse of governmental power.
But the government succeeded in undermining the rule of law after all but a few members of the Labour Party allowed it to pass, having negotiated a few “safeguards” that have proved to be useless in practice.
Fortunately, some people have a little more backbone and Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson took their case to the Supreme Court. It is from this body that today’s – final – judgement has come.
Now comes the nitty-gritty.
After the introduction of the emergency law, the solicitors Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who represent Reilly and Wilson, lodged a judicial review accusing RTU of conspiring to undermine basic human rights by enacting the retroactive legislation. They say they will continue to pursue that judicial review after their success in the supreme court.
A spokesperson for PIL said: “Following today’s judgment, any… jobseekers can object to sanctions that have been imposed and seek the repayment of their benefits. It is truly staggering that Duncan Smith has found himself in this position even after fast-tracking emergency retrospective legislation through parliament. We intend to work with advice organisations to ensure that, following this ruling, affected individuals have the right information and assistance.”
It seems the firm believes the retrospective part of the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 is no longer valid. That means all 228,000 Workfare victims who were penalised by the DWP will be able to claim their compensation and force the £130 million payout.
Not only that, but it seems reasonable that a legal penalty should be imposed on ‘RTU’ himself. Not only did he enforce the schemes under the illegal regulations, but he also imposed a lengthy and costly legal battle on those who stood up against it, even though it had been found to be wrong in law.
Who knows how much hardship this has caused to people who were already on the breadline before his brutal sanctions were imposed?
How much despair has he caused to people who had no other means of support?
Has anybody died because of this – through health problems, mental health issues leading to suicide, or for other reasons?
It is time for the people who have been most seriously affected by this to get together and start talking to lawyers – Public Interest Lawyers might be a good place to start – about getting restitution from the man who caused this mess.
The taxpayer may well have to foot the bill for the illegal benefit sanctions, and that is only right. They should never have been imposed in the first place and this will only set matters straight.
But the individual minister who caused this should not get away without paying a personal penalty.
Let’s have some accountability in government, Mr… Smith.
Chequebook justice: Your unelected government wants to ensure that nobody can challenge its policies and decisions – by putting justice within the reach of only the wealthy.
David Cameron and Chris Grayling have been messing with the justice system again. This time, according to The Telegraph, they are planning to make it “tougher” for judicial reviews to be brought to court, to stop the process being “abused” by pressure groups and campaigners.
There’s a lot of Telegraph-speak in that first paragraph, as the Tory-supporting newspaper was working desperately to make governmental perversion of justice acceptable. What this actually means is that Cameron wants to make it impossible for organisations that are capable of mounting legal opposition to unreasonable Conservative/Coalition policies ever to do so.
The only people able to seek judicial reviews of government policy would be individuals who are directly affected – and the government is hoping that these mostly poor people would be unable to afford the cost, thanks to changes in Legal Aid that mean it could not be claimed for welfare or employment cases.
You see how this works? With those changes to Legal Aid and the possibility of wholesale privatisation of the entire court system, where justice was once open to everyone, it will soon be a privilege available only to the wealthiest in the UK.
To Cameron, and his crony Grayling, justice isn’t for you. In fact, it won’t be for anyone. The UK will be about money and power, just as Michael Meacher stated in his recent blog article.
So, for example: The ‘Poundland’ case, which The Guardian reported was to be heard in the Supreme Court yesterday (Monday). The original judicial review was launched in the names of Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson, who were both directly affected – but were both unemployed and penniless, and therefore could not afford to take the case to court on their own. Their case was brought with the aid of Public Interest Lawyers – who would most likely be barred from taking part, being considered a pressure group with no direct interest in the matter.
The original case resulted in the government taking the unusual – and highly suspect (in legal terms) – step of passing an emergency retroactive law to legalise its employment schemes, after the tribunal ruled that all of the Coalition’s schemes were acting illegally and opened the government up to a potential £130 million worth of claims for wrongfully-withheld benefits.
PIL has now started a second judicial review – on the retrospective law – claiming it undermines its clients’ right to justice and violates article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under the new procedures this, too, would be inadmissible.
On the same lines, the judicial review that ruled (in May) that the test used to decide whether people are fit for work actively discriminates against the mentally ill, brought by the Black Triangle Campaign with the charities MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, would also be inadmissible.
So we have examples in which it is clearly in the interests of justice for new laws to be challenged – but which would be blocked outright under Cameron and Grayling’s plan.
According to The Telegraph, “Ministers plan to change the test for applying for a review so that only people with a direct link to policies or decision can challenge it, rather than anyone with a ‘sufficient interest.’
“The concerns echo those of the Prime Minister who previously said the judicial review process was slowing the country’s economic growth as well.”
In fairness, the paper adds: “There are fears that changing the judicial review process could lead to government decisions going unchecked, and charities have also raised concerns about not being able to use the process to challenge decisions and ensure the government is meeting its obligations.”
Meanwhile, Unison has been given leave to launch a judicial review of the introduction of fees for workers seeking employment tribunals.
The BBC reported that people wanting to bring tribunals must now pay a fee for the first time since they were created in the 1960s. It will cost £160 to lodge a claim for matters such as unpaid invoices, with a further charge of £230 if it goes ahead.
More serious claims, such as for unfair dismissal, would cost £250 to lodge, and a further £950 if the case goes ahead.
The plan here is clearly to make it impossible for an unfairly-sacked worker to take a firm to judicial review; how many poorly-paid working class people (and remember, wages have fallen by nine per cent since the credit crunch) have twelve hundred quid knocking around in their back pockets?
“The introduction of punitive fees for taking a claim to an employment tribunal would give the green light to unscrupulous employers to ride roughshod over already basic workers’ rights,” Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told the BBC.
“We believe that these fees are unfair and should be dropped.”
The judicial review will take place in October. Considering Lord Judge’s recent change of heart over privatisation of the courts, it’s a safe bet that by then the government will have ‘persuaded’ any judges hearing the case to support the new charges.
As Mr Meacher wrote: David Cameron’s instincts are “that there is no such thing as the rule of law, and that the only things that ultimately matter are power, fear and money”.
All rise: The British court system is supposedly the best in the world – but can we trust it to make the right decision when it is the government that is appealing against a ruling?
It may have taken almost a month and a half, but judges have agreed to let the Department for Work and Pensions appeal against the judgement that the work capability assessment discriminates against people with mental health problems.
Iain Duncan Smith’s lackeys then resorted to a second route – applying directly to the Court of Appeal – and it was this court that granted permission.
A spokesperson for the Mental Health Resistance Network said: “This is not the news we wanted, but the Tories were never going to give up without a fight as they are desparate to destroy our welfare state.
“Needless to say we will be fighting back.”
Vox Political was one of many who reported, back in May, that a judicial review had ruled that the work capability assessment actively discriminates against the mentally ill.
The tribunal found that, no matter how ill or even delusional a person may be, the system places on them the responsibility for gathering their own medical evidence and sending it in – otherwise the material will not be considered.
For the DWP to win at appeal, it will have to prove that this is possible for anyone, no matter how severe their mental illness may be.
The current system, for which the DWP lost the judicial review, means that paperwork sent in by anyone else on behalf of a patient with mental illness may be ignored and their ability to work judged using evidence from a 15-minute interview with a stranger who is unlikely to have had any mental health training, and who has no idea what expert opinion has to say.
Vox Political said at the time that we all knew Iain Duncan Smith would not accept this. That prediction has been borne out by current developments.
Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said after the tribunal decision that it meant the government should halt the mass reassessment of people receiving incapacity benefits immediately, until the system is fixed.
Does anybody think this has happened?
If not, then the government has been acting illegally for almost a month and a half. It is to be hoped that the appeal tribunal takes this into account when considering its decision. If assessments have continued, then the DWP has shown flagrant disregard for the legal process.
Such behaviour would also add emphasis to the Black Triangle Campaign’s comment in May, that the assessment system was “completely at odds with the government’s repeated insistence that mental health is a top priority”.
The campaign’s spokesperson said it was “sad that it took a court case to force the DWP to take action”.
It’s even more sad that the only action so far has been an appeal against the decision.
Some commentators speculated that Iain Duncan Smith might introduce retroactive legislation to re-legalise the work capability assessment – as he did with workfare after Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson won their cases against the department.
Unfortunately for him, the current controversy involves a breach of the Equalities Act, which has far-reaching effects.
If he tries to repeal it, we’ll know two things for sure:
1. Iain Duncan Smith is a dangerous fool.
2. The Coalition government has no respect for the rule of law.
Don’t shrug your shoulders, Smith! It’s time the people of the UK found a way to make him care about the deaths he is causing.
Today’s article on the Skwawkbox blog is extremely interesting, for anyone with an interest in the public services and the welfare state.
It seems the Department for Work and Pensions has pushed ahead with a regime including the Work Programme and the sanctions imposed for those who refuse to take part, and even changed the law to reinforce its position, despite having documentary proof that is two years old, showing that these policies do more harm than good and are not in the national interest.
So the report concludes that the Work Programme, and other training programmes imposed by the DWP, cause harm by preventing people from looking for work and forcing them to attend useless training sessions (as flagged up in this Vox Political article).
It admits the policy harms people who were already involved in training or volunteer work – on their own initiative – because they had to end it to take part in ‘mandated’ training or face sanction if they declined (Cait Reilly, for a much-publicised example).
People who didn’t attend, didn’t complete or rejected a training course because it was unsuitable were still sanctioned (even though the policy states – and the government has adamantly claimed for many months – that this does not happen. Transport difficulties and childcare problems were also flagged up as potentially leading to sanctions, even though they were not the fault of the jobseeker.
The report went on to criticise the sanctions regime – because it is harmful not only to the jobseeker but to members of that person’s family and friends as well. This is because it forces them to rely on family and friends for their survival, if they are lucky enough to have such people around to help; it damages family relationships and harms the well-being of low-income families who have to stretch their resources to help a sanctioned person, including younger brothers or sisters who have to rely on the money earned by their elders for their own sustainance. In other words, not only do sanctions harm individual jobseekers, but they also harm people who have had nothing to do with the benefits being suspended. As Steve Walker writes, that is “about as unjust as you could possibly get”.
There’s more, but you should visit the article because I want to ask a few more, searching, questions.
We’ve seen that the DWP was warned against imposing Workfare onto people who were already involved in training or volunteer work that they had initiated themselves. Isn’t that exactly what happened to Cait Reilly?
Then, rather than admit its mistake, pay her back the money she had lost through sanctions and let her go back to the volunteer work that might actually help her get a long-term career, the government forced her to take the matter to a lengthy (and, one expects, expensive) judicial review to prove her case.
When Ms Reilly won at the Court of Appeal (meaning the costs had to be paid by the DWP), it meant that tens – maybe hundreds of thousands of jobseekers who had been wrongly sanctioned could claim their money back. Mr… Smith immediately told the world that he wasn’t putting up with that and, diverging even further from the path of wisdom, tabled a Parliamentary Bill to change the law, in order to keep the money he and his department had stolen – yes, I think ‘stolen’ is the appropriate word – from the many taxpayers they had wronged.
Faced with this evidence, one finds it necessary to ask: In the name of sanity, why?
Why go ahead with a policy that cannot possibly be in the national interest? It stops people getting jobs; it harms jobseekers, their families and friends; it drives them to despair.
It drives them to despair.
Another recent article came our way via Facebook, and relates to the Suicide Act, 1961. It draws attention to the fact that the DWP and the wider UK government has been told, repeatedly and at length, that its policies are leading to suicides. The article itself refers to the many deaths we know take place every week because of the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, but it is also known that jobseeker suicides rise by around 10 per cent during times of high unemployment and the figures should be available to support a contention that this is taking place now.
The article goes on to say that continuing to authorise procedures that are known to end in suicide – as Iain Duncan Smith and his various lieutenants, Mark Hoban, Esther McVey, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, have done – may therefore be viewed as procuring suicide from the disabled and otherwise disadvantaged population of the UK.
This is a criminal offence under the Suicide Act, 1961.
So it seems we have a government that has ignored the advice of its own reports in order to pursue a course of criminality that has led (as we all know) to many thousands of deaths.
“Getting them off-benefit is what we’re going to do,” yelled Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time last year. But why bother, when they can be so profitable for companies taking part in Mandatory Work Activity schemes?
“We’re going to end the ‘something-for-nothing’ culture.”
Sometimes a phrase stands out from everything else that’s said around it, launches itself at your face and forces you to confront the enormity of the lie it encapsulates. You knew this was going to end badly, the moment Iain Duncan Smith (Vox Political’s Monster of the Year, 2012, let’s not forget) opened his face and uttered the words.
He was trying to say that people on Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) should not expect to get the benefit without putting something back into society – totally bypassing the fact that they have either already paid towards it, via taxes paid while they were in a previous job, or they will in the future, when they manage to get a job (if such a thing is still achievable in a Tory-led UK).
This was to justify the many ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ schemes onto which jobseekers are currently being put by the thousands, and for which they are being paid only in JSA.
It was only a matter of time before someone identified the flaw in the logic, as Alex Andreou did in the New Statesman when he, rightly, wrote: “Such schemes do not end the “something for nothing culture”. They simply elevate it to the corporate level.”
How many weeks was Cait Reilly supposed to spend stacking shelves at Poundland – was it four? Let’s say four. So assuming 30 hours a week, if she had been employed on the minimum wage, she would have earned £742.80.
Instead, she would have received JSA at, what, £56.25 per week? That’s £225. From the taxpayer, not Poundland.
So Poundland, which runs more than 390 stores and whose annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000, would have had the benefit of nearly £750 worth of work, for nothing. But the gravy train doesn’t even stop there!
Employees of all profit-making companies are taken on because they add to the firm’s profits in some way. Therefore we can assume that, as a result of a person stacking shelves at Poundland, a shopper will come along, see something the stacker has stacked, and buy it – creating a profit for the company.
How many times would this happen during a jobseeker’s four-week tenure on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’? There’s no way of knowing. Let’s apply a conservative estimate based on the standard levels of a fiscal multiplier, at the low end, and say that adds a further 60p to the value of every pound that Ms Reilly would have earned.
Total: 1,188.48 profit for Poundland.
Now multiply that by the number of people going through ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ and you’ll see how much these companies are making, courtesy of the taxpayer – because, don’t forget, working people are paying for jobseekers to make money for these firms. We know 878,000 people were put on these schemes between June 2011 and July 2012 – that comes out as 752,571 in a year, on average.
Total profit for companies using people on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ should therefore be: £894,416,090. Nearly £1 billion.
Loss to the taxpayer: £16,933,000.*
If that isn’t enough to get you hot under the collar, consider this: The profits created for companies by ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ go to company bosses and shareholders, all of whom may be expected to be rich already. They won’t be putting that money back into the economy; they’ll be banking it. Possibly offshore.
If they had employed those jobseekers and paid them at minimum wage, that would have put £559,010,060, per year, back into the economy. These workers would have spent the money in their communities, on commodities that they needed, thus providing a valuable boost to shops and businesses that have been deprived of this support by Coalition government policies.
And the companies concerned would still have made £335,406,030. More than a third of a billion pounds – not to be sniffed at!
It’s mathematical proof of the Conservative Party’s economic incompetence. Making the rich richer and the poor poorer will ruin the country.
*This article does not include payments to Work Placement Provider companies because, not having gone through this system myself, I’m not sure whether it should be applied or not. My understanding is they would get £600 per referral, with higher figures if a jobseeker actually got a job afterwards. Can anyone confirm this is what would happen here?
Victory at last for Cait Reilly and all the others who have been forced to work, unwaged, by the Coalition government.
Unemployed people across the UK who refused to take part in the Coalition government’s slave-labour Workfare scheme – and lost benefits as a result – should now claim their money back after the Court of Appeal ruled that the scheme was unlawful.
The ruling comes after Cait Reilly won her legal challenge against the scheme, which she claimed forces people to work without pay.
Ms Reilly feels like an old friend to Vox Political, as this blog has followed her case since early last year. She is a geology graduate who had been working on a voluntary basis at a museum, to get experience necessary to win a curator’s position in the future. Then the DWP uprooted her and forced her onto Workfare, stacking shelves in Poundland – a company that can well afford to employ its own workers on full wages.
The BBC report of her victory today states that she lost her original court case, but that is not strictly true. Mr Justice Foskett found in her favour, but on the basis that she had been given wrong information that the scheme was compulsory.
At the time, the mass media, including the BBC, told us her case had failed, cherry-picking this comment from the judge: “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 three judges at the Court of Appeal clearly have a different understanding of contemporary thinking as they have made it perfectly clear that the regulations governing the scheme are indeed unlawful.
This means anyone who was penalised for refusing to take part, or for leaving the scheme once they had started it and realised what it was, may now claim back the Jobseekers’ Allowance that was withdrawn from them for non-compliance.
This is a great victory for freedom and justice, a huge vindication of the Appeal court system, and a slap in the face for our dictatorial Coalition government and in particular Iain Duncan Smith, Vox‘s ‘Monster of the Year’ for 2012.
It is to be hoped that news of this victory spreads as quickly as humanly possible, and all those affected put their claims in immediately, so that the system becomes swamped by the consequences of its own crimes.
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.
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