Tag Archives: Jamieson Wilson

Defeated again over work schemes: Iain Duncan Smith loses his case in court

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.

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.

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Perverting the course of justice: Once a crime, now government policy

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.

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”.

DWP allowed to appeal against ruling that ‘fitness for work’ test is illegal

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?

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.

According to the Mental Health Resistance Network the DWP was denied permission to appeal on the first attempt.

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.

To be honest, we knew both of those already.

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?

Inconvenient?

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.