Court declares Britain's back-to-work schemes lawful
BRITISH BACK-to-work schemes, which require the unemployed to work for nothing other than their benefits, have been declared lawful by the High Court in London.
Two separate challenges taken by a university graduate and an unemployed truck-driver were rejected, though the British government was criticised for not being clearer about the possible sanctions for refusal.
Cait Reilly (23) and Jamieson Wilson (40) had argued that the schemes violated European Convention on Human Rights bars on forced labour and slavery.
Ms Reilly had been told she had to work for a fortnight at a Poundland store sweeping floors and stacking shelves or else risk losing her benefits.
The geology graduate, her lawyers told the court, had been required to carry out “unpaid menial work”, without training, supervision or remuneration that would be of use to her efforts to find permanent work.
She had signed up to a work academy scheme open day unaware it would require her to work for free at Poundland.
The judge ruled that Ms Reilly, who is now working as a volunteer in a Birmingham museum, had not been informed that working in Poundland was not mandatory.
Mr Wilson was told his jobseekers’ allowance would be stopped if he did not take part in a separate programme for the long-term unemployed, requiring 30 hours of unpaid work for six months.
Publicity surrounding the back- to-work schemes earlier this year led to a number of companies, including Tesco, Burger King and Waterstones, to abandon their involvement.
Faced with the concerns of industry, which was angry at being targeted by a social media campaign orchestrated by the Socialists Workers’ Party, the British government clarified the rules in March, making it clear the fortnight’s work experience programme was voluntary.
Mr Wilson, the judge found, had not properly been told of the sanctions that would face him, particularly the fact that a first refusal would lead to the loss of a fortnight’s benefit, not six months’.
His lawyers yesterday said thousands of people who had, like him, refused to join the programme would be entitled to reimbursement of stopped benefits.
Despite the errors made by the department of work and pensions, Mr Justice Foskett said equating the schemes to slavery or forced labour “seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking”.
Last night, the department of work and pensions welcomed the judge’s ruling that the schemes are lawful, but said it would appeal the judge’s ruling about the lack of information given to claimants.
“Those who oppose this process are actually opposed to hard work and they are harming the life chances of unemployed young people who are trying to get on,” the department said.
“It is entirely reasonable to ask jobseekers to take real steps towards finding work if they are claiming benefits,” it added.