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In the Media

article imageBritish court ruling declares government work schemes unlawful

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By Eileen Kersey
Feb 12, 2013 in Politics
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UK government works and pensions minister, Iain Duncan Smith, introduced a wide range of sweeping welfare reforms. A court of appeal ruling Tuesday has 'blown a big hole' in his return-to-work schemes.
Cait Reilly, 24, was triumphant Tuesday after the UK court of appeal ruled in her favour. Cait and 40-year-old Jamieson Wilson claimed government return-to-work schemes had forced them to undertake unpaid work. The court agreed, blowing a big hole in UK government work schemes, reports the Guardian.
Until November 2011 Cait, from Birmingham, an undergraduate, worked as a volunteer at a local museum. She was forced to quit this post, when threatened with an end to benefit payments unless she accepted a placement on a government work scheme. Cait was told that ‘if she did not carry out the work placement she would lose her jobseeker's allowance’ reports the Telegraph.
The 'placement' meant that Cait had to work for large UK retailer Poundland. The work involved shelf stacking and cleaning floors. It offered no training and was unpaid.
Outside of the court Tuesday Cait read a statement in which she explained that she had no problem working for a shop. Her gripe was that the work was unpaid. The court agreed.
Currently Cait is working part-time at a supermarket but at least now she is getting paid.
Mr Wilson, 40, is a qualified mechanic and HGV driver . The work scheme placement he was offered involved unpaid work, cleaning furniture for 30 hours a week for six months, under a scheme known as the Community Action Programme. He refused and his unemployment benefit, jobseeker's allowance, was stopped for six months. Mr Wilson argued that the placement offered no training and would not lead to a job. The court agreed.
The British government expressed its disappointment that the court had ruled the work schemes unlawful. Ministers are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. The government maintains that the judges supported the return to work schemes. It is true that the panel of judges refused to support the claim that "being made to work unpaid on pain of having benefits stripped for up to three years was a form of forced labour under the human rights act".
In August 2012 the court dismissed Cait's legal action, ruling that "unpaid work schemes are not a breach of human rights".
Tuesday the court however made a valuable point. The Guardian reports
The panel of Lord Justice Pill, Lady Justice Black and Sir Stanley Burnton ruled unanimously that Duncan Smith had exceeded his powers as secretary of state. In the ruling, Burnton said: "I emphasise that this case is not about the social, economic, political or other merits."
Burnton said parliament was "entitled to encourage participation in such schemes by imposing sanctions". "However," he said, "any scheme must be such as has been authorised by parliament."
"There is a constitutional issue involved," the judgment said. "The loss of jobseeker's allowance may result in considerable personal hardship, and it is not surprising that parliament should have been careful in making provision for the circumstances in which the sanction may be imposed."
Burton with his fellow judges ruled that under section 17a of the 1995 Jobseekers Act as amended in 2009, the secretary of state could not do as he saw fit and had to lay the details of the those programmes before parliament.
Government employment minister, Mark Hoban, still maintains that his department has the backing of the courts. One problem for the government is that today's ruling could lead to a huge amount of claims. The claimants affected could be as many as tens of thousands of unemployed people who have had benefits docked for not properly taking part in schemes such as work experience and the work program. "These will now be entitled to a rebate. However the DWP said it would resist paying out rebates until all legal avenues had been exhausted".
A DWP spokesperson remained adamant that no money would be repaid.
As the Guardian report concludes, The TUC general secretary, Frances O'Grady, said: "This blows a big hole through the government's workfare policies. Of course voluntary work experience can help the jobless, and it is right to expect the unemployed to seek work. But it is pointless to force people to work for no pay in jobs that do nothing to help them while putting others at risk of unemployment. "This policy is about blaming the jobless, not helping them."
Work-fare-schemes, of various sorts, have operated in the UK for a number of years. Under the coalition government's austere welfare reforms the jobless have been pressured to take unpaid work. In many cases this has not led to a 'proper job' nor any useful training.It has however resulted in a reduction in the jobless total and the number of benefit claimants.
Note: Poundland is a multi-million pound UK company.
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More about iain ducan smith, UK austerity, uk welfare reform, workfare, Dwp
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