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Back to work scheme has been challenged as breach of article 4 of EC human rights

Date: (27 June 2012)    |    

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A graduate who was made to work for her jobless benefits as a shelf stacker in Poundland claimed the scheme as ‘forced labour’ which breached her human rights and went to the High Court asking to declare the Government’s back-to-work programme as unlawful.
Cait Reilly, 23-year-old said she had to give up a voluntary post in a museum to take the placement but was promised a job interview if she completed two weeks training at Poundland. However, it never happened she said.
The Government was defending its claim and strongly denied that its flagship work programme, which had placed thousands of jobseekers on unpaid placements since its launch last year, was equivalent to ‘slave labour’.
Unemployed mechanic Jamieson Wilson, 41, was also challenging the legality of another Government work scheme that compels the jobless to take unpaid work.
Lawyers for the pair are seeking a judicial review into the Department for Work and Pensions programme, saying it violates Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery.
Miss Reilly, who graduated in geology from Birmingham University in 2010, was placed on the scheme after attending a retail jobs ‘open day’ in October last year at the suggestion of her Jobcentre Plus adviser. Only after attending was she told she had to undertake a period of training or risk losing her benefits.
The lawyer for Miss Reilly, said her placement at Poundland, involved carrying out ‘menial’ tasks, which was not giving her any advantage as far as search for work was concerned. It was argued that Miss Reilly had undertaken the work under threat of penalty in breach of her human rights.
The court was told Poundland was a successful firm with a net turnover of £500million, and her placement did not contribute to the public interest.
The counsel told Mr Justice Foskett the back-to-work programme was ‘blatantly unlawful’, and had put thousands at risk of unfairly losing their benefits. These claimants had an entitlement to subsistence-level benefits she added.
The court heard that Mr Wilson, also from the Midlands, had been unemployed since 2008. He was told last November he would be required to undertake up to six months of unpaid work cleaning furniture. After refusing, he had his benefits cut, and now faces the loss of his jobseeker’s allowance for six months.
Paul Nicholls, QC, appearing for the DWP, argued that both legal challenges were ‘wrong in law’.
The case continues.