UK – Court rules government slave and forced labour schemes illegal

Cait Reilly outside Poundland

Cait Reilly . Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

An appeal heard at the Royal Courts of Justice this morning has resulted in a ruling that sanctions against people who refuse to take part in the government’s ‘Work Experience’ and the ‘Work Programme’ are illegal.

The panel of judges ruled that the secretary for state and pensions had acted illegally by not giving the unemployed enough information about the sanctions people faced, or their rights of appeal, against being made to work for nothing.

The appeal was lodged by university graduate Cait Reilly and unemployed lorry driver Jamieson Wilson, who were both required to work in menial jobs or face their benefits being withdrawn.

However, the government has said it will take the matter to the supreme court, even though the appeals court refused the government leave to appeal, and will not be refunding withheld benefits to those who were sanctioned under the work programmes.

Both schemes have been criticised for using benefit claimants as slave labour for commercial interests.

Private providers of the schemes have also been criticised for using benefit claimants for commercial enterprise, with one company using people who were supposed to be on a course to find work being used as cleaners.

There should certainly be supported avenues for those on benefits who are able to work to take part in schemes that are appropriate for them. But the focus should be on encouragement and not a fascist dictatorial regime imposed by government. This just breeds resistance and resentment.

It would be far more beneficial to support benefit claimants in gaining real qualifications that mean something in the real world to enable them to compete in the job market. Forcing people to do menial jobs that have no relevance to their jobseeking experience, and result in worthless ‘certificates’ do not help.

If benefit claimants are being used to ‘top up’ a company’s staff, the company should be forced to offer that position to the job market and employ people to do it.

Follow @martynjsymons

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