Unions welcome Appeal Court ruling over government’s unpaid welfare to work schemes

Tim Lezard

High Court crest_front onUnion leaders have welcomed a judgement by the Court of Appeal which ruled it was unlawful for someone to be made to work for free under the government’s welfare to work schemes.

Lawyers say the decision is a huge set-back for a flagship policy of the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “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.”

The case was brought by Cait Reilly, who was made to stack shelves in Poundland for two weeks, and Jamie Wilson, who was stripped of his Jobseeker’s allowance for 6 months after refusing to participate in a scheme which required him to work 30 hours a week for six months for free.

Cait Reilly stressed she did not believe she was ‘above’ working at Poundland – she currently has a paid part-time job at a supermarket – but said at the time she wanted to carry out voluntary work at a museum.

Speaking after yesterday’s judgement, she said: ” I hope the government will now take this opportunity to rethink its strategy and do something which actually builds on young unemployed peoples’ skills and tackles the causes of long-term unemployment.

“I agree we need to get people back to work but the best way of doing that is by helping them, not punishing them.”

Unite said the Coalition’s scheme ‘gives a new meaning to incompetence’.

General secretary Len McCluskey said: “Cait Reilly is a hero for challenging this flawed scheme.

“The back-to-work scheme was exploitative, cruel and a total waste of the talents of our young people.

“There was never any evidence to support the scheme. In fact studies from the US and guidance given to the UK government showed that these schemes have no record in finding people paid employment.”

In the wake of the unanimous ruling by three appeal judges, critics have warned that ministers must abandon current welfare-to-work policies, or run the risk of creating new loopholes in minimum wage legislation.

PCS – which represents almost 80,000 DWP and JobCentres staff – says its members will now offer guidance and support to any claimants affected by the ruling, including those whom it says have been unjustly sanctioned.

UNISON assistant general secretary, Karen Jennings, said: “Multi million pound companies receiving free labour are the only winners of the Tory back to work programmes.

“The losers are those who are forced into jobs that, in many cases, have nothing to do with their qualifications, or the jobs they are looking for.

“By seriously undercutting existing paid staff, the plans could damage wage and employment growth.

“What our country desperately needs to get our economy back on track is more people working in real jobs, and getting paid properly for doing so. It is time for the government to turn its full attention to cutting the dole queues.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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