Today is a day of good news for people who have been forced to take part in one of the Government’s back-to-work schemes. University of Birmingham graduate Cait Reilly has won her Court of Appeal claim that the Government’s back-to-work scheme that required her to work for free at a Poundland store breached laws on forced labour.
Cait was told back in November 2011 that she had to leave her voluntary work at a museum in Birmingham and work unpaid at Poundland. She was told that if she refused to do so she would lose her jobseeker’s allowance.
Her adviser at the job centre told her about an open day for people interested in potential retail jobs and she was told that if she was chosen there would be a one week training period and then she would be guaranteed an interview. However, it soon became apparent that the training period could last up to six weeks.
In a piece she wrote for the Guardian, Cait said “I explained to my adviser my reservations about taking part. I was already in the middle of a work experience placement that I had organised for myself (and which was more relevant to the museum career I hoped to pursue).”
Cait was under the impression that her ‘training’ was optional and was pretty surprised to discover that she was required to attend or risk her benefits being cancelled or cut. She worked for two weeks at Poundland stacking shelves and cleaning floors but ultimately came out with nothing.
In January 2012, Cait launched a legal challenge to the regulations that required her and thousands of other jobseekers to undertake these work placements. Initially, her claim that the scheme was equal to slave labour was rejected in August last year. But, as Cait’s lawyer said, “This judgment sends Iain Duncan Smith back to the drawing board to make fresh regulations which are fair and comply with the court’s ruling. Until that time nobody can be lawfully forced to participate in schemes affected.”
Cait said that she was delighted with the ruling, claiming that making her give up her voluntary work and sending her to Poundland was wrong. She said that she views the two weeks she had to spend there as a ‘complete waste’ as they did not help her to get a job. She said: “I was left with no time to do my voluntary work or search for other jobs.”
Cait added that she hoped the government would reconsider how it tackled long-term unemployment. She said: “I agree we need to get people back to work, but the best way of doing that is by helping them, not punishing them.”
The legal process in this case will continue as the government are looking to appeal today’s judgement. Cait’s solicitors are confident that they will ultimately win this case and they said that those who were ‘stripped of their benefits have a right to claim the money back that has been unlawfully taken away from them’.