Government work schemes were dealt a big blow yesterday following a ruling that the Department for Work and Pensions had exceeded its powers in its use of unpaid work schemes. The ruling found that this was legally flawed and means there is now the opportunity for thousands of others who had been on the scheme to also seek compensation.
The Guardian gives full coverage of the case, which had initially been brought by a 24-year old, Cait Reilly, a geology graduate, who was made to work in Poundland, while on a scheme.
She argued that working in Poundland had not had not helped her find a full time position, that she was unable to carry out valuable voluntary work and that the only ones to benefit from the scheme was Poundland itself.
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.”
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.”
The PCS union said that its members who staff jobcentres and advice centres would “offer guidance and support to all those affected by the ruling, including those who have been unjustly sanctioned.”
Matthew Oakley, head of economics and social policy at Policy Exchange, said the ruling “should not be seen as some sort of body blow to the government’s welfare plans.
“The main problem in this particular instance was miscommunication of the requirements and penalties for not complying, rather than the policy itself.”
Having worked in the voluntary sector for many years before becoming an MEP, including holding the chief executive position in two national organisations, I have had first-hand experience of the value of work carried out on a voluntary basis. I have, indeed, done this myself on occasion. However, what the DWP attempted to do is not acceptable voluntary work; it is little short of slavery.