GOVERNMENT’S back-to-work programme was thrown into disarray yesterday after a judge ruled that many schemes that make the unemployed work for free are unlawful.
Graduate Cait Reilly, 24, claimed victory after the Court of Appeal ruled that a programme she took part in – which required her to undertake work experience at Poundland or risk losing her benefits – could not be enforced under existing legislation.
The department for work and pensions (DWP) insisted it would seek permission to take the case to the Supreme Court, as well as putting new legislation before parliament as soon as possible so the schemes can continue.
Three presiding judges dismissed Reilly’s claim that the scheme broke the Human Rights Act ban on forced labour.
However Reilly and unemployed lorry driver Jamie Wilson, 41, successfully argued that the DWP had exceeded its legal powers by not providing enough information about the schemes in primary legislation and failing to provide enough detail to claimants who took part.
“I emphasise that this case is not about the social, economic, political or other merits of the Employment Skills and Enterprise Scheme,” said Sir Stanley Burton, one of the judges responsible for yesterday’s verdict.
He insisted that parliament is “entitled to encourage participation in such schemes by imposing sanctions, in terms of loss of jobseeker’s allowance, on those who, without good cause refuse to participate in a suitable scheme,” but said the existing programmes went beyond what had been agreed by MPs.
Lawyers for Reilly and Wilson said benefits claimants can now leave such schemes without suffering financial penalties. However one of the so-called workfare schemes, Mandatory Work Activity, was passed under specific legislation and is unaffected by the ruling.
DWP minister Mark Hoban said: “The court has backed our right to require people to take part in programmes which will help get them into work. It is ridiculous to say this is forced labour. This ruling ensures we can continue with these important schemes.”