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Work Experience is Not "Slavery" ... but

Today has seen the long awaited ruling regarding DWP's work placement schemes, and whether they are slavery or forced labour.

A Judicial review was sought at the end of 2011 by Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson who challenged the validity of government schemes requiring jobseekers to participate in work experience or lose their benefits, claiming such schemes violated their human rights and were tantamount to slavery. They were also challenging the legality of the schemes themselves eg because SBWA or CAP (or even the Work Programme for that matter) isn't specifically cited in legislation and the lack of a published policy regarding the programmes.

In a rare display of common sense in the world of law, the Honourable Mr Judge Foskett has ruled that requiring participation in the schemes does not breach human rights and that the associated regulations are lawful. He stated that:

"........ the [sector based work academy] scheme, and indeed the [Community Action Programme], are a very long way removed from the kind of colonial exploitation of labour that led to the formulation of Article 4. The Convention is, of course, a living instrument, capable of development to meet modern conditions, and views may reasonably differ about the merits of a scheme that requires individuals to “work for their benefits” as a means of assisting them back into the workplace. However, characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to “slavery” or “forced labour” seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking."

Judge Foskett also found that sufficient information was available to jobseekers regarding the schemes but did also rule that Cait Reilly had not been supplied with written notice required and that the information regarding sanctions given to Jamieson Wilson was inadequate, so this was far from a wholesale victory for DWP.

Iain Duncan Smith was quick to voice his delight at the decision, stating:

"Comparing our initiatives to slave labour is not only ridiculous but insulting to people around the world facing real oppression.  Thousands of young people across the country are taking part in our schemes and gaining the vital skills and experience needed to help them enter the world of work – it is making a real difference to people's lives."

While the Judge found in DWP's favour, he stated that the clarity of the letters which warn claimants of a potential sanction should they fail to participate in the schemes without good reason need to be improved, in particular being more explicit about the length of sanction that may be applied and the appeals process in the event that the jobseeker is sanctioned.  DWP are now appealing this aspect of the judgement .... we would personally quit while we're ahead!

The media headlines will no doubt focus on the human rights aspect of this case, but for those who wish to take the time to read the judgement, there is an awful lot more to it that DWP should be taking on board.  For example, some of the details relating to the sanction process and the way in which these two complainants were communicated with are quite damning.  We would like to see Iain Duncan Smith and DWP taking a moment to reflect seriously on the whole judgement and look at how the overall processes can be improved.  If us welfare to work professionals find it confusing, what hope does the layman or woman have? 

Click here for the full judgement.  

6 August 2012


Update 7 August - All parties were given leave to appeal in respect of the grounds upon which they lost, with submissions to be received by 17 August, responded to by 29 August 2012.  Click here for further information.

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