Workfare: why yesterday’s legal victory wasn’t as big as it looks


by Septicisle    
8:40 am - February 14th 2013

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Before everyone celebrates the “blowing of a big hole” in the government’s workfare schemes, it’s worth noting that yesterday’s victory for Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson at the Royal Courts of Justice was on a rather narrow point of law.

It wasn’t that the schemes themselves were unlawful, as that original challenge was thrown out last year. Rather, the three-judge panel found that the rules for sanctioning those who refused to take part in or failed to finish their placements had not been properly defined in law (PDF).

While this is potentially good news for those who have either had their benefit reduced or temporarily stopped as a result of not complying with the rules as they stood, as they could be in line for a rebate, the government is to appeal and so it’s likely to be months before any more is known.

Despite what was thought originally, Reilly was neither on mandatory work activity or the work experience scheme when she was forced on pain of losing her JSA to work at Poundland. She was in fact on the “sector-based work academy” programme, which is voluntary, or at least is up until the point you decide to go on it. After that, regardless of whether it turns out not to be what you expected or completely pointless in terms of helping you get a job, if you then don’t complete the placement you’re liable to be sanctioned.

If anything Wilson’s proposed placement is even more troubling. Having been on JSA for two years after losing his job as a HGV driver, he was to be put on the community action programme, where he would have worked 30 hours a week for 6 months purely for his JSA. Indeed, although the placement was for 6 months to start with, it was essentially open-ended; it would only end if he found a job or dropped his claim.

That working 30 hours a week on pain of losing his JSA would drastically limit his chances of finding a job or attending interviews seems to be the point rather than a flaw: after 2 years you are essentially being written off, regardless of the reasons behind your failure to find a job. Either you work for far below the minimum wage indefinitely, or you’re deemed worthy of nothing.

The only difference it seems between mandatory work activity and the community action programme is that CAP becomes all but compulsory after two or three years, while you can be placed on MWA at any time and the placements are shorter. Both are equally objectionable, especially when the definition of “work of benefit to the community” is stretched to the limit.

This is the ultimate objection to the vast majority of the government’s workfare schemes. Some of the firms that were using them to blatantly fill positions which would otherwise have been at least minimum wage jobs have been forced through shame into dropping out.

At best it currently looks as though the government is using JSA claimants as below minimum wage labour to keep the jobless figures down, while at worst it’s writing off the long-term unemployed as fit only to work unpaid. What a thoroughly despicable paradox.

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About the author
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at Septicisle.info on politics and general media mendacity.
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Reader comments


1. Iain Duncan Smith

Let me be very clear – I will personally see to it that every one of you pointless, bone idle, lazy, workshy scroungers are hauled into the Jobcentre EVERY FUCKING DAY!!!

1

Now that will create some real jobs won’t it?

Hmm, yes. So that’s the outcomes available when you go to claim benefits – coercion, sanctions, punishments, and the right of the DWP to give your labour away free to the private sector.

And if you’re a disabled claimant, well, hasn’t ol’ IDS got some surprises lined up for you!

Depressing reading.

Unending workfare should alone be cause enough for people to be out on the streets, but it seems the unions aren’t really interested. Where is the solidarity with the anti workfare campaigns? Without it, those campaigns just get dismissed by the media as crusties and trustafarians or just loony lefty types.

Isn’t the CAP meant to be work for the benefit of the community? What was Mr Wilson sent(enced) to do?

ghost: He would have been working for a firm renovating furniture, although it’s not clear whether it was an entirely social enterprise or not. It seems his daily task would have been washing sofas, at least according to the Graun. In his statement as to why he was refusing the placement he wrote:

“If I was offered a training course that could lead to some concrete benefit, I would jump at the chance. But this … has not been arranged by looking at my needs and what is keeping me from entering the job market.”

Which is exactly the point. Putting someone on one of these schemes is far easier and cheaper than doing that. There may well be a few hard cases where the CAP could help people back into work or force them to re-engage, but they will be few and far between.

A couple of points.

It wasn’t that the schemes themselves were unlawful

Of course they weren’t. Under our current system of an executive unconstrained by a bill of rights, nothing they decree CAN be unlawful.

Including state sponsored slavery.

it currently looks as though the government is using JSA claimants as below minimum wage labour to keep the jobless figures down

That doesn’t make sense.

Having jobs done by unemployed substitutes artificially raises jobless figures. It doesn’t lower them.

Basically, the DWP knows there isn’t the jobs available for everyone who wants one, they also know kicking fuck out of benefit’s claimants plays well with the general public, since they can’t actually do this because of pesky laws they’ve instead settled for getting people ‘off-benefits’ via lies, bullying, sanctions and paying all the money that might have gone to those with fuck all to the poverty pimps like A4E. Also once universal credit rolls out those on low incomes, not just the unemployed, will soon be subject to such treatment.

Makes you proud to be British.

@ Septcisle

OK point taken.

You are suggesting job creation statistics are fraudulent and I don’t dispute this.

My argument was that getting coerced benefit claimants to carry out work that would otherwise be done out by waged employees does not boost real employment.

Under our current system of an executive unconstrained by a bill of rights, nothing they decree CAN be unlawful.

Unequivocally untrue since 2002.

11. Robin Levett

@Septicisle OP:

It wasn’t that the schemes themselves were unlawful, as that original challenge was thrown out last year. Rather, the three-judge panel found that the rules for sanctioning those who refused to take part in or failed to finish their placements had not been properly defined in law (PDF).

While I very much agree that this decision isn’t one that is going to have much effect in the medium to long-term, the passage above is wrong.

The judgment delivered on Tuesday was that of the Court of Appeal on appeal from Foskett J’s decision last year.

The decision very much found that the various workfare schemes created by IDS essentially by DWP internal circulars were unlawful. The legislation required any such schemes to be prescribed in Regulations; and the CA held that IDS just putting a name in the Regs and making up the detail as he went along was unlawful – it’s in the judgemnt from para 51 onwards. The effect of that was that no sanction could be imposed for non-cooperation with any individual scheme, but the decision was far broader than that (and meets pagar’s objection at #6).

Robin: Noted. I did read the judgement, but even by the standards of legalese it’s as clear as mud.

Before the announcement of the Job Guarantee, Labour was full-on behind the idea of workfare for every member of the long-term unemployed not on the Future Jobs scheme. When Gordon Brown became Chancellor in 1997, he boasted about “… shutting down the something for nothing society…” and with his little helpers got the ball rolling as far as demonising benefit claimants goes: New Labour’s New Deal pioneered workfare by forcing people to undergo a minimum 13 week period of unpaid work called the “Intensive Activity Period”.

Labour brought workfare and the demonising of benefit claimants to these shores, so why all this holier than thou “aren’t the Tories awful” jazz?


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