Court: Govt back-to-work programme is forced labour

By Ian Dunt

The government scheme which forced a woman to work for Poundland for a month without pay breached laws banning slavery and forced labour, the court of appeal found today.

The ruuling could effectively quash the government's work experience programme, which forced benefit recipients to do unpaid work for profitable companies or risk losing their entitlements.

Cait Reilly, 23, and Jamieson Wilson, 40, were subject to a form of forced labour which breached article four of the European convention on human rights, three judges unanimously ruled.

"Today's judgment sends Iain Duncan Smith back to the drawing board to make fresh regulations which are fair and comply with the court's ruling," solicitor Tessa Gregory said.

"All of those who have been stripped of their benefits have a right to claim the money back that has been unlawfully taken away from them."

Reilly, a geology graduate from Birmingham University, had to leave her voluntary work at a local museum and stack shelves and clean floors for no pay for Poundland, which has a turnover of £500 million.

She was told that if she refused she would lose her jobseekers' allowance.

Wilson had his jobseekers' allowance stripped for six months after he refused to clean furniture for 30-hours a week.

As a qualified mechanic, he felt the work was not connected to his career and would not help him re-enter the job market

The programme has been hugely controversial, with even the Department for Work and Pension's (DWP) own research finding it has zero effect helping people get jobs.

A DWP spokesperson said: "We are disappointed and surprised at the court's decision on our regulations and will appeal.

"The court has backed the right to require people to take part in programmes which help get them into work."