DWP’s unpaid work schemes ruled legal
By Richard Johnstone | 6 August 2012
Two of the government’s welfare to work schemes have been ruled lawful after a High Court judge rejected claims that the programmes equated to forced labour.
Judicial review cases were brought against the Department for Work and Pensions programmes, which ministers say help unemployed people gain the skills they need to find work.
Two Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, placed on different schemes, challenged the validity of the 2011 regulations underpinning them, arguing that forced work breached their human rights. Both the Community Action Programme, which provides mandatory community work for the very long-term unemployed, and the Sector-Based Work Academies scheme, which provides work experience and training, were established under the Jobseeker's Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011.
Claimants can lose some benefits if they do not take part in the programmes, but today's judgment found that requiring participation does not breach human rights.
Mr Justice Foskett stated: ‘It does have to be said that the SBWA scheme, and indeed the CAP, are a very long way removed from the kind of colonial exploitation of labour that led to the formulation of Article 4 [of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery]’.
He added: ‘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.’
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith welcomed the judgment.
He said: ‘We are delighted, although not surprised, that the judge agrees our schemes are not forced labour. 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.’
Mr Justice Foskett did find that DWP should improve the clarity of the letters that warn claimants of potential sanctions if they fail to complete the schemes without good reason. Duncan Smith said although the department would appeal the ruling, the department had already revised its standard letters.
The two schemes covered by today’s judgment are separate from the DWP’s main Work Programme, launched in June last year, which aims to help 2.4 million people into work by 2016.