Coffee House

The government’s work experience scheme isn’t headed for the plug hole

13 February 2013

9:00 AM

13 February 2013

9:00 AM

Depending on which paper you read this morning, the government’s work experience scheme is either heading for the plug hole or going from strength to strength. The Guardian has an editorial praising Cait Reilly, the geology graduate who fought the workfare scheme she found herself on, The Telegraph says workfare can ‘still do the job for Britain’, and The Sun carries a bullish piece by Iain Duncan Smith on why the scheme is not ‘slave labour’.

The problem is that everyone has managed to interpret yesterday’s Court of Appeal judgement as favouring their own view of the scheme. Reilly emerged yesterday with her lawyer to claim victory, but the Work and Pensions department seemed relatively unperturbed, too. This case was well-known for the claim that putting people on jobseeker’s allowance on placements in Poundland was ‘forced labour’, so the assumption was that the government had lost the case on this point. This would have ended the work experience scheme for good.

But the court judgement actually backs the schemes overall. It says:

‘A policy of imposing requirements on persons receiving a substantial weekly sum, potentially payable for life, is readily understandable. Equally, the means sought to achieve that end are understandable; claimants should be required to participate in arrangements which may improve their prospects of obtaining remunerative employment.’

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It added that ‘the entitlement to receive the weekly sum should depend on’ claimants co-operating with the government’s attempts to help them seek employment.

Where the government fell down was on the technical point that it hadn’t described these schemes in its regulations, and those regulations were ruled unlawful. This is awkward for the government, but not terribly awkward, as the useful thing about regulations is they are easy to change. So before the day was out, ministers had already tabled new regulations on the government’s work experience programme, even though the department is appealing the judgement.

The real problem is that the department may, after this judgement, have to repay the benefits that it docked from those who refused to take part in these schemes. But a DWP spokeswoman was pretty bullish on this, too, arguing that she didn’t expect the government to have to pay this money in the end:

‘We have a range of options that we’ll bring before Parliament. We are just working through with lawyers on what we have to do.’

So whether you view this as a victory or a loss for the government depends on your view of its welfare-to-work policies. If you disagree with the work experience scheme on the principle that paying someone benefits and expecting them to do work experience as a means of helping them into the workplace is ‘forced labour’, then you’ll be disappointed as this was rejected. You might be pleased that ministers have been ordered to tighten up the foundations for the scheme, and it isn’t helpful for the government to have weaknesses identified by a court. But if you expect this scheme to end as a result of Cait Reilly’s court action, then you probably need to re-read the judgement. If you’re a fan of the schemes, well, your biggest worry might be that the department still has a fight on its hands to avoid paying back the benefits. But the schemes are still here, and not heading down the plug hole any time soon.

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Show comments
  • dharush

    “expecting them to do work experience as a means of helping them into the workplace”

    Working at poundland……………

    Isabel you have made the wrong career choice, you seem much more suited to stand-up than serious journalism.

  • Jeremy Hower

    What is wrong with this country? Blacklisting, the most vulnerable being labeled as scroungers, off-shoring jobs and wealth, the rich effectively deciding how much tax they pay, socialism for the rich and dog-eat-dog capitalism for the poor. Crony capitalism all the way it seems. Why should these companies be getting workers for nothing? It is a gross abuse of the welfare system to treat benefits as a wage and demoralise people by saying they should be grateful to work for them. Benefits are not a wage, but a social security system designed to prevent you falling into destitution. That’s why we pay tax. Nothing is free. Would you be willing to pay twice or as many times over for your pension or hospital treatment based on the whim of civil servants? Would you do your job for benefits? That is where we are headed, as they turn their propaganda machine to work on YOU and YOUR family.

    It’s about time we had a real party that represents the interests of workers in this country, not one that is happy to carry on with the neo-liberal agenda of privatisation, low wages, gross inequality and mass immigration.

  • wildejamey

    Co-operating with the government does not mean taking unpaid jobs leading nowhere. If you read the judgement properly, this is not about a few cosmetic changes in the regulations but the fact that the government tried to sneak through schemes under an umbrella provision bypassing parliament, evading scrutiny as to whether they complied with the objectives of the primary legislation. The work schemes have to be designed to actually achieve the objective of assisting claimants into employment. It is obviously absurd to assign graduates who have shown the work habit needed to study for a 3 year degree to menial labour that will advance their employment prospects not one jot to “get them into the work habit” (the phrase used to justify one scheme). Ditto older workers made redundant who have held down a job for years. These sort of schemes may suit school leavers with nil experience. But clearly they do not fulfil the objectives set out by the primary legislation. Moreover, the court obviously wished to evade the can of worms of breaches in Art. 4 (forced labour) of the human rights provisions. But the case referred to near the end of the leading judgement is distinguishable from the recent cases here and – subject to procedural issues – seems to leave the government wide open to challenge on human rights grounds. This may not be what the government wants to hear, but it ignores or seeks to circumvent this judgement at its peril.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charles-Hedges/100001511186412 Charles Hedges

    Mark Hoban should be hung.

    • Robert Taggart

      Farehamers (?) please note !

  • Smithersjones2013

    Only this hapless incompetent dysfunctional government could have accidentally reintroduced slavery as an unforeseen by-product of its policy. Wilberforce and Pitt will be turning in their graves.

    Some mothers certainly do ave ’em:

    http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/frankspencerohcrap_6242.jpg

  • FrenchNewsonlin

    Small niggle: Judges produce judgments. The troublemaker in question will properly face her Day of Judgement in due course or possibly already has as far as her future employability is concerned.

    • David Ossitt

      You are absolutely right of course; no sane employer in the private sector would touch her with a bargepole.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charles-Hedges/100001511186412 Charles Hedges

        The glee with which commentators line up to refuse this woman employment speaks volumes about the climate of bigotry in the private sector. Blacklist builders, punish whistle-blowers, and we can celebrate another Mid Staffs. And you will all be cheering. Mark Hoban the silk cushioned liar should be hanged.

  • Robert Taggart

    Behind every scheme there be a schemer !

    The only winners where any DWP scheme be concerned are those who manage said schemes – people who themselves are not fit for work – economically productive employment that is.
    Either way, taxpayers are muppets and ‘civil’ servants are lame-brained.

  • CharlietheChump

    The sad little woman got a job, good, I hope Morrisons can value her work. If people want to pursue a career but there are absolutely no vacancies (the museum sector is unlikely to expand in the next 5 years) the Job Centre must force the unemployed to rethink after a reasonable period and, if necessary, insist that they prove their willingness (or confirm their unwillingness) to work by imposing a work plan in return for tax payers to cough up their benefit.
    I know the woman was working unpaid in her chosen field but was probably supported by other state benefits which again must be tested against willingness to work.

    I would love to be an investment banker but have absolutely no qualifications and job opportunities are now limited I believe, so I’ll just remain a frustrated and under paid judge…

  • Godwin The Law Maker

    I was under the impression that this woman had found unpaid work experience herself which she genuinely wanted to do, but was made to give it up by her dole office because they had found her the Poundland role and wanted their own figures to look good. Which is where the coercion came in. If this is true then good for her, I hope more people do the same.

  • http://twitter.com/Greenslime3 Andrew Taylor

    I feel sorry for her. I don’t know for sure, and maybe she did it all off her own bat, but I’d wager that she was put up to this by some union or lefty activist who believes that you should just collect the job seeker’s allowance and sit on the sofa until a job you want at the pay you want comes along.

    I suspect she might struggle to find any job now. She’ll just be seen as a bolshy trouble maker.

  • jazz6o6

    “……….But the schemes are still here, not heading down the plug hole any time soon………..”

    What kind of grammar is that ? I expect better from the Spectator.

    Why not say “..The schemes are expected to continue..” ?

  • David Ossitt

    Cait Reilly, just look and examine her face, look at the eyes the set of the mouth, this is a deeply unpleasant young woman.

    In my opinion she is lacking in self awareness and has not got the generosity of soul to ever be truly happy, I instinctively loath her type.

    I expect that she would feel comfortable in the company of telemachus.

    • DWWolds

      I have considerable experience of working with people in career change and development situations. As part of that I have a record of getting young graduates who are somewhat lost in the marketplace into jobs. Most of them have progressed to successful careers and some of have done remarkably well.

      There is, however, no way I would have taken Cait Reilly on as a client. The impression I have of her is that she is virtually unemployable expect in some victim based left wing role. No employer who had to generate an income to be able to pay staff salaries at the end of the month would even consider employing her.

      • HooksLaw

        Correct.
        This woman has not campaigned to get a loophole closed but to get the right to be paid benefits in return for nothing.

        • 2trueblue

          She wants to be paid for what she wants to do, despite the fact that no one will pay her to do what she wants to do. She needs to grow up and realise that the real world does not work like that. She has now created her own problem, who would want to employ her? She has collected herself a reputation as a troublemaker.

          • DWWolds

            Spot on!

  • vvputout

    This is the latest case in which entirely proper government schemes have been struck down because civil servants have failed to consider basic legal requirements, such as those relating to consultations or equality impact assessments or, as in this case, what the primary legislation actually says. A stark example of such incompetence is the BSF shambles.

    The civil servants who have so failed the public must pay with their jobs.

    In the meantime, judicial review must not be restricted – it protects us all against the arrogance of a public sector which thinks it’s above the law.

  • McRobbie

    Bet she gets job experience now, probably as an unpaid labour party advisor.

    • telemachus

      The Party welcomes all who challenge the repressionist Coalition Rules

      If you have not read the Guardian may I highlight a few bon mots:

      “Every new benefit rule is justified by the cliche about forcing claimants to “play by the rules”. It would take a real Scrooge to accuse Cait Reilly of not doing so. The shy 24-year-old had hoped to work in museums after graduating in geology, and set herself up with a placement – initially working for the minimum wage, and latterly unpaid – to kickstart a career. The jobcentre, however, had other ideas – and packed her off to Poundland to graft for free. …… But the point is that Whitehall had assumed a free hand in foisting arbitrary, harsh conditions on unemployed people. Cait Reilly has caught it out – for failing to play by the rules.”

      • telemachus

        PS

        The government claims that firms are doing jobless people a favour. Mark Hoban say the schemes provide “valuable work experience”.

        Many dispute this. But if it is valuable, presumably those on the schemes would be helping firms make profit. So why shouldn’t they be paid for it?

        • http://twitter.com/Tory_lee30 lee taylor

          They’re being paid with experience and a chance to prove to potential employers that they have some work ethic.
          There’s no more valueable currency in the jobs market than experience and work ethic.

          • treborc

            yes and companies are getting free labour especially pound land which I suspect would be paying a pound in wages if it could.

            • HooksLaw

              And the people who like poundlands prices? Stuff them then?

            • http://twitter.com/Tory_lee30 lee taylor

              Not true. Whilst the benefit claiment is on the placement they no longer get their JSA from the jobcentre and no longer have to sign on as they get their JSA as well as travel expences from the Work Programme provider who in turn get paid by the company providing the placement.
              For instance back in 2000 when I was on a year long YTS scheme working in a warehouse the company I was working for was paying my YTS provider £82 a week who then paid me my £52 a week plus £10 a week travel expenses out of this payment and they then kept the rest as profit.
              Furthermore the WP provider only gets paid by the government if it leads to a permanent fully paid job lasting a least six months so if it leads to nothing then they don’t get paid therefore it costs us taxpayers nothing.

              • CharlietheChump

                Excellent system

              • treborc

                So if they work 40 hours they will be paid at £6.30 otherwise who ever pays the money it’s still JSA

      • DWWolds

        Whilst “Grafting” for Poundland she would have received her job seekers allowance, courtesy of the taxpayers, so she would not have been doing so for “free”.

        • HooksLaw

          She is clearly a trouble maker and any employer would be a fool to employ her. I cannot see she has done herself any favours.

          Certainly as someone said prime material to work at labour HQ telling us all what to think. it makes you wonder what the motivation is.

        • http://twitter.com/Tory_lee30 lee taylor

          Actually as I say above they do not receive their JSA from the taxpayer whilst they are on the placement as that is actually paid by the WP provider who in turn only get paid by the taxpayer via the DWP if it leads to a fully paid job lasting at least six months.

          • CharlietheChump

            What other benefits can they claim though??

          • wildejamey

            Of course, but most of the contributors here are not interested in facts.

          • Isaac Phiri

            This is incorrect. Work placement candidates under any programme receive their JSA, housing benefit and any other benefits in full whilst they are on placement. All of the numerous back to work programmes follow this model. Travel will also be paid either by the job centre or the back to work provider, and in a number of cases expenses for lunch etc will also be partially covered. If there are child care costs these too will be covered.

            The idea that this is working for free is absurd. If they were paid they would lose all benefit entitlments including housing and would have to re-apply for all benefits once their placement is over. This is a financially secure opportunitiy to gain work experiance that a future employer will be able to relate to. Any opposition to these opportunities only result in keeping those who want to work poor, and continues the social issues that this country faces.

      • HooksLaw

        Aw bless the poor sad little girl.
        Poundland – dealing with people face to face. Do people in museums lock themselves in cupboards? Are people in museums not expected to deal with the vicissitudes of life.
        You are a total tiresome and lying dipstick

        • CharlietheChump

          The choice of a career that offers no chance of employment is a blind, this is a set up by unions opposing the tax payer requiring proof of willingness and availability to work.

      • CharlietheChump

        Easy to pick an unemployable career “unpaid volunteer” (= Labour) and keep sucking on the socialist benefits teat.

    • David Lindsay

      Reclaim workfare benefits from the Conservative Party.

      Funded as it is by the companies to which these unlawful schemes gave forced labour free of charge.

  • johnfaganwilliams

    It’s a bit off message but has anyone else read the Guardian today? It must be the most left-wing edition since the last Daily Worker came out. Apart from their one-sided interpretation of this case – they’ve backed Ms Reilly “shy and retiring” from the outset, Seamus Milne’s piece about Michael Gove is breathtakingly biased. Not a word about how the education system has declined under Labour rule – which is factually easy to prove – but a bewildering litany of abuse, conjecture and myth. And he’s a former leader of the NUJ! I’m not easily shocked but – well have a read.

    • http://twitter.com/Tory_lee30 lee taylor

      None of that surprises me one bit.

      • HooksLaw

        Yes, but fair doos though to the Guardian it knows which side its bread is buttered on. The the useless Telegraph is run by a gang of office boys which these days thinks the best way to protect conservative principles is to endlessly attack the conservative party.

        Its pretty disgusting to think about the type of person that owns the Telegraph these days.

        • http://twitter.com/Tory_lee30 lee taylor

          I gave up all hope with seeing any sense on their pages a long time ago.

        • niav

          That’s a pretty strange view. Perhaps the Telegraph just chooses to (generally) stick to Conservative principles which is why they’re at odds with the current metro-liberal leadership of the so-called Conservative party?

    • 2trueblue

      Anyone who is describes this woman as ‘shy and retiring’ should keep an eye on Ms Reilly.

    • CharlietheChump

      The Grauniad never accepted that Education was failing

      • johnfaganwilliams

        Fair point – they do live in some weird Douglas Adams style parallel universe don’t they? Meanwhile in the real world Britain plummeted down the international league tables for, I think, every single determinator. As an employer I meet regular representatives of, maybe, the top 5% of the current output. You know the ones with 2:1 degrees. Had one in yesterday applying for a position. Arrived in jeans and shirt hanging out over them with ensemble finished off with dirty trainers. Gave him a test involving the apostrophe – I work with the written word – not a clue. His degree? English! Quite appalling but sadly not that unusual.

        • CharlietheChump

          Presumably he/she/it departed to commence a lucrative career at the Grauniad?

    • 2trueblue

      The reason the Gaurdian is still in circulation is because all the copies are bought by the BBC. That is why they are both in the same page.

  • http://twitter.com/TheRedBladder The Red Bladder

    So we hard-working, tax-paying families will have to continue subsidising these scroungers who will not pay their workforce the going rate! Well that’s hardly going to distort the market at all!

    • http://twitter.com/Tory_lee30 lee taylor

      Did you not read the article?
      It makes it very clear that the schemes will continue as all the government need to do is make some changes to the regulation that implements the policy which they have already done yesterday.

      • vvputout

        Largely agreed, but if the civil servants who drafted the regulations had read the enabling Act properly in the first place the taxpayer would not now be facing a bill for legal costs (including costs in the Supreme Court if the appeal thereto fails).

        They should be facing disciplinary action. A few sackings might have a salutary effect in Whitehall.

    • Chris lancashire

      We hard-working, tax-paying families are completely happy to see benefit claimants required to do something in return for their generous benefits. And I suspect Poundland would be quite happy to not bother with reluctant, unwilling, sulky workers foisted on them for two weeks.

      • http://twitter.com/TheRedBladder The Red Bladder

        That thing that just flew over your head was my point. Just try competing with a company large enough to have volunteered to join the scheme and thus has a much lower unit labour cost than you do. I’m sure you’d chuckle all day long!

        • Chris lancashire

          I do compete and I don’t pay minimum wage before you ask. And the few work placements we have had are more trouble than they are worth.

          • CharlietheChump

            The fact is that it is not worth the trouble employing anybody – in monetary and emotional terms – and hasn’t been for over 5 years, taxes, regulations, hats off to anyone who ventures into this cess pit

        • Chris lancashire

          And I suspect you don’t have the first idea about “unit labour cost”.

          • http://twitter.com/TheRedBladder The Red Bladder

            I expect you’re right, you should get yourself involved in business whilst you still know it all.

            • Chris lancashire

              Got a very successful one already thanks.

        • DWWolds

          ~Do you really think that giving people like this silly woman work experience is cost free to the company concerned. See Chris lancashire’s comments below.

      • CharlietheChump

        Very nice of Poundland to offer. I will spend a pound there on Saturday.

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