Welfare to work schemes not 'forced labour' says High Court judge
The High Court has decided that unpaid welfare to work schemes, from which a number of charities had pulled out, do not amount to ‘forced labour’.
Two Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, placed on different schemes, challenged the validity of the Jobseeker's Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011) on grounds 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 legislation and claimants can lose benefits if they do not take part in the programmes.
Mr Justice Foskett, sitting at the High Court in London on 7 August 2012, rejected their argument saying that portraying the scheme as such seemed "a long way from contemporary thinking." However, he did conclude that there had been breaches of the 2011 regulations in both cases and that the written warnings that they could lose benefits were “too complicated.
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.”
After the judgment, a DWP spokeswoman 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.
Lawyers for the pair claimed later that the errors exposed by the case meant that thousands of jobless claimants stripped of their benefits could now be entitled to reimbursements.
Both sides have been given leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal against the parts of the ruling that went against them.