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Poundland’s graduate shelf-stacker wins back-to-work ‘slavery’ appeal

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Three judges in London have ruled key elements of the government’s back-to-work schemes are unlawful and have quashed them. 

 
University graduate Cait Reilly has won her Court of Appeal claim that requiring her to work for free at a Poundland discount store was unlawful. 
 
Reilly had been claiming jobseekers’ benefits since 2011 after she failed to find work after graduating in 2010.
 
In November 2011, she had to leave her voluntary work at a local museum and work unpaid at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham, under a scheme known as the “sector-based work academy”. She was told that if she did not carry out the work placement she would lose her jobseeker’s allowance.
 
Miss Reilly complained that she was made to work at the budget retail store and complete “menial tasks” such as sweeping the floors and stocking shelves.
 
Three judges at the Court of Appeal unanimously found the unpaid scheme was legally flawed after Reilly claimed the regulations violated article four of the European Convention on Human Rights.
 
Lord Justice Pill said the regulations must be quashed since their central purpose was to impose ‘requirements’ on jobseeker’s allowance claimants and sanctions for failing to comply.
 
Reilly said she was delighted with the judgement.  "I brought this case because I knew it was wrong when I was prevented from doing my voluntary work in a museum and forced to work in Poundland for free for two weeks," she said. "Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time as the experience did not help me get a job."
 
She added: "I hope the government will now take this opportunity to rethink its strategy and do something which actually builds on young unemployed people’s skills and tackles the causes of long-term unemployment."
 
Senior Government sources labelled the court’s decision as “odd” and said they want to toughen up the rules despite the criticism from the judiciary.Officials are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision.
 
Solicitor Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers argued: "Today’s judgment sends [Work and Pensions Secretary] Iain Duncan Smith back to the drawing board to make fresh regulations which are fair and comply with the court’s ruling.
 
‘Until that time nobody can be lawfully forced to participate in schemes affected such as the Work Programme and the Community Action Programme."
 
She added: "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."
 
But a spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said it has “no intention of giving back money to anyone who has had their benefits removed because they refused to take getting into work seriously”.
 
Trades union Unite hailed the judgement as a victory. "This government is determined to give incompetence a new meaning on a daily basis. Cait Reilly is a hero for challenging this flawed scheme," said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.
 
"The back-to-work scheme was exploitative, cruel and a total waste of the talents of our young people. There was never any evidence to support the scheme. In fact studies from the US and guidance given to the UK government showed that these schemes have no record in finding people paid employment. Yet the coalition still pressed ahead with a scheme designed on the back of a postage stamp.
 
"The government must now ditch this forced labour scheme for big business and focus on creating real jobs to help give one million young unemployed people a real future."
 
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