The government's "back to work" schemes, which were challenged by a graduate who was made to work for free at Poundland and an HGV driver made to clean furniture, were legally flawed, the UK's highest court has ruled.

{jcomments on}The supreme court ruled against the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), which was attempting to overturn an earlier verdict by the court of appeal. However the court stopped short of ruling that the regulations constituted forced or compulsory labour, but said the 2011 regulations creating the programme were invalid as they did not contain a sufficiently detailed "prescribed description" of the schemes.

Geology graduate Cait Reilly, 24, who now works for the supermarket chain Morrisons, first disputed the government's employment schemes in January 2012 after working unpaid for Poundland over several weeks at pain of losing jobseeker's allowance.

The judgment would have resulted in the government having to refund £130m to about 250,000 unemployed people for unlawful sanctioning, had it not been for emergency retroactive legislation introduced by Iain Duncan Smith in the spring.

After the introduction of that emergency law, the solicitors Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who represent Reilly and her co-claimant, Jamieson Wilson, an unemployed lorry driver, lodged a judicial review accusing Duncan Smith of conspiring to undermine basic human rights by enacting the retroactive legislation. They say they will continue to pursue that judicial review after their success in the supreme court.

Reilly, a geology graduate from Birmingham, said the secretary of state needed to treat unemployed people with respect. "Jobseekers … are just trying to make something of themselves, like anyone else," she said. "We're not job snobs."

The DWP said it was disappointed that the supreme court had agreed with the court of appeal. It said it had dealt with the matter after introducing emergency legislation in March. Despite the fact that the legislation was subject to judicial review proceedings, it was "very confident" of its validity and would "defend it robustly".

Duncan Smith said: "We have always said that it was ridiculous to claim that our schemes amounted to forced labour, and yet again we have won this argument."

PIL said: "Following today's judgment, any such jobseekers can object to sanctions that have been imposed and seek the repayment of their benefits.

Source: The Guardian

Read the Public Interest Lawyers’ response here



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