Tuesday, 7 August 2012

That court ruling

Everyone who is interested in the treatment of the unemployed will know by now that the court cases brought by the courageous Cait Reilly and Jamie Wilson have failed.  There are two relevant accounts in the Guardian, here and here.  The result was really inevitable, but the reasoning of the judge was interesting.  Mr Justice Foskett said that "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."  Which amounts to "most people don't think it is so it isn't".  I would love to meet the DWP spokeswoman who crowed about the victory.  "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.  Those who oppose this process are actually opposed to hard work and they are harming the life chances of unemployed young people who are trying to get on."  Read that again and remember that this woman is a civil servant who has absolutely no business making pronouncements of this kind.  The judge made it clear that, "In relation to Miss Reilly and to Mr Wilson it is important that it is appreciated that each has been actively looking for work: they have not taken their objections to the overall scheme as a means of avoiding employment and seeking simply to rely on benefits."  What a pity that the woman from the DWP couldn't understand that.

But there was one clear success out of this.  Jamie Wilson's lawyers claimed that the stopping of Wilson's benefit for 6 months was unlawful because the letter the DWP sent out didn't provide clear information.  The tens of thousands of claimants in the same position should be entitled to payments.  The DWP has reacted by both changing the letters and denying that there was anything wrong with the first one.  It could be costly, but a blessing for those who have been left penniless.  There is no clarity at the moment about whether the ruling affects people on all the various free labour schemes.


  1. "Those who oppose this process are actually opposed to hard work..."

    Nonsense! What people object to is hard work WITHOUT:

    A) A wage

    B) Little if any on the job training

    C) A real job at the end of such schemes

    In the world of business one is often told not to price oneself too cheaply. I have been on a few business seminars that have said exactly that. Being cheap may look good on paper and should attract more custom. However, all that happens is people think your products and / or services cannot be much good. Also, some other sod will come along and undercut you (usually a bigger competitor) in a flash.

    As business guru Geoff Burch says in his book 'Going it Alone', you wouldn't hire a cheap brain surgeon. If this is the generally accepted rule in business, why do people wish others to sell themselves so cheaply on a PERSONAL level?

    But such schemes get people up in the morning and give them a real experience of the world of work some say. Okay. However, what about the equally valid experience of being rewarded for a day's effort with a WAGE?

  2. Do I agree with the ruling?...No..Do I accept it,yes but with reservations.This still goes against the NMW,Councils in Wales are raising salaries to over £7 Per Hour as a living wage,so once again a confusing message,what they are stating is a basic amount to live on needs to be this,but in calculating benefits this does not apply.The DWP applauded the "Common Sense" of the ruling on one hand but disagree with the ruling that there paperwork was not fit for purpose,It is like being a little bit pregnant.

  3. "Read that again and remember that this woman is a civil servant who has absolutely no business making pronouncements of this kind."

    Excellent point!
    I thought the Civil Service was supposed to be strictly apolitical. Making a clearly politically biased remark like this should surely be an offence.

  4. I think the Judgement in this case is very interesting.

    In my view, the thing that really went wrong with Cait Reilly was that she was pushed into "volunteering" to help a profit-making commercial enterprise called Poundland when she was already providing voluntary help to a non profit-making museum. Moral anathema but the DWP fell into the moral trap head first, in my view.

    Why didn't the DWP have the imagination to get the museum to take Cait Reilly on as a full-time voluntary worker for however many weeks were involved? Nobody could have raised any moral objections to that and Cait Reilly would have been grateful to the DWP for using its own clout in this way, so as to give her the kind of "work experience" that she really wanted.

    No future employer would fail to be impressed by the fact that a young geology graduate chose to go and get some relevant-to-geology voluntary work experience in a museum. A future employer would applaud Miss Reilly, the DWP and Ministers for having had the common-sense and the imagination to have organised that on Miss Reilly's behalf.

    Alternatively, what is wrong with sending a geology graduate to do some voluntary work experience for a company that has a genuine need for some geologists? For example, BP have a huge geology department, I feel sure, and I'll bet that plenty of MPs and senior civil servants weasel their own geology-graduate children into doing unpaid "internships" for BP. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well - unless Ministers and some of their senior civil servants really want to demonstrate the inequality of opportunity that they themselves foster so energetically.

    The whole Cait Reilly fiasco demonstrates a complete lack of imagination and common-sense by Ministers and the DWP's head honchos alike, in my opinion. What is wrong with getting the DWP to hire some properly trained careers advisers to help the youngsters like Cait Reilly? Doing that might well have avoided considerable embarrassment for the DWP and the Government, it seems to me.

    1. It's not just the DWP who misunderstand voluntary work.
      My A4E adviser told me to stop doing voluntary work "because it hasn't found you a job". I didn't expect it to find me a job, I wanted something to put on the CV to show didn't spend my days doing nothing. Plus I enjoy it.

      Oh, and I did a degree in what I generally tell people is "Earth Science" as in science of the planet Earth. A4E are under the impression that it means I specialised in soil studies when in actual fact I did seismology.

      Having a geology degree myself there isn't much voluntary work out there. Also, it's not the same as museum work (curatorship), but Oxford University offers a scheme where you can do curatorship paid for a year and learn on the job. I'm sure other universities do too. It doesn't guanatee you a job, but it's experience and of course, the fact you did it at Oxford.

    2. Hi Polly

      I know nothing about geology myself. (I can tell the difference between sand and mud but that's about it!) My own degrees are in law. I had imagined Cait Reilly rearranging samples of ancient rocks in the museum or something similar. (I know that museums, art galleries etc have become neurotic about letting cleaners interfere with the exhibits after the scandal about 10 years ago when one of the Tate Gallery's cleaners destroyed a Work of Art by Damien Hirst, imagining that a heap of household rubbish on a kitchen table was..... well..... rubbish. Apparently Mr Hirst's Artistic Idea had been to tip out Mrs Bloggs' kitchen rubbish bin. When told that the Work of Art had been inadvertently destroyed, Mr Hirst said that he was delighted. It showed that people become "interactive" with his Works of Art, so he claimed.....!)

      I'm interested that you know about seismology. Fracking (digging for shale gas) causes earthquakes, apparently. Surely the companies who want to exploit shale gas must have seismologists on their payrolls?

      My own experience with A4E is that their advisers know diddly squat about the law and the legal profession. My own A4E adviser told me the other day that the local A4E office has no contacts with members of the local Chamber of Commerce, the local Rotarians and so on. Why the blazes not, I demanded to know? He said he didn't know why not but it seems obvious to me that A4E's lack of useful professional contacts on behalf of their customers is their excuse to try to push everyone to the bottom of the jobs heap - A4E do have some potential recruitment contacts down in the mineshaft, apparently. A4E are trying to push their customers into things that A4E's staff are able to get their own heads round, it seems to me. That produces the Lowest Common Denominator effect.

  5. On a slightly different topic. Anyone else noticed the slight alteration to A4e's 7 minuter claim? The original post on the myA4e site dated 27th March 2012 claimed "We are currently supporting one person into work every 7 minutes". This then briefly became "we are currently supporting one person into work every five minutes" before it's current incarnation as:
    "Currently, every seven minutes of every working day someone on benefits goes back to work through A4e’s delivery of the Work Programme"
    Now there are 10080 minutes in a week (60x24x7) thus the 7 minute claim was to "support" 1440 people into work every week. The 5 minute claim gives a figure of 2016 people per week!
    The new post uses the phrase "working week" whereas the previous ones didn't. Being generous and assuming a 40 working week and doing the calculation I arrive at a figure of 342 people (a bit different from the 1440 or 2016 originally claimed!).

    TBH even the 342 seems a bit of an exaggeration!

    1. I think it's possible. How long the people stay in work is in question though -

      The self-employment adviser suggested I sign off this week, because I have done enough hours to earn over the approx £70/week I get on JSA. I don't have enough hours yet to claim working tax credits (16/week as a single parent) but no matter I can make them up. I need to do admin, putting up flyers, travel to and from work etc. OK, fair enough but I can't reasonably get 10/hrs out of that doing what I do, where I do it. And in bad weather I might only do 1hr/week paid work so I have to invent another 15 hrs. I don't feel happy with this, so I'm not signing off, until I have more guaranteed paid work I'll carry on going to the JC and have them note my hours and deduct the amnt I earned from the JSA. (This is in actual fact good for the government as they are not paying me anything at present in terms of benefits apart from HB and CTB, whereas on WTC apparently they'd be paying me £90/week)

      Also there is still nothing for me to do during the winter - I need to find a full time job for three months. If I don't, then I'm back on the JSA, so yes, they'd have got me into work, only to have me come back again in a couple of months' time.

      Then there are the people who get signed off and come back within a month or so because the employer is hiring people for a month and then firing them on spurious reasons and hiring a new person. I think they do this for tax reasons? And the people who get fired within a week. I've been at A4E and heard people saying this has happened to them. But they will all have been signed off as "in work" even if the work didn't last.

  6. "Those who oppose this process are actually opposed to hard work..."
    That is such a ludicrous deduction and is highly offensive. As usual the unemployed (like the sick) are generalised. and palmed off with one shoe fits all treatment. You are not treated as an individual.

    Perhaps the mistake was saying The Work Programme amounted to slave labour. That iis a highly emotive phrase and would instantly make the Judge pro DWP. The plaintiffs should have kept it simple in my opinion ..... It was merely a breach of their human rights and the case persued on that premise.

    The DWP were able to appeal on part of the ruling which criticised their paperwork. Have the pliantiffs the same right? It doesn’t appear so.

    THE DWP not surprisingly have got away with murder.

  7. Public Interest Lawyers and the DWP both granted permission to appeal:


  8. But this sanction repayment has been appealed, so nothing will be done till that appeal is done which could be whenever. Sometimes I think judges are so out of touch with the real world they get lots of money a year.

    1. Mr Justice Foskett has given both sides very short time limits for lodging their appeals and he has said that he hopes the Court of Appeal will deal with the matter expeditiously. He has said that he realises there is considerable public interest in the issues and that he thinks it will be best if everyone concerned with the case acts quickly. Mr Justice Foskett has done everything in his own power to help, so top marks to him, in my book.

      The DWP were acting defiantly on Monday, saying that they don't believe that they have any duty to pay Mr Wilson any arrears, the DWP believe he was properly sanctioned etc. If they believe their own bluster, why did they assure the court that they have already altered their standard letters? There must be considerable doubt within the DWP's own legal team about whether or not Mr Wilson was properly sanctioned, it seems to me.

      An old friend of mine, who is now a very eminent litigation solicitor in the City of London, once told me, "Litigation is won or lost on the tactics far more than it is on the actual law." It will occur to the DWP's lawyers that Mr Wilson can be paid his alleged arrears on an ex-gratia, "full & final settlement" basis. If the DWP do that then Mr Wilson might be persuaded not to resist the appeal by the DWP. I'd expect some horse-trading about this aspect of the proceedings.

  9. Way off the subject,after reading that prisoners are getting jobs(plus housing,food and so on)what crime can I commit with out hurting anyone or causing anybody to be upset or distressed,on the last straw here,prison is starting to look good(sick and tired of bloody cold beans)and the internet I hijack has become secured,any ideas?

  10. Prisoners are working for £5 a day. if they refuse this their sentence is extended.

  11. Somewhat of topic. It appears CH4 have regressed backwards with this catchy sounding prog:

    Tricks of the Dole Cheats


    No-one is suggesting benefits cheats are non-existent. However,apart from the odd BBC radio prog, why is it so hard for the major broadcasters to look into the ins and outs of the WP which clearly is not fit for purpose???

    1. We all know that there are plenty of such cheats, and all genuine claimants want them caught. They make better television than a serious examination of the WP. But perhaps when the first stats come out (assuming that they are not spun mendaciously by the government)there might be some decent coverage.

  12. I got a letter this morn from the DWP, giving more details about what would happen if participants fail to take part in the Work Programme.

    1. Just got one myself. I'm already aware of the penalties if I don't comply, thank you very much DWP.

      Honestly, they're worse than the advert about not paying your Tv licence. We knooooooowwwwww what happens, durrrrr!!

      What a waste of money & resources. If it's an attempt to scare me - it's an epic FAIL.

      So, because of this, I'm not going to persevere in the job-like fashion I already have. A4e have been a hindrance, rather than any help, so at my next appointment (this coming Wednesday) I'm withdrawing my consent for them to pass on my details to third parties.

      I'm sick of the DWP's "hardball" attitude, and sick of a4e palming me off with zero countenance & support. Let them EARN their £400. I know I'll find a job through my own endeavours, and when I do, they won't be getting any "outcome fee".

    2. Please cheer up?! I'm with A4E and I've seen several attempts by them to brainwash me. The whole of the WP scheme is aimed at trying to get the customers to earn the profits for the providers. Most customers are not stupid enough to fall for that one.

  13. I'm fairly certain the judge's comments about the lack of clarity regarding sanctions in the Reilly and Wilson v DWP case is what has prompted the DWP to send out tens of thousands of letters to work programme participants this week.

    My letter arrived today. It reminds you of your obligations. but now clarifies the sanction regime: 2 weeks for a first failure to participate, 4 for a second and up to 26 weeks.

    The 26 week sanction can be lifted after 4 weeks if you fully re-engage OR engage with a different requirement notified to you. The letter ends stating it is for information only and you need not take any action.

    If you wish to read the judges' comments about the lack of clarity regarding sanctions: see 117 - 119.


  14. I had to do eight weeks of free labour with builders. There was no real job offered at the end, instead i was asked to stay signing on and work for them illegally for 30 pounds a day. All i got out of it was a very bad back.

    At a4e i did a 5 week course, for 5 - 6 hours every day, which contained two 500 word essays and a huge mass of pointless sections to fill in. It was the sort of work you would expect a five year old to be doing. Also, i had to literally sneak away at times to do some job searching. the course leads to a certificate in 'employability', suposidly you are to show this at job interveiws? what a waste of time and money.

    why not take the millions of pounds wasted on a4e and spend it accually training unskilled people? Because then a4e couldnt massage figures for cameron, of course.

    ultimately, what botheres me isnt working for free (i love hard work) its the fact that if there is a job needs doing, someone should be employed to do it. thats the whole point isnt it?


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