Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Cait Reilly Forced Labour Case Goes Forward.

Museum volunteer told to work unpaid at Poundland

By Kaye Wiggins, Third Sector Online, 12 January 2012

Cait Reilly [David Sillitoe/Guardian]Cait Reilly [David Sillitoe/Guardian]

Cait Reilly was told she otherwise would lose her Jobseeker’s Allowance

A university graduate was told she had to stop volunteering at a local museum for four weeks and do unpaid work in a Poundland store in order to continue receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Cait Reilly, who graduated from Birmingham University in 2010, was regularly volunteering part-time at the Pen Museum & Learning Centre in Birmingham because she hoped to pursue a career in museums.

But last autumn she was told by her local Jobcentre Plus that she had been placed on a “sector-based work academy”, a four-week programme made up of two weeks’ employability training and two weeks’ unpaid work at Poundland.

Reilly has this week launched proceedings to seek a judicial review of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, which include a power to compel JSA claimants to carry out work.

Her solicitor, Jim Duffy of Public Interest Lawyers, said Reilly had been volunteering at the museum since May. He said she was placed on the work academy programme by her local Jobcentre Plus and agreed to do it after being told about the scheme in “vague and inaccurate terms”.

Duffy said when Reilly found out more about the programme, she told staff at the Jobcentre Plus that she did not want to take part, but was told that it was mandatory. She did the Poundland placement in November.

Brian Jones, another volunteer at the Pen Museum, a registered charity, said Reilly was not able to give much notice that she would have to stop her work for a month. “She is a valued volunteer here, so to lose her in that period was very difficult for us,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Working in retail is perfectly good experience for a career in a museum. There are very similar transferable skills involved.”



The Daily Mail seems to think that working for your dole in Poundland is a good idea.

Someone calling herself Dominique Jackson writes, “We should be grateful that Poundland has signed up to the scheme to provide work placements, training and a guaranteed interview for kids trying to improve their employability.” (Here)

I suppose anyone under 25, who gets a reduced JSA, is a “kid”.

To be treated as such.

The idea that Poundland have found a nice little earner – getting workers for free – seems to have escaped her attention.

Or that it is indeed a human right to be able to choose your job.

As in, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

Article 23

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice  of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (Here)

Naturally for those who want to see the unemployed forced to clean the streets (and why not with Toothbrushes – there was a Pilot Scheme in Vienna in the late 1930s) this right does not exist.

On the Background to Workfare and details of how Private Companies, Local Government, the Third Sector and Charities are going to exploit this Harpy Marx is highly recommended – here.

59 Responses

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  1. Good luck to her. It takes a lot of courage to do what she’s doing,

    Samuel L Jackson

    January 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    • My sister, who lives in Birmingham, saw her at Poundland in King’s Heath.

      She said she looked one mightily pissed-off woman (not a ‘kid’).

      Andrew Coates

      January 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      • Who wouldn’t be, even at the best of times Poundland is, quite frankly, a dive. Expecting people to aspire to a career selling ‘thrift’ versions of regular products is absurd. But that’s capitalism for thee.


        January 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm

  2. correct me if im wrong, but isnt the work programme meant to be ‘tailored’ to support your needs’? if it is, they have already made a mistake with her. i hope she wins her case.


    January 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm

  3. According to Jim Duffy (the Public Interest Solicitor) the case also has implications for the Community Action Programme. To my way of thinking the CAP is even more draconian because there is absolutely and unequivocally no element of agreement! Therefore it may be that Cait’s case will fail (I hope it doesn’t) because of the element of alleged “agreement” but that a similar case brought against the CAP would succeed. I urge anyone mandated onto the CAP to contact the Public Interest Lawyers.


    January 13, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    • However, you would only ‘agree’ if you wanted to keep your benefits. in that case, you are left with no real option and there is a word for when people do that to you.


      January 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm

  4. You are of course ‘free’ to refuse: to lose your accommodation, to live in the open air, eat from charity soup kitchens and what you can beg or scavenge from dustbins.

    Hold on..isn’t that what some people want us to do?

    Andrew Coates

    January 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

  5. If this awful scheme had a guaranteed interview at the end of it, why does it require 2 weeks unpaid work at christmas to get there? Of course it’s just slave labour for the scum that run these shops (anyone watch the undercover boss episode with another pound shop?).
    These Mail reading idiots are like turkeys voting for christmas.


    January 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

  6. A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Working in retail is perfectly good experience for a career in a museum. There are very similar transferable skills involved.”

    – I would imagine that one can get even better experience for such a job by actually working in a museum, which, as luck would have it, was actually wat Miss Reilly was doing in the first place.


    January 13, 2012 at 2:19 pm

  7. The UK seems to be like a hell hole if you’re unemployed – at least compared to other developed countries.

    The unemployed in the UK are oppressed by:
    1. the media which propagates damaging slander and untruths;
    2. the “jobcentre” whose REAL aim is not to get people into jobs but off ‘benefits’;
    3.the D.W.P. who give the lowest amount of money in the developed world to the unemployed;
    4. politicians who want to cut benefits even more despite them being too low already.


    January 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm

  8. In other developed countries they continue to worry that the poor do not get inadequate money. In the UK they continue to worry that the poor do not get too much money – despite UK ‘benefits’ being a fraction of those on Denmark.


    January 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    • I think the Liberal-Conservative model is the US, where after a short time limit most people (without children) get nothing, or at best workfare.

      Andrew Coates

      January 13, 2012 at 4:47 pm

      • I bet Americans are regretting that they do not have any welfare state while suffering in this economic climate. They have been brainwashed by the media into thinking that a welfare state is a bad thing. Even though America never had a welfare state, some Americans still manage to put the blame on it for the economic crisis.


        January 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm

  9. I am sure this will fail as the Tory-supporting judge will rule that jobseekers aren’t forced to work for their benefits. The law clearly shows no mandatory requirement for participation, however, clearly allows benefits to be withheld (sanctions) for not participating.

    I think its equal difference (or more to the point no different) … its like claiming there isn’t a toll for a road, because post-travel a letter is sent demanding a fee for using it; rather than paying a fee before travel on the road during such journey.

    The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011 also covers the Work Programme etc. and its unlikely (just like the unfair overdraft cases etc.) for the case to win as the Government will end up owing £200m or so – split between reimbursements of sanctions with compensation, and compensation for being forced to work without lawful authority.

    The country is deemed not able to afford it – just-ice will go out the window in favour for “national interests”.

    It is important for people who are going on the Work Programme to never give consent – this article tells you how to withhold it including, the refusal to change your Jobseekers Agreement, not signing DPA waiver, and not confirm/denying details on their system (its giving your consent!)

    Work Programme

    January 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    • “just-ice” – tell me about it, Guv 🙂

      Old Lag

      January 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm

  10. The following are ideas unemployed people in the UK can do after realising that they are being had by an uncaring state.

    1. Create a professional website on the Internet that can link any benefit activist to another, anytime and anywhere. It can act as a communication platform where benefit claimants and activists can support and advise each other about an impending issue. “Sign up if you sign on” will be the mantra that greets the user on the landing page. In Google search engine the precise phrase “jobseekers allowance” is entered in 1100 per day without stiff competition. The Website should also be user-centric.
    2. Produce a professional article/essay/book that proves the UK NEVER spent enough money on unemployment benefits – and that if anything – they should be raised. This booklet should change the opinion of any Briton who incorrectly thought that UK unemployment benefits have been adequate, let alone, too high. The essay/article should be copyright free.
    3. Create an organization that is professional in complaining about UK welfare to the right government organizations.
    4. Support the actions of the person who owns the following website:

    All UK benefit claimants have a common enemy and if we do not do anything we will discover there will be no benefits to have.

    Remember: either the Daily Mail will win OR we will. If we don’t do anything, we will lose.


    January 13, 2012 at 9:02 pm

  11. Good on her for taking action against what is a cruel, unfair system.
    I despise the draconian authorities actions and the media for perpetuating the myths that they spew out about the unemployed.

    But I also think this case will fail. Simply because she agreed. She doesn’t appear to have lost her position at the museum, thanks to decent people in charge there. Good on them!

    And she hasn’t really suffered any hardship. Yes, it is wrong and she has every right to be angry. I would be angry too. Although I will never agree to working for free. And would take a sanction.
    I cannot really afford to be sanctioned, but I will have a roof over my head and a meal each day. For which I am truly grateful.

    Of course she didn’t really have much choice, as they will intimidate and threaten and coerce. And a sanction doubt would have been raised if she refused. And upheld most probably.

    I don’t know her circumstances, maybe she is dependent on HB and CT. Maybe she could not afford to refuse and risk the loss of her benefits. Maybe her family couldn’t afford to help her out if her benefits were stopped.

    What would make for a better case against this ‘slavery’ is someone refusing to do it and getting sanctioned.
    Hopefully someone who is made of stern stuff and wouldn’t suffer,
    You cannot really blame most for going along with it because they have most by the short and curlys. And they know it!
    It will have to take someone savvy to actually refuse to do it, take the consequence and then, after having refused to agree to do it in the first place on moral and ethical grounds, get legal representation.
    Though it depends on the individuals encounter with these people. Someone ‘savvy’ might be able to defend, or perhaps at least fend off adverse actions themselves without legal action. Although that’s unlikely, as simply saying ‘You cannot make me do that’ will fall on deaf ears. And one will be sanctioned.

    And well done to the lawyer/solicitor taking on this case. Most would run a mile in the opposite direction rather than go any extra mile for the unemployed who are getting treated like livestock.

    I wish Cait the very best of luck. Even if unsuccessful it will hopefully shine a light on a rather dark issue.

    Mr No

    January 13, 2012 at 11:49 pm

  12. People on benefits should be made to do unpaid work, it sounds logical until you stop and consider . . .
    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: No one may be held in slavery or servitude (forced to labour under duress or threat of punishment). Therefore, unless we are now endorsing the re-introduction of slavery, we cannot support enforced labour by the State, under any pretext.
    Poundland, is touted as one of the most successful retail operations today, why therefore it should methinks be able to employ someone to restack its shelves.
    Therefore, our freebie labour courtesy of the State is possibly depriving someone of a job. No doubt, the Conservative Party will return any donation to it made by the store, or any other using benefit claiming labour. Supermarkets, for instance, advertise eighteen hour minimum wage jobs, plus benefits, no wonder town centre shops are closing down.
    Why keep young adults with no academic ability chained to a school desk, against their will? Why give away £29bn in Foreign Aid, £64bn for the non-jobs 700,000 Quangos, when we can’t supply meals-on-wheels. Why allow millions of economic immigrants, when we haven’t the infrastructure or jobs to accommodate them?

    Why? Follow the money and the increasing numbers of corporate millionaires, people like, Blair, Cameron, Clegg, Mandleson, Miliband, Osborne, etc Betraying Britain pays well, ask the banksters.

    Angry Git

    January 14, 2012 at 2:40 pm

  13. I work for an organisation that is part of the supply chain delivering the Work Programme. The terms under which we work are dictated by the Department for Work and Pensions contract; there is no variation or choice. DWP is operating a monopsonistic market. As a result of the terms, my organisation, like many others trying to deliver this contract, is going to go bust. About 40 jobs will be lost, plus a range of valuable services, expertise and advocacy. We are not underperforming, the terms of the contract and the key performance indicators are being met; we are simply not being paid for delivering services on behalf of the government. The contract is set in such a way that the single customer, DWP, will not pay for supporting those in society who most need it: those facing the greatest disadvantage and those who have been out of employment the longest.

    DWP will only “pay for results”. Even if we, as a supplier of the Work Programme, get a client into work we are not rewarded. We may have spent six months of providing fortnightly advice sessions and weekly interventions (training, workshops, activities, projects etc) and met all the client’s expenses for attending, but we will not be paid for any of this. Payment will only be forthcoming after six months of “sustainable employment”. The government is expecting charitable organisations like mine to lend money to subsidise a government department. The effects of the economic downturn are magnified for our clients. Employers, if they are recruiting, will take a low-risk decision to take on someone already employed or who has recently been in employment rather than someone long-term unemployed. Vacancies notified have fallen dramatically in the areas where we operate and unemployment is increasing sharply.

    As a charitable organisation we have had no choice other than to seek income in the face of falling grant funding from local and national government. What no one could anticipate is the harshness of the Work Programme contract. No one has had any experience of such draconian payment terms. And it seems untimely, to say the least, to launch a major welfare reform based on getting those furthest from the labour market into work during an extended period of economic depression. To some it would seem cynical for the cost of supporting some of the most needy in society to be transferred out of the welfare state.

    There is a solution: DWP needs to reward Work Programme providers more realistically for taking on clients and offset the costs against future sustainable work outcomes. The overall cost to the Treasury does not necessarily need to rise but the timing of payments to providers has to change and the risk to be shared.
    Nick Bailey
    Grampound, Cornwall

    The Guardian

    January 15, 2012 at 10:23 am

    • You sleep with the devil, you pay the price…I’m sorry but my sympathy for these sub contractor types really is limited.


      January 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    • Hey Nick.

      Do you think all (or most?) unemployed people are scrounging cheating scum? Do you threaten a person referred to your organisation with a sanction doubt the second they question anything?


      Shame about most of the other people in this ‘industry’.

      The more subcontractors that go bust the better.

      Maybe the few decent ones out of those 40 redundancies you mention will be lucky (and smart) enough to get another job that’s not in this sector. I hope the least compassionate of those end up on the dole themselves.

      Sure there are a few reasonable individuals working for providers, but most are seemingly bigoted fools.

      Then there are the ones with sociopathic tendencies. Nasty!

      Mr No

      January 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm

  14. Below the breadline on Liverpool’s workless estates

    Thomas Bebb cranes his head out of his living room window to assess how many of his neighbours are unemployed. He counts the number of flats in this three-storey, brown-and-grey pebbledash block (12) and pauses to calculate how many contain people in work. There are two: a scaffolder and a nurse. Looking across the courtyard at two other blocks opposite and to the left, he can’t think of anyone with a job there either.

    The high numbers of workless households on this estate help explain startling figures produced by the GMB last week revealing that nearly one in three households in Liverpool have no one in work. It is the legacy of historic industrial decline in this area, suddenly worsened by the recent round of public sector redundancies and a new, downturn-related disappearance of retail and manufacturing jobs.

    For Bebb, who lost his short-term job as a parks gardener and grounds maintenance worker in November (because of cost-cutting by Liverpool city council, which is in the process of shaving 28% from its budget), the result is that he is living substantially below the poverty line. In practical terms, this means he has only the seven pound coins, plus 30 pence in smaller change, jangling in his tracksuit pocket to last him for the next 10 days, until his benefits are paid again.

    He is anxious to find new work and is assiduous about searching for openings. Once a week he has been volunteering with his old employers, because he enjoys his work and wants to be the first back in if there’s an opening, obligingly doing his old job for free.

    But, with seven unemployed people in Liverpool for every job vacancy, looking for work is a dispiriting process. Local government cuts have led to widespread job losses throughout the city, where almost 30% of all work is public-sector funded. Inconveniently, the cuts have also led to the shrinking of resources available to fund many of the community centres and training courses that might previously have helped him and his neighbours back into work.

    Years on the dole

    Because unemployment is an experience shared by most of his friends, family and neighbours, Bebb, 45, finds nothing remarkable in his situation, and his description of how he gets by is not an appeal for sympathy, just a neutral account of reality.

    His two eldest children, who are 21 and 23, haven’t found work since they left school at 16, although they are looking. He remembers the years spent on the dole when he left school in a similarly bleak economic period in the early 80s – around the time that Margaret Thatcher was considering abandoning Liverpool to “managed decline”, having been warned by her advisers that to try to save it would be like attempting to “pump water uphill”.

    But Bebb wonders if his children will find things harder. “It’s normal for their generation. It’s like that for every family around here, very few of their kids have got jobs,” he says. More than a third of Liverpool council wards have youth unemployment rates twice the national average, according to council figures.

    The nearest shopping parade to his flat on the Tees estate in Kirkdale, north Liverpool, reflects how little money people here have to spend. Two of the local pubs are shut, and of the first six shops on the street, four have recently closed. Along the street, it’s not bright signs and awnings that make the facades distinctive, but the range of different materials used to board them up – sheets of wood, corrugated iron, metal shutters.

    He sees old school friends in the jobcentre. “It’s not a good way to meet them, but it’s nice to see them anyway,” Bebb says. By contrast with many of them, he thinks he’s been lucky to have previously had steady work with the council, and then with a number private companies that were contracted to take on parks maintenance for the council, for much of his working life.

    Losing his full-time grounds maintenance job two years ago was “the end of the world”: for a while he found it hard to get out of bed and didn’t want to talk to people. His mood lifted when he got a contract job working in the parks, but the work only lasted a few months.

    He gets about £67 a week as jobseeker’s allowance, but £15 is instantly deducted in child maintenance for the three of his five children who are under 16, none of whom live with him. Another £10 a week is also currently being deducted at source to repay a historic crisis loan that he was given by the jobcentre to tide the family over when he lost his job on another occasion about a decade ago, leaving him with just over £40 pounds. Out of that he is paying back a credit card debt of around £1,000, which he ran up when he first lost his full-time work 18 months ago, and he needed money to tide him over. (He went to his bank to ask for an overdraft facility to help him through that difficult time, and was told he wasn’t eligible for one, but was invited to apply for a credit card instead.)

    Bebb is paying this off at a rate of £33 a month, which he often finds very challenging. He spends £14 a week on recharging his gas and electricity accounts, so just under £20 is left for food, clothes, bus tickets and everything else. His rent is currently paid by housing benefit.

    This is manageable, but only because he has radically changed the way he lives and eats. He goes once a fortnight to one of two local shops that offer heavily discounted food – packets of buy-one-get-one-free frozen burgers for a pound, two-for-£1 ice-cream tubs for his younger children who stay with him at the weekend, a bag of frozen chips, which, if he rations it correctly, he can get four meals out of. When that runs out he eats rice and pasta which he gets for 25p a pack at Tesco. “Sometimes you have to eat crap.”

    For breakfast now, he has toast rather than Weetabix. If this seems an unremarkable shift, he explains the subtle financial calculations behind the change: a loaf of bread contains, say, 30 slices, and costs around 40 pence, while a packet of Weetabix costs nearer £2 and only has enough for 12 breakfasts, so is less economical. Because he’s not eating cereal, he buys less milk, and has switched to getting a litre of longlife so that he can eke it out for as long as possible without it going off. “You’ve got to think like that when you’re shopping.”

    Unaffordable luxury

    Bebb can’t afford to smoke so he doesn’t, and he says beer is an unaffordable luxury: the last time he got drunk was the day he was made redundant from his permanent job two years ago. “I was shocked, I was drowning my sorrows.” He hasn’t been to a football match since he was a child (“too dear”) or to the cinema for years, hasn’t bought new clothes since he lost his job. To relax he takes his younger children fishing on the canal, which has the advantage of being free.

    The corner shops and chippy survive on the high street, but the discount store Bebb uses is further away and he hasn’t bought his children a takeaway meal since he lost his permanent job two years ago (£10 is too much to blow in one go, he explains). “It’s a struggle; it gets to you more mentally,” he says.

    Bebb looks healthy, but admits he sometimes feels wobbly when he does the 45-minute walk to the job centre (a £3.80 day bus pass is usually unaffordable), because he hasn’t eaten enough. “Sometimes I’ve had to stop because I’ve had the shakes, dizzy.”

    He is happy to speak frankly and dissect his budget in unembarrassed detail because he thinks people have a distorted idea of how generous benefits are. He has noticed that the new government’s tone has become more hostile to claimants, and thinks ignorance may be part of the problem. He doesn’t expect empathy from a prime minister whom he describes as a multimillionaire. “If the prime minister can go out and spend £100 a night for his dinner and I don’t get that a fortnight, where’s the justice in that?”

    For the moment, the doors of the Kirkdale Community Centre remain open on the high street, providing a place for local unemployed young people to spend time. At the front desk, Sheena Orton, who helps run the centre, explains that because of funding cuts, they are no longer able to offer courses in IT skills and CV building for the unemployed, the centre has lost 13 members of staff in the past year, and is struggling to stay open. She is still working full-time, but there’s only enough money to pay her for 10 hours a week, so she does the rest for free. “It’s the 18-24-year-olds who are angry. They want what everyone else has got – they all want a car, they want a phone, they want trainers. Some of them resort to crime and you can see that in the burglary stats,” she says.

    She is also worried about her own children; three of her four sons, aged between 20 and 38, have recently lost their jobs. “I don’t think you could be more motivated than my sons and they can’t get anything.”

    Nick Small, the Labour councillor responsible for employment within Liverpool city council, says the figure of one in three workless households comes as no surprise: “We realise that we have got a very tough situation in Liverpool. In some areas 40% of households are workless. This creates additional barriers to finding work. There’s no culture of finding work in the community, no role models. It can be quite disempowering.”

    Through its Liverpool Into Work scheme, which has a centre on the Tees estate, the council is trying to assist the hardest to reach communities, but Small concedes that “if there aren’t the jobs to go into”, then helping with CVs and motivation was only part of the solution. “We need to do all we can to stimulate demand,” he says.

    Kim Griffiths, head of employment with the Liverpool in Work programme, said the combined effect of the downturn and public sector cuts meant that there were fewer jobs available in the care sector, in security, hospitality, tourism and manufacturing. “A lot of the jobs are part-time and funny shifts. There are a lot of people who really want to work. It is really soul destroying to keep getting knocked back. We are not thick scousers who want to sit on our arses all day. That is not the case. We are talented, creative people who really want to work.”

    Bebb is being helped by the programme: advisers are impressed by his “employability”, and hopeful that new work could be found for him. In the meantime, to qualify for benefits payments, he is obliged to apply for at least two jobs a week, to phone at least two employers a week and turn up, speculatively, at the door of two potential employers every week.

    Later his six- and eight-year-old sons are dropped off for him to look after for a while. They slide across the floor of his flat on their stomachs, cheerfully eating ice-cream and watching television. He is optimistic that things may be easier for them when they leave school, and hopes that they will learn a trade – electrician or gas fitter.

    The children have other ideas. The younger boy wants to be a pirate, and the older one says his teacher has told him he is clever enough to go to university. He’d like to be a professor.


    The Guardian

    January 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm

  15. Good story by the Guardian. Mr. Bebb knows how low UK unemployment benefits are and so do we.:

    The enemy of the unemployed is not an economic crisis, it is the absence of a civilized welfare state.


    January 15, 2012 at 10:15 pm

  16. Why the government was wrong to make me work in Poundland for free

    In a routine appointment with my personal Job Centre Plus adviser last October, I was informed of an open day for people interested in potential retail jobs. Having been unemployed for some time, I was more than happy to attend, and was told by my adviser that, if chosen, I would undergo a week’s “training” followed by a guaranteed job interview. It quickly became clear at the open day, however, that the period of “training” would potentially last for up to six weeks. I explained to my adviser my reservations about taking part: I was already in the middle of a work experience placement that I had organised for myself (and which was more relevant to the museum career I hope to pursue), and I already had retail experience.

    I thought the “training” was optional, and it came as a shock to be told I was required to attend or risk cancellation or reduction of my £53 per week jobseekers’ allowance – despite the fact I have always actively sought paid work. So I began the “placement” with Poundland – it was not training, but two weeks’ unpaid work stacking shelves and cleaning floors. I came out with nothing; Poundland gained considerably.

    For me, this unpaid labour scheme lasted only two weeks, but some people, as part of the government’s work programme, will have to do such unpaid work for up to six months – longer than the community service orders handed out to many criminals.

    The nature of such work is not the problem. I would be happy to do it if I had a say in it and, crucially, was paid. While hoping for a career in museums, I have also been applying for any job I am able to do. Like more than a million young people today, I find living on £53 a week extremely difficult, and would be delighted to find any paid work.

    Many people seem to think all job seekers are lazy scroungers, sponging off the government. The reality of trying to carve out a career in a tough job market is much more difficult than many appreciate, and not a position anyone would choose to put themselves in.

    Last week, I launched judicial review proceedings in the high court – a challenge to regulations that require up to 50,000 jobseekers to carry out unpaid work at major corporations. A case such as this cannot result in significant damages; from day one, my challenge has been about the principle, not the money. It is about social justice.

    I expected criticism, but some of the comments about me have been hurtful as well as inaccurate. Jan Moir’s attack in the Daily Mail, for example, overlooked the fact that I was not paid for the work I carried out and implied that I believed such work, as well as Poundland itself, to be beneath me. This is not the case – I would grab a paid job in Poundland with both hands. Similarly, Vanessa Feltz attempted to humiliate me on the radio. Such coverage has made taking a stand more difficult than I had imagined.

    I am lucky to live in a country that offers financial support to jobseekers. I am also lucky to live in one where citizens to have the right to challenge government decisions. Making a million “neets” (not in employment, education or training) work for free for high-street chains leaves them feeling useless and demeaned, denies paid workers the chance to do overtime, and potentially takes jobs from those who need them. It does nothing to build on young unemployed peoples’ skills, or to tackle the causes of long-term unemployment. I hope many more people stand up to what is a badly thought-out system created without the involvement of parliament.

    The coalition’s commitment to getting people into work is admirable, but this is not the right way to do it. Similar schemes have not worked in other countries, and there is evidence that coercing people into unpaid work masks rather than solves the unemployment crisis. The Department for Work and Pensions hired experts find whether “work for your benefit” schemes delivered benefits. After studying similar programmes in Canada, the US and Australia, they found no evidence such schemes increased an the chances of gaining employment. Whether or not my case is successful, I hope it will make the government think again, and work with young people rather than against them

    Article and comments here

    The Guardian

    January 16, 2012 at 11:48 am

    • Very dignified and clear.

      There are those of us, as she points out, who have done longer periods of workfare (I have) and have been unable to challenge this (there are no Public Interest Lawyers round here on this topic).

      As has been said here the Community Action Programme looks even more open to legal opposition.

      Andrew Coates

      January 16, 2012 at 12:38 pm

  17. If you tolerate this. Then your children will be next.

    Manic Street Preachers

    January 16, 2012 at 4:18 pm

  18. Fritz Todt

    January 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm

  19. This might be a silly question, but won’t refusing to sign an agreement to go on the work programme (and also to refuse to sign the confidentality waiver) almost certainly get you sanctioned, with little you can then do about it?

    Also, can anyone tell me what a sanction means in terms of benefit losses–will you get all of your JSA stopped or just some of it?


    January 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    • Simon,

      They don’t wait for your consent to refer you.

      If you sign an updated Jobseekers Agreement with a phrase consisting along-the-lines of you will attend/explore/participate etc. this gives them so much power.

      Benefit sanctions is administrative law, but it borrows certain principles from criminal law. If you are aware of such activity, it is to say you have a guilty mind. To oppose the “requirement” to attend/participate you must refrain from being aware of and agreeing to it.

      If you express knowledge and agree (especially to volunteer) regardless of the circumstances you will be sanctioned and stand a rare of chance of successful appeal.

      Every signed agreement is “evidence”. A decision maker has a tough time when a “doubt” is raised but there is no specific strong evidence showing the person was aware of procedure and of attendance/participation requirements.

      Work Programme

      January 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      • I don’t understand 🙂

        Simple Samantha

        January 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm

      • Well, in that case we won’t be able to sanction you, Samantha.

        DWP Decsion Maker

        January 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      • Thanks for your reply, but I’m confused. Are you saying that if we show any sign that we “know what’s going on” we are dammed, yet, equally, if we pretend ignorance we are dammed, also?

        And wouldn’t refusing to sign the confidentality waiver only put us in the “”know what’s going on” catagory?


        January 16, 2012 at 10:16 pm

      • . Are you saying that if we show any sign that we “know what’s going on” we are dammed

        Quite possibly.

        For example, if it says “Dave will await notification from Provider and will actively participate in the Work Programme

        If Dave signs the agreement at the jobcentre, regardless if its not actually mandatory after all, he has expressed consent indirectly for the following without even knowing it:

        a) To be on the look out for a letter telling him when to start/attend

        A pre-emption of “I didn’t get any letter” excuses… of course in reality agreeing to this doesn’t mean it wont get lost in post or the provider never having sent it.

        I guess a decision maker would question why did Dave not contact the provider. It adds an element of responsibility…

        If they say your provider will contact you in the next 2 weeks you MUST contact them if you never heard from them regardless that its not a legal requirement.

        b) To actively participate in the Work Programme

        That is to sign optional data waiver, Action Plans, hand in a job log every week, attend every appointment, induction and modules, jump through hoops and roll over doing anything they ask.

        You are in effect binding your active participation in such scheme as one of your steps each week to seek employment – decision makers always wrongly look at what you have not done rather than what you have, so doing 49 other steps instead wont wash with the scum at the jobcentre.

        This guarantees a benefit sanction for each (even minor) case of failing to participate in the optional scheme.

        c) You consent to your data being shared

        If on your Jobseekers Agreement you agree to participate then you are indirectly giving implied consent for your data to be shared with the provider.

        Why? You agreed (they will stick more emphasis on you saying its your choice that you wanted to do the Work Programme rather than being forced on to it) to actively participate which means the data would have to be shared for it to go ahead.

        The data consent form is your permission for the provider to share data back to jobcentre plus and to third parties (i.e. employers, placement workplaces etc)… it doesn’t cover the initial transfer of data that you had consent to and all others coming from Jobcentre Plus (they will have your signature agreeing to participate i.e. implied consent)

        Work Programme

        January 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    • Simon: A sanction, for a first offence whilst on WP means a 2-week loss of JSA. If your also getting Housing benefit and/or council tax rebate you also have to notify your council.

      In my case, the council were already informed of the sanction before I had it officially confirmed by the DWP Decision Maker.

      I emailed the council to say “I had nil income, and continued to sign on”. My housing benefit and council tax rebate were unaffected and continued as normal.

      To cut a along story short, my appeal against the sanction went to a tribunal hearing last week, But that was adjourned to a later date after about 15 mins because their were no witnesses from the DWP or A4e.

      ECAP Activist

      January 16, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      • Thanks for your replies, Work Programme and ECAP Activist.

        Work Programme, I’ve already signed a Jobseekers Agreement to receive JSA, after being transferred from ESA to JSA. Is this agreement the same as the one you mention with regard to the Work Programme, or are they two different things?

        ECAP Activist, when you told the council you had nil income, what sort of evidence did they want?


        January 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      • Simon, its the same agreement but its in one of the the “free text” boxes (i.e. jobcentre can type exactly what they want to include in it).

        People can be suspicious when they pull out a “what I printed off earlier version” for signing.. although you had not agreed for the addition.. well not up until that point.

        They don’t always do this, however, the concept is they review the jobseekers agreement on the computer suggesting changes… before printing it off to be signed.

        If its already done and they are pressuring you into signing it (along the lines of “Here is your updated Jobseekers Agreement. Its is exactly the same as before however states I have given you the letter about the Work Programme”) that raises concerns that you should deal with.

        Of course, semi-disclaimer here now lol…

        1) regardless of the failing scheme and gravy train for providers it is possible (although maybe rare) that their support might help you

        2) although regardless how crap it is, doesn’t mean you will get sanctioned, they might be nice in that respect

        3) if you fail to protect yourself, not only are the likelihood of sanctions on the increase (providers have to collect evidence before submitting a doubt to ensure the sanction will be applied) you are in effect setting up yourself.

        Work Programme

        January 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm

  20. Workfare is theft ,that could be a good slogan I think.


    January 16, 2012 at 8:47 pm

  21. Reading the comments on Jan Moir’s vitriolic attack on Cait Reilly, I noticed yet again the same refrain, “nobody owes you a living.”

    Compare this with the words of Thomas Malthus in 1803: “A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food.”

    Can anybody see a difference?

    Charlie D

    January 16, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    • “Nobody owes you a living” great Knightsbridge denizen Ms Moir but if you are working you are definitely owed a wage and not benefit.Also Tesco and Poundland are not owed slaves working for benefit,they should pay the going rate the same as any other employee,or they should f..k off.


      January 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm

  22. Thanks for explaining Work Programme.


    January 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    • Simon: My council didn’t ask for any evidence but in a phone call prior to my sending them the email they asked how I would manage for the 2 weeks. Fortunately, I had enough savings to tide me over – and that’s what I told them.

      ECAP Activist

      January 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      • ECAP, couldn’t you have gone on the hardship provision?


        January 17, 2012 at 10:24 pm

      • Thanks.


        January 18, 2012 at 11:56 am

      • Simon: The hardship payment is not available for single claimants without dependent children.

        ECAP Activist

        January 18, 2012 at 7:49 pm

      • Possibly Simon means a Crisis Loan,

        “A Crisis Loan is an interest-free loan from the Social Fund to help you with the cost of items and services that you need as a consequence of a disaster. In addition in both emergency and disaster situations a Crisis Loan can help with the following:

        living expenses
        rent in advance where the landlord is not a local authority
        charges for board and lodging accommodation and hostels
        travel expenses when stranded away from home
        repaying emergency credit on a pre-payment fuel meter ”

        There is always a queue of people in Silent Street Ipswich outside the section of the DWP that deals with this.

        Andrew Coates

        January 19, 2012 at 10:21 am

      • Thanks, Andrew. I was aware if the Crisis Loan. But since it would have to be repaid – assuming I would qualify – it seemed less hassle just to manage on my savings for those two weeks.

        ECAP Activist

        January 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm

  23. Jokecentre forms always say things like: “I have read and UNDERSTOOD……”

    The Knowledge

    January 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

  24. “Submitted by Kaz on Wed, 18/01/2012 – 10:59am.


    We have had three voluntary organisations end their involvement with us, precisely for the opposite reason.

    eg: The local council made 16 people redundant, then acquired replacements in the form of placements an MWRA clients, and the council are not alone in this practice, the local supermarkets have done similar things.

    I’m not here to trash my profession, but neither am I going to be blindly ‘on message’ while people’s livelihoods are being gambled with by politicians.”


    Indus Delta

    January 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    • I have been following this on the Indus site. Unfortunately I cannot contribute there because I have been banned (twice) for expressing perfectly reasonable opinions not dissimilar to thise from Kaz. Seems that the owners of the site (the ironically titled centre for Social and economic inclusion) will not tolerate any reasonable debate or any views which contradict their own. Watch out Kaz (and any others trying to express similar views) they will ban you.


      January 18, 2012 at 4:47 pm

  25. The only thing jobcentre advisors are taught to do, is to find out if people are not applying for jobs, and get them off the books, either by DMA, or by sending them on New Deal training.

    Provider’s only interest is getting a Tory government contract and getting commission from each person you send to do “any job that a human could do, no matter what it is, no matter their employment history”, it’s pathetic.

    I might film a provider meeting soon, put it on the net to show what actually is going on, and what all graduates can expect, what to look forward to! 🙂

    What the hell is putting up sign roads for 30 hours a week for 60 quid a week going to do to improve my chances of employment????

    The company has stated “NO INTENTION” of employing any of the people put onto this scheme, they are just grateful of the free manual labour. Once it finishes I will passed onto the next company who wants a free dole claimer to do a bit of free manual labour.

    It will be funny to see every single university graduate go onto this ‘slave labour scheme’ when they make it mandatory after 3 months of unemployment. We shall see programmers, politics students, history majors, physics students, english grads, all shoveling shit for the tories.

    You seriously believe, that every single graduate in this country will agree to go onto this without protest? Providers better make the most of their government contracts and get in as many commissions as they can, as any sane individual can see this tory scheme “wont last at all”. back to the 80s we go.


    January 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm

  26. Who pays the Tesco CEO’s wages of £6.9m a year? We do

    When low supermarket wages are supplemented by state benefits, it allows obscene profits to be made at taxpayers’ expense

    The first time I heard the phrase “state-subsidised corporate super-profits” was last June, at a conference of the pressure group Compass, in a discussion about meeting child poverty targets by 2020 (the title was intended as a bleak joke, I think). Someone in the audience said that the very existence of “in-work benefits” was evidence of the government subsidising the bloated profits of huge corporations.

    This was underlined by the arcane terminology – a “working family tax credit”. Why a “tax credit” and not a “benefit”? Clearly, because otherwise some smart-Alec might have said that if a company is paying a worker less than it takes to break through the breadline, and that’s legal, then there’s something wrong with the minimum wage. However, this was a lefty conference, full of lefties, and this is the sort of thing they say.

    The next time I heard it, it was July and a reported observation, specifically about pay in supermarkets, from the editor of MoneyWeek, Merryn Somerset Webb. I don’t know her politics, but she was previously a broker at SBC Warburg, she writes for the Spectator, and she is a non-executive director of two investment trusts. You don’t meet many people like her at a Compass conference.

    Tomorrow, the Fair Pay Network publishes a report on the impact of low pay in national supermarket chains. It looks at the big four supermarkets: Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – the largest employer block in the country outside of the NHS. The report finds that the working poor now dominate poverty equations, with nearly two-thirds of children in poverty living in working families. It gives case studies for individual members of the 900,000-strong supermarket workforce: workers such as the mother who has to hold down two part-time jobs, never sees her kids, and still can’t afford to use the tube – so they probably end up blowing what quality “me-time” they have schlepping across town on a bus. Life would be untenable for many families without in-work benefits, and even with them it is back-breakingly hard.

    Who wins, when the government makes up the shortfall, between the poverty pay a shelf-packer earns and what he or she needs to live on? Not the worker, evidently; not the taxpayer, who may get a certain empathy boost from the fact that nobody’s starving, but reaps no economic advantage from this bizarre system; not the supplier to the supermarket, who often has his or her own case to make about deals so bad they often amount to a mugging.

    The only winners are the chains themselves: Justin King, the CEO of Sainsbury’s, receives £3.2m a year; Philip Clarke of Tesco, £6.9m; Dalton Philips, of Morrisons, £4m; Andy Clarke of Asda’s pay is not in the public domain. What justifies these amounts? Their profits, of course: well done, guys. You don’t pay the London living wage, or the UK living wage (a non-binding rate set by the Centre for Social Policy Research) to your lowest-paid employees. You were abetted in this by the last government, and now have this government, with its soaring unemployment, over a barrel.

    You reaped greater profits as a result, which you must now feel free to skim off. To grab so much in excess of what you could ever spend or need, at a cost of so much hardship, to so many people, defies comprehension. It can’t be because they want the money; it can only be an urge to compete with their CEO peers. What would be good is if they could divert some of this myopic energy into a more innocuous pastime, like a FTSE 100 squash tournament.

    However, CEOs are hard to influence, especially on the matter of their own salaries; a better place to start would be the government. Part of the problem here is that it is typically leftwing to agree with benefits, both from a political, redistributive agenda and as part of a semi-Keynesian programme that it’s good for GDP for the poorest to have more money, because they spend a larger proportion of their income, thence pumping it back into the economy.

    Meanwhile, on the right, it is typical to disagree with benefits, both from an ideological faith in the individual as master of his own destiny, and from the monetarist position that government spending strangles private enterprise. Clem Chambers espoused this so succinctly in Forbes this week that I almost bought it and had to change my whole identity: “If you subtract state spending from total GDP, then subtract the tax take from what’s left and then deduct government borrowings, what remains in most developed countries approaches zero. There is little or no GDP left for the private sector. No wonder there isn’t any economic growth.”

    However, this is a simple chicken-or-egg question: does the size of the public sector suffocate the private sector? Or does the public sector only look big because the private sector is so rubbish?

    What nobody in any of these corners would ever advocate is state spending as an alternative to fair wage settlements. The left would say: set a minimum living wage, make it decent, enforce it, unionise. The right would say: let the market determine wages; if people aren’t paid enough, they’ll stop spending and the supermarkets themselves will realise that boosting pay packets in the middle will yield better profits than one huge pay packet at the top.

    Nobody would say: let the supermarkets pay what they like, and so that they never have to deal with the economic consequences of that, let the state make up the difference. Nobody would say that, because it’s senseless. And yet, here we are.

    Full article + comments here .

    The Guardian

    January 20, 2012 at 11:33 am

    • This is how it works in practice.

      Most companies are in the business of making money, so they will do whatever they can to keep overheads low.
      If they employ people for less than 16 hours a week, on minimum wage, they pay less or no NI contributions
      If they they only give zero-hour contracts, they don’t have to employ people on days when they might not need them.
      If their staff don’t have fixed-time permanent contracts, they don’t have to provide pension schemes, holiday or sick pay.

      The worker needs more than 16 hours because it pays just £97, and they have to work for 30 hours to get working tax credit.
      So they need 2 jobs at more than 15 hours each, or they won’t qualify for tax credits.
      If they work any hours from 0 to 29, they won’t get working tax credit.
      If they work at all, they won’t get out-of-work benefits or, if they are single parents they might get Income Support but they must look for full-time work when their children are 5, which is to be changed to 2 years old.
      They will most likely qualify for Housing Benefit, but if they have a private landlord, it’s unlikely to cover all the rent.

      So the taxpayer is now paying the tax credits etc. and the employer is not providing anything other than a few hours of work for a lot of poor people.

      Employers who sign up to the Work Programme are paid to take benefit claimants who work for 30 hours to “earn” their benefit.
      They don’t need to employ more than a core of regular staff, with part-time zero-hour workers and, now, the “free” ones.
      The Work Programme “providers” are basically agencies who place DWP claimants in the not-jobs, and they get paid as well.

      The work gets done with no cost to the employer – and there’s no cost in wages, NI conts, pensions, holiday and sick pay. In fact HE gets paid.
      The employer gets his free staff from the DWP via a “Work Programme Provider” who places the claimant in the not-a-job – and gets paid as well.
      The claimant gets to go round and round in the system because the employer won’t take them on permanently or they’d have to pay them.
      Every time the claimant goes to another employer the Provider gets paid again.

      The part-timers are beginning to look a bit expensive – even though they were ridiculously cheap before the Work Programme came in.
      So those already on zero-hour contracts won’t get work; they’ll have to claim out of work benefits, and go to the…Work Programme where they’ll……

      This, of course, will save lots of money on the benefit bill according to our leaders.

      Makes perfect sense.


      January 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      • Meanwhile, on the right, it is typical to disagree with benefits, both from an ideological faith in the individual as master of his own destiny, and from the monetarist position that government spending strangles private enterprise.

        This is correct, and I speak as a former “rightie” when I say this.

        I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my life, and it was because of this that I wanted to believe that people are masters of their own destiny. It may even be more accurate to say I needed to believe it, hence why I did my best to rationalise inequality and injustice.

        I needed to believe that I ultimately had control, because if I did then it meant I had the power to end the way I was feeling. I just needed to figure out what I’d done to “earn” it. In my situation that was impossible, leading me to indulge in distractions and a little self-hate to maintain the illusion. That didn’t help me any, and it’s why I could never break out of the cycle of depression.

        People who have seen me around will know that I regularly post links to the just-world fallacy. The reason for that is because reading about it and understanding it changed my way of thinking, and when I see other people making the exact same mistakes I think they should be made aware of these mental pitfalls that we can all fall into.

        The extremely wealthy do the same thing. They try to rationalise their own acquisitions as “success” even though the money comes from the work of other vulnerable people. They must have a sense of euphoria when they rationalise their circumstances to themselves. They convince themselves they’re special and deserving, and the act of acquiring more at other people’s expense boosts these feelings. Acquisition is like some kind of addiction.

        There is a downside of course. As a great man once said, coming down is the hardest thing. These people are terrified of losing their privileges because they’ll have to feel ordinary. Not only that, but their desperation to maintain the illusion intensifies. That’s why privileged people tend to project their feelings onto others, and why they’re so concerned about people being “work shy”, “undeserving”, or “cheaters”. These are actually the anxieties they have about themselves.


        January 20, 2012 at 8:07 pm

      • I think this is right, but its not only “privileged people” who “tend to project their feelings onto others”.

        Most people are anxious about themselves, and their family, and want to do the best they can, while worrying about failure,

        “and why they’re so concerned about people being “work shy”, “undeserving”, or “cheaters”. These are actually the anxieties they have about themselves.”

        The idea of the Welfare state and benefits, is to offer a ‘safe home’ when things don’t turn out right, not only for thos who have obvious physical or mental problems but for anybody who need this when they can’t get work.

        Unfortunately the Liberal-Conservative Coalition really do want to turn it into a Workhouse for anybody not ‘deserving’ of Charity.

        Andrew Coates

        January 21, 2012 at 10:18 am

      • newbunkle

        January 20, 2012 at 8:11 pm

  27. I just got out of it after my induction with ingeus and there was a guy in there who was at college 2 days a week and a volunteer with the elderly 2 days so he asked how is he going to do his 30 hours a week all they could say is we will find a way for you to do it

    another guy said if you guys put him in a shop he will rob it blind got big lol but he got reported to the job centre so I warn everyone be careful what you say there


    February 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm

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