Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Posts Tagged ‘poundland

Workfare Returns and Benefits Sanctions Shoot Up.

Poundland has been criticised for employing jobseekers, without pay, for up to two months under a deal with the government.

Several of those who have worked on the scheme told the Guardian they had worked up to 30 hours a week for at least three weeks stacking shelves in Poundland. They were told that the work experience was voluntary but one said: “I had no say in it really.”

It’s not clear how many jobseekers have been used by Poundland under the scheme as the government said it did not collect information centrally and the work experience was managed locally by jobcentres across the country. However, one store in Bolton has taken on 21 placements since last August, according to information provided in response to a freedom of information request by the Boycott Workfare pressure group.


Origin of the story,

Is Poundland using unpaid workers again? Graduate says he’s stacking shelves for free on ‘demoralising’ Government work scheme



Poundland has denied using unpaid workers to stack shelves in its stores, directly contradicting a source who has told Graduate Fog that he and nine others are currently working for free in the chain’s Bolton store, in placements set up by his local job centre.

This website has spoken to Billy (not his real name), a recent graduate from the University of Central Lancashire, who says he has been told by his local job centre that he must work for free at the discount retailer for 30 hours a week for six weeks. Billy and nine others are required to wear black, unbranded polo shirts, black trousers and black shoes when working in Poundland’s stores, all provided by the job centre. 

familiar snip

Of 10 unpaid workers at that store, Billy says eight are under 25 years old. One of the older pair has 27 years’ experience as a teacher. All are on the DWP’s ‘Work Experience Programme’. Billy told us:

“I was so excited to graduate from university but, one month on, I’ve never felt so low. Having struggled to find paid work, three weeks ago I signed on to Universal Credit, and I’ve been told to do unpaid work experience stacking shelves at Poundland. There are 10 of us in our branch working 30 hours a week, and none of us is being paid a penny by Poundland. I hate it and have no idea what this is supposed to be teaching me. I’m not learning anything and I can’t work out why taxpayers are subsidising my unpaid work for a hugely profitable company.

“I don’t have a set schedule. They just literally tell me to come in. Monday 26th June was my first day, I worked from 2:30-8:30pm. There were five of us in total. Once we completed the day we were told to come in again on Wednesday from 2:30-8:30pm. It’s not set hours and days but we have to do 30 hours a week for 6 weeks. We have been given black polo shirts to wear during our shifts. They’re the exactly same as the uniform the regular Poundland staff wear, but without the Poundland logo.

“I am keen to get on and apply for a jobs in my chosen industry, but working for nothing is so demoralising that it’s hard to stay motivated. I can’t understand how the politicians think unpaid work is a solution to youth unemployment. The quality of these placements is poor and they lead nowhere. Those of us who do them end up exhausted and miserable, and I suspect we’ve probably replaced a few paid workers too, who will be missing out on the shifts we now cover. Meanwhile, Poundland must be laughing all the way to the bank. The scheme needs shutting down. The only people benefiting from it are Poundland.”

Since graduating this summer with a 2:1 in Film and Media Studies, Billy has been living at home with his dad, who has bipolar disorder, his mum, who is a carer, and his brother who is also looking for work. The whole family is struggling financially and Billy says: “We all feel trapped”.


Benefit Tales posts,

The number of benefit sanctions imposed on job seekers has shot up by 50% in the space of six months, Politics.co.uk can reveal.

The number of sanctions imposed on people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit rose from 18,994 last July to 33,860 in December, before falling back to the 30,000 mark by March this year.

In the six months to March, the most recent month for which data is available, the number of sanctions had risen by 50%.

“It is a matter of real concern that the number of people on Universal Credit being sanctioned is increasing,” shadow employment minister Margaret Greenwood said.

“This data shows further evidence of the Tory government letting vulnerable groups down, fuelling poverty and even destitution in the UK.

“A recent Public Accounts Committee report suggested that sanctions are being ‘applied inconsistently’ and used as a ‘blunt instrument’.”

Politics.co.uk has combined both published and unpublished data from the Department for Work and Pensions. While figures for the old Jobseeker’s Allowance benefit are routinely published, recent data for the newer Universal Credit system is much harder to come by.

The true sanctions figures are actually likely to be higher, as the Universal Credit data excludes claimants in numerous parts of the country. (also, these figures don’t include sanctions on people with disability  benefits)

Originally on the Politics Co site: Benefit sanctions shoot up 50% in six months

Written by Andrew Coates

September 4, 2017 at 1:39 pm

High Court Challenges Unpaid Workfare: What now for ‘Community Work Placements’?

After High Court challenges UK work schemes Everybody is asking: what now for Community Work Placements?

Poundland store
Poundland was one of the employers 

The High Court has ruled emergency laws underpinning a government back-to-work scheme are “incompatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The government says it should not have to repay claimants docked benefits for not doing all they could to find work.

But a judge said the retrospective application of legislation passed in 2013 “interfered with the right to a fair trial” of those affected.

Ministers said they were “disappointed” and would appeal.

The case originates in a legal challenge brought by Cait Reilly in 2012. She maintained that her participation in an unpaid work placement in a Poundland store in 2011 breached her human rights.

The 24-year-old graduate challenged the legality of the scheme, part of the government’s “mandatory work activity” programme, where claimants risk losing their Jobseeker’s Allowance if they do not take part.

She said she had not been informed prior to the placement that she would, as a result, have to give up her voluntary work in a museum – where she hoped to build a career.

‘Minority of cases’

The government was forced to pass emergency legislation amending the regulations last year after the Court of Appeal ruled that Ms Reilly had not been properly notified about the scheme and its undertakings.

Cait Reilly

The legislation, which came into force in March 2013, strengthened the rules to make it clear that claimants must do all they could to find work in order to claim benefits.

It also sought to ensure the government did not have to repay claimants who had been penalised for not complying with the conditions of their benefit claims by retrospectively “validating” sanctions.

But claimants argued that this was unfair and insisted they were entitled to compensation.

Mrs Justice Lang, sitting at the High Court in London, ruled on Friday that the retrospective nature of the legislation interfered with the “right to a fair trial” under Article Six of the Convention on Human Rights.

She said the claimants could apply for a judicial review of the relevant legislation.

The Department for Work and Pensions said it was “disappointed” by the ruling – which it said applied to a minority of claimants – and would appeal.

“We disagree with the judgement on the legislation and are disappointed,” a spokeswoman said.

“It was discussed, voted on and passed by Parliament. While this applies to only a minority of past cases and does not affect the day-to-day business of our Jobcentres, we think this is an important point and will appeal.”

She said the legislation remained “in force” and the government would not be compensating anyone pending the outcome of its appeal.

Slave labour

But Paul Heron, a solicitor for Public Interest Lawyers, said it was a “massively significant” ruling and the DWP’s decision to appeal against it would be a further blow to the “upwards of 3,000 cases sitting in the tribunal system waiting for this judgement”.

About £130m was owed to people who had fallen foul of the retrospective legislation, he said, ranging from four weeks’ benefit, about £250, to several thousand pounds.

He told BBC News it was “about time the DWP just held their hands up, admit they made an error, and pay people the money they were entitled to at the time. That is what a responsible government would do”.

The back-to-work schemes have been condemned by critics as “slave labour” because they involve work without pay. But they are seen by supporters as a good way of getting the unemployed back into the world of work.

The Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the regulations last year, although the judges also rejected claims that the schemes were “exploitative” and amounted to “forced labour”.

Ministers said that the most recent legal judgement had upheld this view.

“We’re pleased the court recognised that if claimants do not play by the rules and meet their conditions to do all they can to look for work and get a job, we can stop their benefits,” the spokeswoman added.

Poundland, one of several employers which took part in the scheme, withdrew from it in 2012.


What will happen with Community Work Placements, such as clearing up litter and graffiti in their local areas, which are to be introduced for the long-term unemployed?

This is the case by the Public Interest Lawyers:

  1. Our clients do not object to work or to work experience.  Cait Reilly was doing voluntary work experience in a museum when she was sent to Poundland.   Our clients, like the vast majority of jobseekers, are desperate to find paid work of any description, including stacking shelves.  The term “job snobs” is therefore a misleading and offensive buzz word being used by the Government to discredit Britain’s 2.6 million unemployed.  What our clients say they need is support from the Government to make the most of their skills and plug their skills gaps, in order to ensure that they not only enter the job market, but stay there.
  2. The Government is not “paying them… through benefits” to work, as the Deputy Prime Minister has claimed today.  Jobseekers allowance ranges from £53.45 to £67.50 per week.  It is paid for one specific (and obvious) purpose – to support people whilst they seek employment.  It is not remuneration for work, and even if it were it would mean that people on Back to Work schemes would be getting paid as little as £1.78 per hour, often whilst working for some of our biggest retailers.  Many of those retailers are now realising that such a scenario is unacceptable and have either pulled out of the schemes or demanded that the Government thinks again.
  3. People are not being given a choice. Ministers claim that work under these schemes is not forced but voluntary.  This is not correct.  The Community Action Programme, Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity Scheme (the clue is in the name) are mandatory, and jobseekers will lose their jobseeker’s allowance if they do not participate.  The Government says the sector-based work academy and work experience schemes are voluntarily, but Cait Reilly was told in no uncertain terms that her participation was “mandatory”.
  4. The schemes do not work. Ministers claim the schemes help people into employment.  Yet, the international research the Government commissioned before introducing them gave it two very clear answers:

There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work.  It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers”; and

Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.”

They add:

  • The schemes do not target benefits scroungers or “the something for nothing generation”: the Government’s internal guidance makes clear that such people who are taking advantage of the system are noteligible for the schemes.  They must receive the appropriate sanction of removal of their jobseeker’s allowance as they are not “jobseeking”.
  • These legal challenges are not simply about “human rights”.  What our clients object to is 1) the forced or compulsory nature of the work required, and 2) that Parliament has been by-passed by the Government in creating these schemes.  They argue that this breaches basic democratic and legal requirements.
  • The Government schemes do not amount to slave labour, as some campaigners have suggested.  The ILO’s Forced Labour Convention of 1930 defines slavery as connoting “ownership” over an individual.  What our clients are arguing is that the Government schemes are “forced or compulsory” labour.  This too is prohibited under UK civil and criminal law.
  • These schemes are not all aimed at the long-term unemployed.  For example, the sector-based work academy can apply to any jobseeker, even if he or she has only been unemployed for one day
  • Press attention has focused on the sector-based work academy, but that is only one of a plethora of complex schemes, many of which are much worse.  The sector-based work academy involves 6-8 weeks of unpaid work.  Other schemes involve six months, and there appears to be nothing to stop those six-month periods from being renewed.  One of our clients was told that his Community Action Programme placement would last six months “to begin with”.
  • The Government’s sums do not add up.  The Employment Minister has stated that “half” or “something like half” of those on work experience have received permanent jobs.  He has not advanced any evidence to support this, and Tesco has offered only 300 jobs having taken on 1400 unpaid workers.

We would say that many of these legal, moral and political criticisms apply to Community Work Placements, and the whole ‘Help to Work’ fiasco.

Brighton Campaign Victory On Poundland Workfare Placements.

Cross-Posted from Brighton Benefits CampaignHere.

They tell us, “after just one demo that branch has pulled out of the ‘work experience’ scheme.”



Brighton Benefits Campaign’s successful Poundland picket

The government would have us believe that the growing army of the unemployed – including over a million under twenty-fives – are ‘scroungers’ who will avoid work at all costs.  They conveniently ignore the fact that for every job vacancy there are tens or even hundreds of applicants. And that at the same time, increasing numbers of sick and disabled people and single parents are being forced into the job market.

In the right wing media, workfare is portrayed as a way to prevent the ‘lazy’ unemployed getting ‘something for nothing’ by forcing them to ‘volunteer’ or face sanctions. To those signing on, particularly young people, it is promoted as work experience that will improve their chances of employment.

Of course in reality, workfare provides free labour for companies such as Poundland and other large retailers, enabling them to make yet more massive profits, and to cut the jobs, wages and conditions of their paid workers.    Last Saturday activists from Brighton Benefits Campaign, together with members of Brighton Solidarity Federation and other supporters, took part in their first picket of the Poundland store in Western Road Brighton, in protest against this misuse of the unemployed as unpaid labour under the workfare scheme.

Over a thousand leaflets exposing the truth behind the government’s propaganda were handed out to shoppers outside the shop.  Many showed interest and stopped to discuss the issue.  Some  shared their own experience of workfare.  We were told by one woman that her daughter worked for a Tesco store where workfare had resulted in paid staff being told ‘no more overtime’.

The Poundland manager came out almost immediately and tried to argue the case for workfare as ‘work experience’. Within a short time a whole group of Poundland employees were standing just inside the doors either joining in or listening as we explained how exploitation of the unemployed as free labour is an attack on those in work as well as those without, and that all work should be properly paid.

Interestingly, although the store manager obviously felt somewhat besieged, there was no sign of the police, not even community officers who have turned up at other pickets. Or maybe they were all too busy at the Brighton match!

More pickets are planned as the campaign hots up.  Hopefully this kind of action will be taking place in many other places,  as unions and anti-cuts groups join the fight against workfare.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

February 6, 2012 at 10:29 am

Workfare workers are employees of the Crown?

A new blow for the Government with its Work Programme, Community Action Programme, Mandatory Work Activity and Work Experience schemes as it has been suggested that the jobseekers being placed on mandatory placements through statutory legislation are in effect Crown employees.

Regardless of being assigned to the premises of an company (we prefer not to say employer in such context) or the street:-

  • there is no employment contract expressly written, verbal or implied between the worker and the company;
  • no payment in cash or in kind from said company;
  • jobseekers on the employment programme schemes are statistically employed; and
  • such appointment is exercised through statutory instrument (of an Act of Parliament)

Thus these workfare workers are employees of the Crown, an employee of the State and a public sector worker (regardless if you are operating in a private sector environment) – this is what workfare is all about, working for your benefits.

So, when you are about to start a 6 month stint at Poundland or Tescos stacking shelves with threats to your benefits, make sure you:-

  • Register with UNISON (public sector trade union) for around 81p per week
  • Serve notice on the workfare general (the company you are based at) to alert them of your union membership status
  • Remain active within the union in particular about your working conditions

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.