Unpaid welfare-to-work schemes for the unemployed, which a number of charities pulled out of due to concerns about blurring lines with volunteering, have been ruled lawful by the High Court today.
The practice attracted controversy last year after a museum volunteer Cat Reilly launched a judicial review claiming unpaid schemes violated Article IV of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery. She had been told by her local job centre that she had to complete a four-week programme made up of two weeks’ employability training and two weeks’ unpaid work at Poundland.
In the weeks following the story, during which a media storm ensued, a number of charities including Marie Curie Cancer Care, Shelter and Scope, pulled out of unpaid welfare-to-work schemes. Poundland also exited after a barrage of negative publicity.
Reilly launched a legal challenge to the scheme, along with unemployed HGV driver Jamieson Wilson, who both claimed unpaid schemes violated the Human Rights Act.
However, Justice Foskett, has today ruled that such schemes are lawful. He 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".
However, Justice Foskett criticised the DWP for the lack of clarity over the potential loss of benefits to claimants who fail to take part in the schemes without good reason.
A DWP spokeswoman said and reitered the government view that opponents of the scheme are oponents of "hard work.
"We are delighted, although not surprised, that the judge agrees our schemes are not forced labour," she said.
"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."