Workfare ruling a win-win for Cait Reilly and the Coalition

Remember Cait Reilly who was volunteering in a museum then told to work for Poundland or lose her Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)?

On Wednesday, October 30, five Supreme Court justices upheld a Court of Appeal decision that aspects of the Coalition’s ‘back to work’ scheme are legally flawed.

However, they also ruled that the scheme’s rules did not constitute forced or compulsory labour. Yet, ‘back to work’ terms and conditions must be fully explained to the JSA recipient.

So, the Cait Reillys of this nation win.

And so do the Iain Duncan Smiths.

The lawyers represented Reilly and 40-year old Jamieson Wilson, also a JSA recipient. An HGV driver looking for work, Wilson objected to cleaning furniture for his weekly ‘allowance’ from the state. In his case, his JSA was stopped for six months.

The Independent reports:

Lawyers representing the pair said all applicants who had their jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the schemes could now reclaim their allowance as a result of this morning’s ruling …

At the Court of Appeal Lord Justice Pill, Lady Justice Black and Sir Stanley Burnton unanimously agreed that the 2011 “work for your benefits” regulations failed to give the unemployed enough information, especially regarding the sanctions for refusing jobs under the schemes.

The paper reported that Cait Reilly was ‘really pleased’:

with Tuesday’s judgment, which she hopes “will serve to improve the current system and assist jobseekers who have been unfairly stripped of their benefits.”

Iain Duncan Smith was also ‘pleased’:

We are very pleased that the Supreme Court today unanimously upheld our right to require those claiming jobseeker’s allowance to take part in programmes which will help get them into work.

We have always said that it was ridiculous to say that our schemes amounted to forced labour, and yet again we have won this argument.

But — and it’s a big but — a spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stated:

The ruling today changes nothing. We are not paying back any benefits as a result of today’s ruling.

Oh dear. One to watch. I’ll make the popcorn.

I never understood why everyone was so exercised over Cait Reilly’s refusal to work at Poundland when she’d already found herself voluntary ‘work’ at a museum, much more in line with her degree in Geography. Yet, people called her a sponger, spoiled and many other unwarranted things.

That said, her detractors shouldn’t fret too much, because she is currently working at Morrison’s.


Still, as Iain Duncan Smith might paraphrase Gertrude Stein, ‘A job is a job is a job’.

This is a bit of what Reilly wrote for The Guardian back in 2012 (emphases mine):

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.

She goes on to say:

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 …


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.

Unfortunately, The Guardian has blocked out the comments, which I would like to have read.

Yet, Reilly has a point. I am sorry she hasn’t yet found work more in line with her university degree, but with perseverance, that, too, will come.

It is dismal being unemployed. And it would be even worse having to take something unsuitable. She had the right idea in volunteering at the museum, which is akin to an unpaid internship. And, at the time, there was nothing wrong with ‘volunteering’ whilst collecting JSA.

The Poundland position is also a form of ‘volunteering’.

The only advantages to JSA are that it is enough for food and incidentals and that the government pays your stamps towards state pension.

In future, people probably won’t bother to sign on and take their lumps in paying a backlog of stamps themselves — pretty pricey. I know. I’ve been there.

The Guardian has more information here for the unemployed.

10 comments for “Workfare ruling a win-win for Cait Reilly and the Coalition

  1. Errol
    November 1, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Proof that guardian readers are nutters.

    off topic but their moronic thread on ‘why prison uniforms are bad’ is absurd. Prisoners are vicious oiks who don’t conform to society. It’s the lefty namby babying that has created them.

    We should address the causes bleats one: yes, you lot you stupid oafs. Commit crime, remove yourself from the protections and privileges of society: including how you dress. One twonk even has property is theft as a moniker. They’re utter morons.

    And frankly, people taking money form the state should take a job form the state. After all, everyone forgets that pound land has already paid the taxes that are this woman’s salary. Perhaps if they were taxed less they’d employ more people.

    But that’s this silly free market wibble. It’ll never be allowed to catch on.

  2. November 1, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Still, as Iain Duncan Smith might paraphrase Gertrude Stein, ‘A job is a job is a job’.

    Y-e-e-e-s-s-s, cleaning out toilets is exactly the same as brain surgeon or taking a service on Sunday. Let’s all be equal.

    • November 3, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      Thank you, James.

      My mother — a diehard conservative — always said to go for the job which most closely mirrors one’s skills and line of study. If not, it was still okay as long as it offered fairly rapid advancement.

  3. November 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    I’ve never had a problem with workfare, much to the annoyance of some people I know. My problem is with the unintended consequences – if Poundland can get free labour, where’s the incentive to employ etc.

    Also, when do you put someone on workfare? I’m of the opinion that benefits should be a stop gap only, but while on that stop gap you should be free to look for your own work. I only think workfare should kick in after a while when a person looks like they ain’t going to get anything on their own.

    I know folk say that benefit scroungers are in a minority and no one wants a life claiming from the state. That’s not true, I’ve seen it. The pub trade draws the scroungers like flies on shit. These are the people that workfare is ideal for.

    You pay your taxes (Or will if you are young) so should expect state help for a while if needed. It’s when people come to veiw state dependance as a way of life that workfare is needed.

    I also have a bit of a problem with people leaving university and expecting a job in their chosen field. How many people are now qualified criminal scientists as a result of the TV program CSI, when there are only ever a few jobs available in the field.

    A career in a specialised subject needs to be worked at for much longer than the years spent at university, and if part of that means volunteering then I think you should do it on your own dime.

    • November 3, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      Well, Cait Reilly did find her own volunteering post at the museum. No state help there.

      What she wrote for The Guardian makes it pretty clear that she had been looking for work, not just in her specialised field.

      At the time — and it is still unclear when this was changed — jobseekers were told that volunteering counted towards some type of ‘busyness’, for lack of a better word.

      • November 4, 2013 at 7:24 am

        Finding her own voluntary work is not state help but expecting to be given money to live off by the state while she volunteers is.

        My reply was more of a generalisation rather than just refering to her though. There are many better candidates out there for such a scheme than she was.

  4. November 2, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    … another point is that its only Big Retail like Poundland that gets the benefit of “free” (in scare quotes like the “free” NHS, Errol’s point about taxes is correct) labour, I don’t know of any placements in smaller businesses (although I’m happy to be corrected) . So it can be seen as another barrier to entry for smaller competition, as if they want their floors cleaned they need to pay NMW + Workplace Pension + Employer’s Contributions + whatever else + accounting fees to work it all out, while Poundland et al get the labour free and admin done by Jobcentre staff, also free.

    • November 3, 2013 at 11:32 pm

      Precisely, thanks.

      I plan a follow-up to this which will elaborate on your point with a French example.

  5. November 6, 2013 at 1:57 am

    If she spent all of her benefit allowance on booze and maintained a permanent state of pissedness, like my next door neighbour, she could get a disability allowance as well, like he does. Plus a free house, half-price electricity and a free phone.

    • November 6, 2013 at 9:45 am

      Wow, I didn’t think Australia allowed that sort of thing on the public purse.

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