A graduate has launched legal action against the government after she was allegedly "forced" to stack shelves in Poundland without pay.
Cait Reilly, a Birmingham University graduate, submitted a judicial review after she was apparently told by her local Job Centre she would lose her benefits if she did not comply. The 22-year-old's case was publicised last November, when The Guardian reported Reilly was working five hours a day for three weeks at the discount store in south Birmingham.
Reilly, who graduated from university with a BSc in geology, told the paper at the time she was "being used as free labour, especially in the run-up to Christmas". She had been volunteering at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery when she was ordered to accept the placement at Poundland for two weeks, despite already having had experience in the retail sector.
She, along with others, was reportedly told she would not be eligible for her £53-a-week Jobseekers Allowance (JSA). Public Interest Lawyers, acting on behalf of Reilly, issued a landmark judicial review on Wednesday against the government.
Solicitor Jim Duffy said: "This government has created - without parliamentary authority - a complex array of schemes that allow Job Centres to force people into futile, unpaid labour for weeks or months at a time.
"By doing so it worsens rather than alleviates the cycle of unemployment that is such a significant barrier to addressing the economic crisis."
A statement released by Poundland said its work experience was designed to help unemployed people find work in the retail sector.
"We work in partnership with JobCentre Plus and other government funded organisations to implement a comprehensive work placement programme designed to provide on-the-job training for those looking to retail as a career opportunity."
Reilly is asking the High Court to quash the controversial regulations detailed in the Jobseeker's Allowance (Employment Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011, which stipulate that the long-term unemployed can be required to undertake up to six months of unpaid work.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "Our priority is to help people off benefits and into work. We are looking to help people get practical experience that will give them a better chance of getting into work.
"It is simply absurd to suggest that we should not be providing this support and effectively leaving people at home doing nothing."
The government are under increasing pressure to address the issue of unpaid work experience, particularly after a report released on Wednesday said graduates without this experience were "unlikely" to get jobs.