The government's back-to-work schemes, which have been criticised as "forced labour", are lawful, the High Court ruled on Monday.

The judgment was in response to unemployed graduate Cait Reilly's challenge. The 22-year-old which claimed the scheme breached the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as it "forced" her to work for free.

The geology graduate from Birmingham University said she was sent to an employment skills training workshop for a week to improve attributes such as communication skills.

The training was followed by five hours a day stacking and cleaning shelves at the Poundland near her home in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Reilly said she had to leave her voluntary work at a museum to work at the store, or risk losing her unemployment benefits.

Article four of the ECHR prohibits slavery and forced labour, something Reilly attested the government was guilty of.

The Honourable Mr Justice Foskett said the scheme is "a very long way removed from the kind of colonial exploitation of labour that led to the formulation of Article 4".

"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."

At the time, 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 against the government as a result.

Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Iain Duncan Smith said:

"We are delighted, although not surprised, that the Judge agrees our schemes are not forced labour. Comparing our initiatives to slave labour is not only ridiculous but insulting to people around the world facing real oppression.

"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."

But the judge criticised the DWP over the lack of clarity of the letters which warn claimants of a potential loss of benefits if they fail to participate in the schemes without good reason, and called for improved clarity.

"Whether the problems in Miss Reilly's case and Mr Wilson's case were 'merely teething problems' remains to be seen," he said.
"The issues raised in their respective cases were properly raised even though the principal contentions advanced have been rejected."

The DWP defended its letters, with Duncan Smith saying there would be an appeal over the warning letters about sanctions. "We do not believe there is anything wrong with the original letters and we will appeal this aspect of the judgment, but in the meantime we have revised our standard letters."

SEE ALSO:

Graduate Takes Legal For Being Forced To Stack Shelves