A day’s work for a day’s pay

Human rights: fair salaryThe Department of Work and Pensions say

“We will be contesting these cases vigorously. These schemes are not slave labour. They play an important part in giving jobseekers the skills and experience they need to find work. It is entirely reasonable to ask jobseekers to take real steps towards finding work if they are claiming benefits.”

Jamieson Wilson, 40, is a mechanic. He has been unemployed (according to the AP story) since 2008. His Job Centre decided that the entirely reasonable way of “helping” him with the skills and experience he would need was to spend six months doing 30 hours a week unpaid work … cleaning furniture.

Cait Reilly, 23, is a geology graduate who had arranged voluntary work for herself in a local museum. She had been signing on since August 2010. Her local Job Centre had not expressed any criticism of her efforts to find paid work, helpful or otherwise, but in January decided to “help” her with two weeks unpaid work, five hours a day, sweeping floors, cleaning shelves, and stacking goods for sale, at the Poundland near where she lived. (At home, with her parents, just as David Cameron thinks an unemployed person under 25 ought to.)

Cait Reilly points out:

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. While hoping for a career in museums, I have also been applying for any job I am able to do. Like more than a million young people today, I find living on £53 a week extremely difficult, and would be delighted to find any paid work.

Nathalie Lieven QC, appearing for Reilly and Jamieson, pointed out that Poundland has a turnover of more than £500 million and its code of conduct requires it to conform to ILO standards, which include the right of all workers to receive minimum wage. So far from Reilly being “helped”, she received neither training nor supervision: she was just providing Poundland with free labour, saving the company – which reports increasing profits – from having to hire someone.

Toby Young, son of Baron Young of Dartington and his second wife Sasha Moorsom, who went from blogging at The Daily Telegraph to blogging for The Sun on Sunday, thinks that a stint he did of unpaid work at his father’s instigation in 1980 when he was 16 and wanted to leave school, gives him the right to judge Cait Reilly for wanting to be paid to work in Poundland at the age of 23:

Perhaps the two weeks she spent stacking shelves in Poundland will have the same galvanising effect on her as cleaning lavatories did on me and she’ll go back to university and get some additional qualifications.

More generally, I approve of these sorts of schemes because they denude young people of their sense of entitlement. The world doesn’t owe them a living. They can’t just expect a fulfilling career to fall into their laps – and the sooner they realise that, the better off they’ll be.

He adds:

Of course, this isn’t just because British-born people turn their noses up at low-paid service jobs. It’s also because they’re caught in the welfare trap. Why take a job at Pret if your take-home pay after tax is only going to be 5% higher than what it would be if you remained on Jobseekers’ Allowance? That’s why Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are so important and why we shouldn’t let his bill be wrecked by Labour and Lib Dem peers in the House of Lords. To break the cycle of long-term unemployment we have to make sure people are properly incentivised to go out to work.

It does not occur to the Hon. Toby Young that employers might “properly incentivise” people to work by paying – shock, horror! – not just the legal minimum wage, but above the minimum wage.

While getting paid the minimum wage for a temp job at Poundland would be a welcome change from struggling on £53 a week, still, it’s low enough that Cait Reilly would still have qualified for Housing Benefit, if she’d been claiming it:

Who wins, when the government makes up the shortfall, between the poverty pay a shelf-packer earns and what he or she needs to live on? Not the worker, evidently; not the taxpayer, who may get a certain empathy boost from the fact that nobody’s starving, but reaps no economic advantage from this bizarre system; not the supplier to the supermarket, who often has his or her own case to make about deals so bad they often amount to a mugging.

How is it that wanting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work has become a left-wing, radical/revolutionary value? Iain Duncan Smith notoriously called Cait Reilly “snooty” for expecting to be paid to work in Poundland – though he himself continued to draw his MP’s salary and expenses during the six months he took off work in 2009 to care for his wife when she had breast cancer.

AOL Money:

In October 2011 her Jobcentre Plus adviser told her that if she accepted a place on a “sector-based work academy” scheme she would undergo a week’s training followed by a job interview, but she was not told what her rights and obligations were. There was no interview.

Ms Lieven said Jamieson Wilson, who lives in the Midlands, the second applicant for judicial review, was a 40-year-old unemployed since 2008. He was told last November he would be required to undertake up to six months of unpaid work cleaning furniture in the DWP’s community action programme (CAP), and further periods of required work could follow.

Ms Lieven said Mr Wilson had recently been subjected to sanctions after refusing to take part in the scheme and now apparently faced the loss of jobseeker’s allowance for six months. Ms Lieven argued the regulations underpinning the schemes did not comply with the 1995 Jobseekers Act as they failed to give details of each of the schemes and the circumstances in which individuals could be required to take part.

Human rights: UDHRArticle 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

And Article 23 of the UDHR demands, for Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson and everyone else “snooty” enough to think they should be paid for their work:

  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

For recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Update, 31st August: Chris Grayling lies about Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson:

The usual suspects will cry “slave labour”. They always do. But they are the people who believe that young claimants have the right to sit at home playing computer games. I simply disagree.

Update, 12th February 2013:

Though Justice Foskett dismissed Cait Reilly’s claim that workfare under threat of sanction amounts to forced labour, the court of appeal today is reported to have overturned that decision. Will tens of thousands of unemployed people now be entitled to compensation after the Department of Work and Pensions sanctioned them for failing to work for free?

The ruling was announced at 10am. 20 minutes later:

The Social Security Advisory Committee’s report on 1st April 2011, following a review of the evidence, advised the government not to introduce Mandatory Work Activitym because:

“Published evidence is at best ambivalent about the chances of ‘workfare’ type activity improving outcomes for people who are out of work.”
“We are concerned that mandating an individual to this scheme could also have the opposite effect to the one intended.”
“This seems to us to signal that being mandated to mandatory work activity is regarded as a punishment…”

Which moves us on to Workfare: You win some you lose some. The courts declared the DWP’s failure to abide by its own regulations unlawful: the DWP simply published new regulations [link originally provided incorrect – will fix when new regs available online], which it claims put them within the law again.

Human Rights - Article 23


Filed under Benefits, Human Rights, Poverty

4 responses to “A day’s work for a day’s pay

  1. jamie lacon

    To anyone reading the above UDHR Articles, as well as ILO code, the meaning seems crystal clear and the government schemes – effectively getting people to work 30 or 40 hours a week for £53 when the minimum wage is over £6 a glaring breach. But I am not holding my breath for relief from the UK courts. These are an arm of the establishment. They will bend over backwards, twist words back to front, even find reasons why the Articles don’t apply to the unemployed in the first place, or – that great catch-all – yes, the government is technically in breach but this is trumped by the “public interest”, before they will support workers against a government pushing the agenda of capitalist exploitation. After all, they are “all in it together”. If ordinary people get real power, the judges go down the plug-hole just like the government, corrupt businessmen and banks.

  2. Nic

    Unfortunately, the response to Cait Reilly was always going to be downright venomous. General opinion seems to have shifted against graduates having any kind of expectations whatsoever. I agree that some have totally unrealistic expectations and seem to think that nothing but the best graduate jobs are good enough for them.

    But, in my opinion, Cait Reilly is not one of them. Nothing she has said or done has given me the impression that she’s looking down on retail or those who work within the industry. I suspect that if Poundland had offered her full-time work, she’d have taken it. There’s nothing nice about unemployment and it’s obvious she wants to work, else why would she have arranged her own placement at the museum? Had she turned down an offer of paid work because it was not in line with her dream job, I’d have a problem. Had she turned down a placement that was giving her new, useful experience, I’d have a problem. Had she turned down a placement that had a real chance of leading to paid work, I’d have a problem. Had she turned down a placement when she had made no arrangements of her own, I’d have a problem. But she did none of those things. If this scheme is intended to help people into work, Cait had a right to expect it to benefit her in some way. Otherwise, it is just government-sanctioned time-wasting.

    Sadly, the judge’s decision didn’t surprise me at all, but I’m glad that she didn’t just let it go unopposed. That’s how injustices like this are permitted to continue.

  3. I must admit I’d been oblivious to the Rt Hon Mr Young’s flippant comments until just now – “Perhaps…she’ll go back to university and get some additional qualifications”? I would have thought a degree in geology was pretty good going as far as qualifications were concerned! (But of course, this country has a history of driving qualified scientists and engineers abroad)

    I’m flabbergasted that the DWP still maintains that this unpaid work was beneficial to Reilly’s career, when she was already looking for unpaid work in fields more relevant to her skills and expertise! Nevertheless, very glad to hear the Court of Appeal has found in her favour.

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