Poundland work breaches human rights?


It sounded so simple: make benefit claimants accept work experience or face losing their payments. It would get benefit claimants back into the workplace, and satisfy those who were sick of subsidising the workshy in one fell swoop.

However, nothing is ever that simple. Ministers are now facing their first court case from one claimant who says it breached her human rights.

The case

Cait Reilly is a 22-year-old geology graduate from Birmingham University. According to the Daily Mail, she graduated last summer, but hasn't been able to find a job that makes the most of her specialism. She hasn't been sitting around waiting for a job to fall into her lap: she has been volunteering at a museum in order to gain experience, while claiming benefits at the same time.

Unfortunately, just before Christmas, she ran into the government's new scheme. She was ordered to undertake a two week work-experience stint in Poundland. If she had refused, she would have lost her £53.45-a-week Jobseeker's Allowance. So she took the placement, and lost out on valuable experience at the museum.

She was then sent on a training programme for a week, and did a stint at her local Poundland, where she is claiming she spent her time cleaning and stacking shelves.

Poundland, for its part, says its that a number of people have gained valuable training and on-the-job experience through the scheme, which has boosted their career opportunities in retail.

Reilly isn't convinced it helped her at all, and her reaction has been to launch a case against the government, on the grounds that it breached her Human Rights. Her lawyers are hoping it will lead to a proper review of the policy, which they say amounts to 'forced labour', which is in breach of the Human Rights Act.

Reilly told the Mail: "I was actually doing something that was helping me work towards a job and was taken away from that to do something of no value to me. It was very frustrating."

Failing scheme?

It does seem strange. After-all, if she was taking positive steps to progress in her career, then a government scheme designed to get people into work shouldn't be allowed to derail her plans. It goes to show that when the most well-meaning schemes are in the hands of unthinking pen-pushers, the most ridiculous unintended consequences will emerge.

There is also a question mark over whether the scheme is being implemented properly. Last summer Reilly went to a retail jobs 'open day' which enrolled her into the scheme. She was meant to be informed that this automatically meant she was agreeing to work for free, and that she had a cooling off period at that point, but says it was never explained properly to her.

The lawyers will have their day on this one, and it's anyone's guess where the court will go.

Right to claim?

However, there's another question here: whether she really needs to be claiming the benefits in the first place. She is a bright and energetic young person in good health. Of course it's difficult to break into her chosen career, but does she really need to be claiming benefits? Are graduates really the target for government support?

What exactly is stopping her volunteering part time at the museum and working elsewhere at the same time? Somewhere like Poundland wouldn't hurt. Even if she volunteers full time, there are always weekends and evenings.

There are plenty of hard-working people who, when they face a setback in their career, will look elsewhere for cash to help them through the tough times. Doorstep selling, pulling pints, running Jamie Oliver parties: they are all excellent ways to keep the wolf from the door. Of course claiming benefits is easier, but since when was the easy option the best one?

Reilly is now back working for free at the Pen Room Museum, and still looking for work. I'm sure she's working hard, and she's hardly raking in the big bucks in benefits, but there will always be those who will wonder whether her time may be better spent standing on her own two feet financially rather than launching legal cases.

So what do you think? Let us know in the comments
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