Graduate challenges work experience scheme

PoundlandAn unemployed graduate is challenging the legality of a Government work experience scheme that she says forced her to work for free in Poundland.

Cait Reilly, 22, said she had to leave her voluntary work at a museum to stack shelves in the budget store for two weeks or risk losing her unemployment benefits.
Her legal team is asking a judge at London's High Court to quash Department for Work and Pensions regulations under which the "sector-based work academy" workfare scheme was set up to help young unemployed people into work.

They say the requirement under the 2011 regulations to carry out mandatory work breaches article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits slavery and forced labour.

Ms Reilly, a geology graduate from Birmingham University, said she was sent under her scheme to an employment skills training workshop for a week to improve attributes such as communication skills.

That was followed by five hours a day sweeping up and stacking and cleaning shelves at the Poundland near her home in Kings Heath, Birmingham, before having to attend a final week of training on the scheme. A promised job interview never materialised.

In a second case, judicial review is being sought by a claimant who refused to take part in another scheme under the regulations called the "community action programme". Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who are acting for both claimants, say he was told that he had to work cleaning furniture without pay for 30 hours a week for six months.

"No detailed information or guidance was provided to him about the scheme itself, and he has recently been informed that he is being stripped of his jobseeker's allowance for six months because he refused to participate in the scheme," said PIL.

PIL accuses the Government of using vague and open-ended regulations to create a plethora of schemes without publishing clear guidance as to what they entail.

Jim Duffy, Ms Reilly's solicitor, said: "Everyone agrees on the need to help the unemployed back into work, but forcing young people into pointless, unpaid labour at massive retailers who could easily afford to pay them the minimum wage demeans and frustrates them when we should be empowering and supporting them.
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