Since workfare has been rolled out in the UK it has been found to be fraudulent, failing, and now, illegal. Yesterday, three judges unanimously agreed that almost all of Iain Duncan Smith’s back to work schemes which hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to take part in were unlawful (Mandatory Work Activity is sadly unaffected). Everyone who has been sanctioned on these schemes since they began two years ago should be entitled to be paid back; Newsnight last night said 130,000 people who have been unlawfully sanctioned are affected.
But it didn’t take long for the humiliated government to get forced unpaid work back on the road again. Last night, promising a “short sharp shock”, it rushed through regulations which mean that from today these schemes may be mandatory. We say may because the DWP doesn’t exactly have a good track record of following the law; the new regulations were rushed out in 24 hours and may not respect the judges’ ruling.
The new regulations haven’t yet been put in the public domain, so once again people are in a limbo where we have no way of knowing our rights. This is what we understand to be the case at the moment, and we’ll keep you posted as we hear more:
1. Until yesterday, all back to work schemes apart from Mandatory Work Activity were unlawful. This includes the Work Programme, Work Experience, Sector Based Work Academies, Community Action Programme and Trailblazer schemes. This means:
- nothing was legally mandatory on those schemes
- everyone who was sanctioned on them should be entitled to recoup their lost payments
2. The government plan to ask the Supreme Court for a right to appeal. Until they have done so, they say they will not accept requests for sanctions to be repaid. It is very unlikely they will win the appeal, but it does mean there will be a delay in repayments. We will stay in touch with Public Interest Lawyers to keep people posted on this, and whether there may be a case for compensation.
3. Job Centre staff have been advised to tell people that because of the new regulations brought in last night “nothing has changed”. This is not the case:
- Unless the government wins the right to appeal and wins that appeal (which is unlikely), then everything you have been asked to do on these schemes in the last two years was unlawful.
- Job Centres are issuing new letters to claimants from today which suggests that the previous letters about back to work schemes are no longer valid. This could mean that you are not mandated on these schemes until you receive a new letter.
For once, the Labour Party could do something to stop this government. Its Shadow Cabinet could submit a ‘prayer’ calling for a parliamentary vote on the regulations, which are currently being pushed through without a mandate via the negative resolution procedure. It should come out and condemn the failed project of workfare (which it brought to the UK in the first place) by voting these regulations down. It has forty days to do so, and we hope the unions who fund it will take action to ensure this happens. In the meantime, John McDonnell has submitted an independent, non-partisan ‘prayer’ which you should ask your MP to support.
Yesterday’s victory in the courts was a humiliating setback for workfare in the UK. Iain Duncan Smith has responded by saying he is looking to extend this failing policy still further. But will Asda, Tesco, Argos, Poundland and Superdrug want to open themselves up to further risk of legal action? Can charities like YMCA, Salvation Army, Sue Ryder, RSPCA and PDSA justify involvement in forced unpaid work schemes which have been found to be illegal as well as being just plain wrong? The future of these schemes won’t just be decided in the law courts.
We need to make sure workfare can’t get back on its feet. Take part in a huge week of action on 18-24 March to help make sure there’s not a charity or business who will dirty their hands with workfare.
The new regulations “The Jobseekers Allowance (Schemes for Assisting Persons to Obtain Employment) Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/276)” will be published at 2.30pm tomorrow on this website: legislation.gov.uk