“This case is another massive blow to this Government’s flawed and tawdry attempts to make poor people on benefits work for companies, who already make massive profits, for free”
So said Public Interest Lawyers yesterday after the High Court ruled that the government’s emergency retrospective legislation, introduced in 2013 – so as to apply thousands of unlawful sanctions to claimants – is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The retrospective legislation was introduced in order to rewrite history, when the Court of Appeal had originally found thousands of benefit sanctions on workfare schemes unlawful. In response the government came up with emergency legislation, which was designed to retrospectively render lawful benefit sanctions that were issued under the 2011 regulations. This deprived some of the poorest people in the UK of £130million in social security payments that they were lawfully owed. The emergency legislation meant that all previously imposed sanctions were made valid in one block – even sanctions that would have been unlawful under the old regulations anyway. This means that ongoing appeals against sanctions, which would have succeeded before the retrospective legislation was enacted, were bound to fail.
Now, however, the High Court has found that this retrospective legislation was incompatible with the right to a fair trial. Significantly, the Court called this move “draconian” stating that it was “not explained or justified”.
So what does this mean? This: firstly, and importantly, there is now a real chance that at some point soon, these people will be able to claim the money they had sanctioned back. So keep watching this space.
Secondly, it is now an indisputable fact that all those organisations that have been involved in using and implementing workfare – from A4e to Asda to the Salvation Army – have been involved in depriving people of their human rights. They have been supporting an illegal government policy and, in the case of so called anti-poverty charities such as the salvation army, they have helped to illegally stop people getting the social security payments they were lawfully meant to receive.
Given that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK have been treated by the government as non-people, yesterday’s High Court ruling is truly damning: people have been subjected to an unlawful policy and then had money taken from them unlawfully. It’s a further indictment of politicians in thrall to workfare that instead of doing the right thing, the moral thing, the Labour party choose instead to do nothing.
Luckily for us the campaign against workfare is the success that it is because of real people power. People like you; people who have stood up for the right thing, people who have stood up against sanctions and workfare, people who have reported those that use workfare, and people who have taken action – no matter or how big or small – against workfare, because they know this is the right thing to do. It is because of people like you who are actively part of this campaign and actively support it that the government’s latest workfare wheeze, Community Work Placements, continues to collapse before it has even begun. At present over 392 Voluntary sector organisations and 20 councils have said no to CWP and workfare.
The DWP could face another significant blow when the courts rule later this month whether the government must reveal the list that due to your campaigning it fears could make workfare “collapse”: the list of organisations where workfare placements have taken place.
The campaign against workfare is winning. Yesterday’s ruling is another positive result for everyone who believes in social justice and social security. That’s you. That’s us. But it’s not over yet. So let’s all continue campaigning against workfare. Let’s all continue to win!