Press release

Judge rejects claims that work schemes are forced labour

Schemes to help unemployed people get work are not slave labour, a Judicial review has ruled.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Schemes to help unemployed people get work are not slave labour, a Judicial review has ruled. The judgment means the Department for Work and Pensions can continue to help people get the vital skills and experience they need to get into a job.

Two claimants who had been placed on two different Government schemes were granted permission to seek a judicial review to challenge the validity of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) (ESE) Regulations 2011 which underpin these schemes. The Community Action Programme has been a trial providing mandatory community work for the very long-term unemployed, while sector-based work academies (sbwa) include work experience and training.

Today’s judgement found that requiring participation in the schemes does not breach human rights, that the regulations were lawful and that the Department had provided enough guidance about the policy intentions of the schemes.

The Honourable Mr Justice Foskett was robust in saying that the schemes were not a question of slavery:

………it does have to be said that the sbwa scheme, and indeed the CAP, are a very long way removed from the kind of colonial exploitation of labour that led to the formulation of Article 4. The Convention is, of course, a living instrument, capable of development to meet modern conditions, and views may reasonably differ about the merits of a scheme that requires individuals to “work for their benefits” as a means of assisting them back into the workplace. However, characterising such a scheme as involving or being analogous to “slavery” or “forced labour” seems to me to be a long way from contemporary thinking.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:

We are delighted, although not surprised, that the Judge agrees our schemes are not forced labour. Comparing our initiatives to slave labour is not only ridiculous but insulting to people around the world facing real oppression.

Thousands of young people across the country are taking part in our schemes and gaining the vital skills and experience needed to help them enter the world of work - it is making a real difference to people’s lives.

Those who oppose this process are actually opposed to hard work and they are harming the life chances of unemployed young people who are trying to get on.

While the Judge found in the Department’s favour on the main issues, he did find that the Department should improve the clarity of the letters which warn claimants of a potential sanction should they fail to participate in the schemes without good reason. We do not believe there is anything wrong with the original letters and we will appeal this aspect of the judgement, but in the meantime we have revised our standard letters.

Published 6 August 2012