The main employment law news yesterday was the story about Cait Reilly winning her case in the Court of Appeal against the decision to make her work in Poundland for nothing, apart from the right to continue receiving Jobseekers Allowance. The facts have been well trailed so I won’t refer to them here, save to say that this wasn’t really an employment law case or an employment law issue. Instead it was a political story about how the Government failed to properly implement a controversial scheme.
The case before the CA was an appeal from the Administrative Court and a judicial review hearing on the question of whether the Government’s back to work scheme was lawfully implemented or not. At first instance the Judge had held that the scheme was lawful, but the CA disagreed. The scheme had been implemented via delegated legislation (by way of statutory regulations called the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment Skills and Enterprise Scheme) 2011/917 “the Regulations” ) and was ultra vires, i.e out of scope of the primary legislation, which was the Jobseekers Act 1995. The CA quashed the Regulations.
Much of the attention was focused on the fact that Cait Reilly, a graduate who wished to pursue a career in the Museums sector and had been volunteering in a museum, was required to attend a training course working for Poundland, the well known museum discount shop. She had to give up her volunteering work in the museum she had been working in to work for Poundland. At Poundland she received no training. There was lots of talk about slave labour and so forth but that all missed the point.
The CA were not being asked to rule on whether the principle of making benefit claimants attend training courses or work in return for receiving benefit was lawful or unlawful. In fact the CA held that
A policy of imposing requirements on persons receiving a substantial weekly sum, potentially payable for life, is readily understandable. Equally, the means sought to achieve that end are understandable; claimants should be required to participate in arrangements which may improve their prospects of obtaining remunerative employment. Provided schemes “are designed to assist [claimants] to obtain employment” and to “[improve] their prospects of obtaining employment”, both expressions appearing in section 17A, sanctions for failing to participate are understandable.
The issue here then is how the Government came to make such a mess of achieving this end. The method used, namely delegated legislation, which does not receive parliamentary scrutiny, is widely used these days in all areas of legislation, but is it appropriate in these circumstances?
And the other point that this debacle highlights, as @taxbod tweeted so succinctly yesterday, is this
“Workfare. Can we not, as a nation, find something more productive to occupy a graduate than sweeping floors in Poundland”? (*)
Indeed. Isn’t that the real scandal? Why should the state subsidise cheap labour for Poundland?
* Blackberry Pie seems to have stopped working so I can’t embed the tweet unfortunately