Back to Work legal wrangle

A graduate is challenging the Government's Back to Work scheme after being made to work at a Poundland store.
A graduate is challenging the Government's Back to Work scheme after being made to work at a Poundland store.
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The Government is facing a legal challenge over new legislation for “Back to Work” schemes which it is accused of “shamefully” rushing through Parliament.

Lawyers announced the move to bring judicial review proceedings as soon as possible after Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith lost an appeal at the UK’s highest court against a ruling that earlier regulations underpinning the schemes were invalid.

Five Supreme Court justices upheld a Court of Appeal decision that 2011 regulations were legally flawed, but rejected claims that back to work schemes amounted to forced labour.

Since the Court of Appeal’s ruling in February, the Government has fast-tracked new legislation, the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act, through Parliament, which validates the 2011 regulations retrospectively.

After the latest decision in the legal battle, Phil Shiner, head of Public Interest Lawyers, said: “Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court is of huge constitutional and practical significance. My firm will now get on with challenging, by judicial review, the retrospective legislation which was shamefully rushed through Parliament by Iain Duncan Smith in March of this year.”

Responding to today’s ruling, Mr Duncan Smith said: “We are very pleased that the Supreme Court today unanimously upheld our right to require those claiming jobseeker’s allowance to take part in programmes which will help get them into work.

“We have always said that it was ridiculous to say that our schemes amounted to forced labour, and yet again we have won this argument.

“Ultimately this judgment confirms that it is right that we expect people to take getting into work seriously if they want to claim benefits.”

The legal battle over the schemes has centred on claims brought by university graduate Cait Reilly, 24, from Birmingham, who challenged having to work for free at a local Poundland discount store and by 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver Jamieson Wilson, from Nottingham, who objected to doing unpaid work cleaning furniture and as a result was stripped of his jobseeker’s allowance for six months.

Critics condemned the schemes as ‘’slave labour’’ because they involved work without pay and cuts in jobseeker’s allowance for those who failed to comply with the rules, while those in favour welcomed them as an effective way of getting people into employment.

Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger, Lord Mance, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption and Lord Toulson dismissed the Secretary of State’s appeal holding that the 2011 regulations were “invalid” as they did not contain a sufficiently detailed “prescribed description” of the schemes.

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