Public Interest Lawyers is an extraordinary firm of solicitors, who must be – certainly should be – the pride of the legal profession. Through their tenacity, quality and sheer hard work – often from unpromising beginnings and in dark times for public funding – they have single-handedly been responsible for shining the torchlight of legal accountability in a range of new areas. The work continues unabated. No barrister or judge, here or in Strasbourg, could have come to deal with the sorts of human rights issues which PIL continues to raise, but for their principled and brave pursuit of justice.
PIL demonstrates three further important things. First, how positive and constructive can be the use of public funding in public law cases, in the public interest. It has been hard. But PIL and the LSC have forged a partnership which is second to none, as to the importance of the cases that are brought, their success and their wider impact. Secondly, PIL demonstrates that London does not always lead, and a London-centric focus is neither helpful nor fair. This firm, from what are still sometimes thought of as “the provinces”, is the nation’s leader for human rights application in challenging cases. That PIL is looking, as a Birmingham-based firm. How refreshing for it to be that way.Thirdly, let it not be forgotten that PIL was set up as a new firm of solicitors. This is not the further and continued work of an established firm, set up long ago when times were different. This was an innovation; a leap of faith in the rule of law. It was a boat launched in a sea of uncertainty, which has turned out to be the flagship for public law accountability under the rule of law.
Michael Fordham QC
Michael Fordham QC
The Government's Workfare Schemes: 10 Facts
PIL acts for a number of
individuals, including Cait Reilly, who are challenging the Government’s “Back
to Work” schemes in the High Court.Intensive press coverage and the Government’s attempts to salvage this
programme from its current crisis have led to a skewing of the facts.The following may therefore be helpful.
clients do not object to work or to work experience.Cait Reilly was doing voluntary work experience in a museum when
she was sent to Poundland.Our clients, like the vast majority of
jobseekers, are desperate to find paid work of any description, including
stacking shelves.The term “job
snobs” is therefore a misleading and offensive buzz word being used by the
Government to discredit Britain’s 2.6 million unemployed.What our clients say they need is
support from the Government to make the most of their skills and plug
their skills gaps, in order to ensure that they not only enter the job
market, but stay there.
Government is not “paying them... through benefits” to work, as the Deputy
Prime Minister has claimed today.Jobseekers allowance ranges from £53.45
to £67.50 per week.It is paid for
one specific (and obvious) purpose – to support people whilst they seek
employment.It is not remuneration
for work, and even if it were it would mean that people on Back to Work
schemes would be getting paid as little as £1.78 per hour, often whilst
working for some of our biggest retailers.Many of those retailers are now realising that such a scenario is
unacceptable and have either pulled out of the schemes or demanded that
the Government thinks again.
are not being given a choice.
Ministers claim that work under these schemes is not forced but
voluntary.This is not
correct.The Community Action
Programme, Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity Scheme (the clue is
in the name) are
mandatory, and jobseekers will lose their jobseeker’s allowance if they do
not participate.The Government
says the sector-based work academy and work experience schemes are
voluntarily, but Cait Reilly was told in no uncertain terms that her
participation was “mandatory”.
schemes do not work. Ministers
claim the schemes help people into employment.Yet, the international research the
Government commissioned before introducing them gave it two very clear
“There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of
finding work.It can even reduce
employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing
to provide the skills and experience valued by employers”; and
“Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour
markets where unemployment is high.”
schemes do not target benefits scroungers or “the something for nothing
Government’s internal guidance makes clear that such people who are taking
advantage of the system are not eligible
for the schemes.They must receive
the appropriate sanction of removal of their jobseeker’s allowance as they
are not “jobseeking”.
legal challenges are not simply about “human rights”.What our clients object to is 1) the forced or compulsory nature of
the work required, and 2) that Parliament has been by-passed by the
Government in creating these schemes.They argue that this breaches basic democratic and legal
Government schemes do not amount to slave labour, as some campaigners have
suggested.The ILO’s Forced Labour
Convention of 1930 defines slavery as connoting “ownership” over an
individual.What our clients are
arguing is that the Government schemes are “forced or compulsory”
labour.This too is prohibited
under UK civil and criminal law.
schemes are not all aimed at the long-term unemployed.For example, the sector-based work academy can apply to any
jobseeker, even if he or she has only been unemployed for one day.
attention has focused on the sector-based work academy, but that is only
one of a plethora of complex schemes, many of which are much worse.The sector-based work academy involves 6-8 weeks of unpaid
work.Other schemes involve six
months, and there appears to be nothing to stop those six-month periods
from being renewed.One of our clients
was told that his Community Action Programme placement would last six
months “to begin with”.
Government’s sums do not add up.The Employment Minister has
stated that “half” or “something like half” of those on work experience
have received permanent jobs.He
has not advanced any evidence to support this, and Tesco has offered only
300 jobs having taken on 1400 unpaid workers.
Public Interest Lawyers Limited (PIL) is a company registered in England & Wales, Registered Number 06995227. Our registered office is 8 Hylton Street, Birmingham, West Midlands B18 6HN, United Kingdom. PIL is regulated by the Law Society and by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, SRA No. 520799.