Welfare-to-work schemes ‘not forced labour

The High Court has ruled that two welfare-to-work schemes do not breach human rights law by requiring claimants to undertake unpaid work placements.

Two jobseeker’s allowance claimants challenged the legality of the Community Action Programme (providing mandatory community work for very long-term unemployed people) and the Sector-Based Work Academies scheme (providing work experience and training). Claimants can lose some benefits if they refuse to take part in the schemes.

The High Court ruled that requiring participation does not breach human rights – although it also said the Department for Work and Pensions should improve the clarity of letters warning claimants of potential sanctions for failing to complete the schemes without good reason.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith welcomed the judgment: ‘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.’

SourceCaitlin Reilly and Jamieson Wilson (R on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, High Court 6 August 2012
LinksJudgment | DWP press release | BBC report | Guardian report