Don’t believe the nonsense, the Work Programme worked for Cait Reilly

This afternoon Parliament will likely make emergency changes to welfare legislation following the fallout from the Cait Reilly Poundland case.  Critics of the policy pursued by the Government, such as Shiv Malik in this particularly misleading Guardian article, argue that the DWP is somehow seeking to strike down the Court of Appeal judgement to deny claimants compensation that they deserve for being made to “work for the benefits”. Don’t believe this nonsense. They are adjusting legislation that was illegal because of the way it was introduced, not because of what it did.

Campaigners in the Poundland case sought to portray the Work Programme as modern day slavery (something that is frankly insulting to those who have experienced genuine slavery in the modern era) and a breach of claimants’ “human rights”. The Court of Appeal utterly rejected this argument. Whilst ruling that the legislation used in Parliament to introduce the scheme was flawed, it certainly did not reject the principle of expecting those out of work to take part in mandatory work experience in return for some of their benefits.

Pretty embarrassing for the department, yes, but not a reason to compensate those involved in the scheme at the expense of taxpayers. The principles of the Work Programme and workfare as methods of helping those looking for a job and ensuring that welfare cannot be an alternative to work should be defended robustly. Those arguing that compensation is somehow due are mistaking a technical ruling for an endorsement of their vociferous campaign against the Work Programme. Their confusion should not place an extra burden on taxpayers and undermine important steps to help people back into work.

One of the biggest ironies of the Cait Reilly case is that it is an example of the Work Programme’s success. Despite her distaste for stacking shelves and sweeping floors in Poundland, Cait Reilly now works in Morrisons. So after work experience in a supermarket she now has a job in… surprise surprise, a supermarket. In this interview, Tim Watts of Pertemps, explains how her experience from the Work Programme helped his company find her work.

Cait Reilly’s now working, contributing to the taxman’s coffers and off welfare. A good result for her and taxpayers.  Working in a supermarket might not be what she wants to do ultimately but it should, at least, act as the first rung on the job ladder. It was this type of job I (and many of my friends) took after university. Full time employment showed to future bosses I was up to the challenge of work and left me more money in my pocket.

 Of course there must be protections to ensure the programme does not act as subsided labour for firms or reduce full-time employment elsewhere. But this is unlikely anyway given, as Tim Watts pointed out, taking on candidates from the Work Programme actually poses more of a risk to the employer than if they otherwise simply hired a member of staff through the normal interview process.

Work experience demonstrates to employers that someone is capable of holding down a full-time job and has the right mindset and ethos to get on. It can be incredibly difficult to go from being unemployed for a large amount of time to re-entering the workplace. Hiring someone in that situation is also a gamble for employers at a time when they are spoilt for choice for job seekers. The Work Programme provides an important stepping stone into a competitive job market. Don’t let those who oppose it remove this help from jobseekers and leave taxpayers with an even bigger benefits bill.

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