A graduate is taking legal action against the government over a scheme which she says forces people to do unpaid work.Cait Reilly, a University of Birmingham geology graduate, is currently trying to find work in the museum sector.
The 22-year-old said she had to work for free at a Poundland store for two weeks or risk losing her benefits.
She is seeking a judicial review. Poundland said the scheme is operated in partnership with the government. It involves provide pre-employment training, a work placement and a guaranteed interview as a way of improving a person’s “employability”.
The government has said the work experience offered through the scheme is with good employers providing real opportunities for employment. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is due to respond to Ms Reilly’s case on 14 December.
Poundland said in a statement its work experience is designed to help people find work in the retail sector.
“These Orwellian schemes are about work for its own sake rather than for any greater purpose”Jim Duffy – Ms Reilly’s solicitor
The company said: “We work in partnership with JobCentre Plus and other government funded organisations to implement a comprehensive work placement programme designed to provide on-the-job training for those looking to retail as a career opportunity.“Our partnership with JobCentre Plus is a positive step to get people back into work. It doesn’t replace our recruitment activity, but adds to the number of colleagues we have working with us.” Public interest lawyers, acting on behalf of Ms Reilly, have sent a letter-before-action, the first stage in a potential judicial review, challenging the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011.
A spokesman for the law firm said Ms Reilly was told in November of an opportunity to attend an open day about job vacancies that could lead to a week’s training and a job interview.
He said when she attended the open day she discovered the training would last up to six weeks, including a two-week, unpaid retail placement. When she expressed concerns about the lack of relevance of the scheme to the work she wants to do, she said her Jobcentre Plus adviser had told her participation in the scheme was mandatory and that if she did not comply she would lose her benefits.
She said she spent two weeks cleaning and stacking shelves at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham, and was not offered an interview. “
I think it’s a form of manual labour in that they’re forcing people to do jobs that are in no way related to what they want to do and giving them no experience for their careers,” she said. Jim Duffy, Ms Reilly’s solicitor, said: “Everyone agrees on the need to help the unemployed back into work, but forcing young people into pointless, unpaid labour at massive retailers who could easily afford to pay them the minimum wage demeans and frustrates them when we should be empowering and supporting them. “
These Orwellian schemes are about work for its own sake rather than for any greater purpose.”