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Wednesday, October 30, 2013 

The snobbery of a day's pay for a day's work returns.

Today's ruling by the supreme court that it was unlawful for those sent on workfare schemes to be sanctioned when the government had failed to set out how the schemes would be regulated in law leaves us almost precisely where we were back in February when the Court of Appeal gave its judgement.  The only thing that's changed since then is the DWP under Iain Duncan Smith immediately set out to retroactively define the schemes in law, so as to stop any possibility of those illegally denied their benefits from claiming compensation.  Despite doing so, the government still sought to have the appeal court's ruling struck down, for reasons known only to itself.

Indeed, the supreme court in its ruling rather acidly passes comment on the DWP's approach.  It is rather unattractive", Lord Neuberger and Lord Toulson write, "for the executive to be taking up court time and public money to establish that a regulation is valid, when it has already taken up Parliamentary time to enact legislation which retrospectively validates the regulation".  Not content with that, they also note the dates when the DWP changed the regulations and then appealed against the ruling, which just so happens to be the same day as the judgement was handed down, which was extremely speedy by DWP standards, and then the same day as the act setting them out in law was passed in parliament.

Unattractive is just about the kindest possible way you can describe how Duncan Smith and friends have handled opposition to their myriad of pet projects.  "Intellectual snobbery" was the colourful formulation decided upon by IDS to condemn the clearly old-fashioned belief that a fair day's work should be rewarded with a fair day's pay.  From the very beginning they set out to impugn Cait Reilly's motives, suggesting that as a graduate she thought it was beneath her to stack shelves and scrub floors in Poundland, something only slightly undermined by how she's currently working for Morrisons.  Even today they've tried their darnedest to spin the ruling as being in their favour, the supreme court deciding it is simply common sense that on jobseeker's allowance can be sent on "work experience", and that it isn't in any shape or form forced labour.  It doesn't matter they lost on the other three counts, so long as they can claim some sort of hollow victory and make that case on TV.

This goes to the heart of how politicians on occasion couldn't give a fig for the rule of law or even basic fairness.  We've seen the consequences over the last couple of days, with Ed Balls' sacking of Sharon Shoesmith coming back to bite all concerned.  Somehow we're meant to be outraged about Shoesmith being "rewarded for failure", when it was Balls reacting to the Sun's hysterical campaign over the death of Peter Connelly that inexorably led to the former head of children's services at Haringey council quite rightly being awarded compensation for unfair dismissal.  In this instance the DWP acted to deny that which was rightfully due to thousands of those deprived of the most basic means to subsist, having not been informed of what their rights actually were.  That the failure to legally outline how the schemes would operate and how those who refused to take part or objected to the terms would be sanctioned may well have been deliberate just underlines how pathetic Labour were to abstain on the retroactive legislation.

Workfare then will continue as it has.  This is despite the fact that at least one scheme has been found to be actively counter-productive, and there is little to no evidence to suggest "work experience" as some reporters and the government still wish to describe the various programmes help those placed on them to find long-lasting work.  They do however help enormously with the unemployment figures, as those on them, despite still claiming JSA, are counted as in work.  Those companies who have resisted the likes of Boycott Workfare also benefit, with a constant stream of workers passing through they don't need to even bother paying the minimum wage.  And this is before the Community Action Programme is massively expanded as announced by George Osborne at the Conservative party conference, due to increase the number of those who, like Jamieson Wilson, will find themselves working for their benefit for six months at a time.  Refuse, and they get nothing.  Such is the morass into which we've descended, with commentators still happy to accuse Reilly rather than engage with the reality of hundreds of thousands being forced to work for far less than the minimum wage.

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