The work experience programme was originally advertised as being voluntary but it now appears this is not the case. Reilly was told by the jobcentre that she would lose her benefits if she did not take the Poundland placement. The DWP says that once people "express an interest", including verbal consent, in doing work experience they will lose their JSA if they pull out after their first week into the placement.
It has now emerged that there is a clause which allows jobcentre case workers to force unemployed people into slave labour. Other stores now using slave labour include Tesco, Sainsbury's, Argos and Asda
Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) in Birmingham have begun a legal action  challenging the Coalition Government’s ‘Mandatory Work’ Scheme, which it argues amounts to unlawful forced labour and represents a form of slavery under the Human Rights Act (HRA).
PIL sent a ‘letter-before-action’ last night to the Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan-Smith – the first step in a High Court judicial review action on behalf of 33 year-old Jonathan Shaw from Birmingham. PIL are arguing that the Mandatory Work Scheme amounts to exploitation, with jobseekers forced to undertake up to four weeks of unpaid work. At the end of their placements, jobseekers are often not considered for permanent employment and many are simply replaced by other jobseekers who, like them, face losing their jobseeker’s allowance if they fail to carry out the work.
Slavery and forced or compulsory labour is prohibited by UK and European human rights law, in particular by Article 4(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights. There are limited exceptions for work such as that carried out in prison. Also excluded is work forming part of a “normal civic obligation”, but such obligations are limited to work as part of jury service and military service and the like. Forced labour has also been prohibited by international law since 1930.
Jonathan Shaw (33) completed an Access course in Humanities at a Birmingham college last year. He wanted to go to university to study History, but felt unable to as a result of high tuition fees. He has been out of work since March. Like thousands of jobseekers, he now fears that at any moment a Jobcentre Plus adviser could decide to force him to undertake what he sees as a pointless and demeaning process, during which he will have no time to actively seek employment. “Actively seeking employment” is one of the conditions on which Jobseeker’s Allowance is paid.
Tessa Gregory of PIL said: “This Government scheme of forced labour unlawfully exploits individuals. The only beneficiaries are participating companies, who get their workers for free”.
Jim Duffy from PIL added: "Forcing jobseekers to work for free may benefit big business but does nothing to break the cycle of unemployment and poverty. Instead it amounts to exploitation, decided at the whim of a Jobcentre Plus adviser."
The Government has 14 days in which to set out its position in full.
The unemployment rate is the highest since 1996 and the number of unemployed people is the highest since 1994.