Cait Reilly: Unemployed graduate sues ministers for being ‘forced’ to work in Poundland

  • Cait Reilly has been looking for work since graduating in the summer
  • She volunteered at a museum until ordered to accept two-week placement
  • Her lawyer says the ‘forced labour’ breaches her human rights

Andy Dolan and Lynn Davidson

Last updated at 2:29 PM on 12th January 2012

A graduate made to work for her jobless benefits as a shelf stacker in Poundland is taking legal action against the Government under the Human Rights Act.

Cait Reilly, who studied geology at university, had been unable to find a job in her subject area and was claiming unemployment benefit while volunteering in a museum in the hope it would lead to a job in that sector.

But the 22-year-old had to give up the placement in order to work in the budget store under a Government scheme designed to encourage the long-term unemployed back to work.

Work experience: Cait Reilly said she had to sweep up and fill the shelves at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham

Work experience: Cait Reilly said she had to sweep up and fill the shelves at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham

Miss Reilly is now taking landmark
legal action against the Government after being told she risked losing
her £53.45-a-week Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) payment if she turned down
the two-week unpaid work experience stint at Poundland.

Lawyers for the graduate are seeking a
judicial review into Department for Work and Pensions rules that compel
unemployed people to take unpaid work.

They say the scheme, part of the
Coalition’s Work Programme to break the cycle of benefit dependency,
amounts to ‘forced labour’ and is against the Human Rights Act.

The Government programme aims to help
around 250,000 young people over the next two years through training and
unpaid work experience in the public, private and charity sectors.
Placement providers include chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Argos and

But Miss Reilly said: ‘I was actually
doing something that was helping me work towards a job and was taken
away from that to do something of no value to me. It was very

The graduate was sucked into the
scheme after attending a retail jobs ‘open day’ in the autumn at the
suggestion of her Jobcentre Plus adviser, who said it would lead to a
period of training and a job interview.

Miss Reilly and other candidates were
sent to an employment skills training workshop for a week, aimed at
improving attributes such as communication skills, followed by the
five-hour-a-day stint at Poundland near Miss Reilly’s home in King’s
Heath, Birmingham, in November.

She and five other claimants spent
their time on the placement sweeping up and stacking and cleaning
shelves, before they had to attend a final week of training under the
‘sector-based work academy’ scheme (SBWA). The promised job interview
never materialised.

The SBWA scheme is supposed to offer the young unemployed a direct route off benefits and into work.

Graduate: Miss Reilly has been looking for work since she left Birmingham University (pictured) and had been volunteering on an unpaid basis

Graduate: Miss Reilly has been looking for work since she left Birmingham University (pictured) and had been volunteering on an unpaid basis

Miss Reilly graduated from Birmingham
University in 2010 and has been claiming unemployment benefit since

She has now returned to her voluntary role at the city’s Pen
Room Museum of writing and pen trade memorabilia, still looking for paid

She believes the placement allowed Poundland to use her as ‘free labour’ in the run-up  to Christmas.

The DWP says that candidates who
‘express an interest’ in doing unpaid placements will lose  their JSA if
they pull out after the first ‘cooling off’ week on the scheme. But
Miss Reilly says she was not informed about any cooling off period.


In order to meet the criteria to
receive the Jobseeker’s Allowance benefit, claimants are required to
participate in Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme.

The scheme offers work placements
with companies, working in conjunction with the government, designed to
give claimants practical work experience to improve their chances of

If claimants refuse to take part in the work placements they risk losing their benefits.

She said she felt she had to do it because ‘without my Jobseeker’s Allowance, I would literally have nothing’.

Miss Reilly’s solicitor, Jim Duffy,
said the practice contravenes article 4 (2) of the Human Rights Act,
which states: ‘No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory

Mr Duffy, from Public Interest Lawyers
in Birmingham, said: ‘This Government has created – without
Parliamentary authority – a complex array of schemes that allow
Jobcentres to force people into futile, unpaid labour for weeks or
months at a time.

‘We have no problem with Government
schemes that increase the chances of people gaining employment – that is
key to combating the current economic crisis – but these “work for
benefit schemes” have been proven in other countries to do nothing other
than increase the cycle of unemployment and poverty.

‘Cait wasn’t told when she went to the
open day that she was committing herself to work for free. She has been
taken away from a voluntary role useful to help her break into the
career she would like to have, simply to stack shelves.’

Latest figures show there are now more
than one million young people not in employment, education or training –
so-called Neets. Employment minister Chris Grayling said: ‘We think
it’s really important to provide young people with the opportunity to
get into workplaces and show what they can do.

‘It’s a nonsense to suggest we should
just be leaving them on benefits without making a real effort to find
work. Retail offers really good career opportunities for many young

Poundland said it had a ‘positive
experience’ of the work placement programme which was ‘designed to
provide on-the-job training for those looking to retail as a  career


A furniture store has received more
than 1,300 applications for just 16 jobs at its new branch – just under
87 candidates for each post at the DFS sofa centre in Llandudno, Wales.

The company said it had been
‘inundated’ with 1,385 applications for the 16 advertised positions at
the new store, which opens on February 18.

Greg Robbins, Llandudno’s Mayor,
welcomed the store and called for other companies to invest in the
resort, adding: ‘It’s a very positive
thing for the town that a national company is coming here.

‘I don’t know if desperation is the
word. It shows there’s a massive shortage of long-term employment jobs
and that we need further inward investment.’

He added that he expected vacancies
at the proposed Travelodge in Llandudno to be similarly oversubscribed.
It is expected to create 60 permanent jobs when it opens an 83-bed

Latest figures from the Office for
National Statistics show that 9.1 per cent of Wales’ workforce were
unemployed in the period of August to October 2011 – up from 8.4 per
cent between May and July last year.

DFS area sales manager Adam Hankinson
said: ‘I have been amazed by both the number of applications we’ve
received but also the high quality of the candidates.

‘We’ve recruited a great bunch of
people and I’m really excited about creating a new local team who will
open the store within weeks.’

Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts,
or debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have not been moderated.

A job is a job and far better to be employed than live on benifits, who knows it could lead to job in managment, I had a college education could not get the job that I had trained for, so got a shop job started at the bottom and eventually trained in managment and the company trained me to be an auditer. then got married gave it all up. then got a job in the NHS as an office manager, but between jobs took anything that i could to remain in work, even cleaning she wants to get real the top jobs are not out there for everyone, she has to prove herself first that she wants to work

What a load of rubbish.
If you look through all the rhetoric, this girl has a degree in geology, and do we the tax payer have to pay her benefits until she can be so picky to find a job in a very specific sector! She has been claiming Job seekers for nearly a year and a half, and asking her to work just 2 weeks in a retail shop is hardly going to endanger her voluntary job at the museum or her long term chance of getting a job, and it certainly isnt a breach in her human rights! Get into the REAL WORLD, and get a job to pay the bills yourslef, instead of relying someone like me who got a marketing degree but works in a different area because most of us dont have the luxury of picking and choosing where we work.

bolshy parasite and her money grabbing lawyer ought to try coming down to earth and earn a living by working

She had to stack shelves and sweep the floor? Shock horror. Had she been forced to work full time for several months, I might have had some sympathy, but part time for TWO WEEKS? She needs to get some perspective. This could have looked good on her CV, as well as providing her with invaluable experience of life in the real world. Instead, this publicity could cause her immense harm. How many employers will be willing to give her a job now that’s she’s publicly demonstrated a willingness to take legal for having to do something she doesn’t like? We all have to do things we’re not keen on from time to time most people don’t whinge about their ‘human rights’. I did voluntary work in a museum after leaving the army, just before I got my current job. It’s not the most demanding. Too many people today have an overblown sense of entitlement.

If only I could’ve got that kind of experience while on Job Seekers Allowance. While I was on JSA, I was turned down from places like Poundland for not having any retail experience despire having worked in 2 Cafes and a KFC for long periods of time and when I told my advisor, I was offered no help. She should be grateful for getting any amount of experience for her CV and stop being so choosey.

What she’s being asked to do by the jobcentre, will in no way help her to get a career, by volunteering she might have been able to make progress. ……………………. However, saying that, as a British citizen, it is her right to claim benefits when out of work …..- Eleanor ————————————————————————————————–
JSA isn’t a benefit it’s there to support those actively seeking a job. Besides, this woman isn’t out of work- she’s never been in work. She would have learned far more about actual ‘work’ in an hour in Poundland than a decade in the Museum’s Pen Room.

This whiney looking girl seems to think that she has the right to a lot of things: benefits, education, the freedom to work where she wants…BUT RIGHTS COME WITH RESPONSIBILITIES!! If she does not want to work at Poundland, there is a very simple solution – come off the benefits and do as I and lots of other graduates do. Work in a bar to make ends meet and gain work experience in your chosen area the rest of the time!

It’s made clear on jsa that volunteer work does NOT over rule going on placements. Stupid girl should would have known this but unfortunately working in pound land isn’t as ‘glamourously’ as the job she’d like.
Tough. Come off jsa and volunteer then. I am educated and spent most of last year cleaning toilets and vomit on minimum wage to look after my family.
Get over yourself silly child.

Is running a good shop and serving customers really futile? Maybe a lot of other tasks are also futile, like cooking, cleaning, child-minding, tidying up, etc.! I think that this is all individual opinion, not objective judgment.

lets just sue sue sue greed greed greed. is it beyond you to stack shelves then.

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