In a shocking abuse of state power – which could have a chilling impact on the independence of the courts – Iain Duncan Smith is attempting to reverse the impact of a recent Appeal Court judgement by re-writing history.
In the recent workfare case brought by Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson, the DWP were found to have unlawfully sanctioned thousands of benefit claims. The court ruled that the legislation upon which forced unpaid work was based was not legal and the information given to claimants did not fully inform them of what would happen it they failed to attend workfare. Which was that benefits could be stopped, for up to six months.
In other words, the DWP’s bodged information meant many claimants lost significant sums of money through no fault of their own. The Court of Appeal ruling meant that unemployed people who had benefit claims stopped or reduced illegally by the DWP could claim that money back.
Or at least it did mean that. Now the DWP is basically saying tough shit, we’re keeping your money.
The Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill is being rushed into law without scrutiny and will have both its second and third readings before Parliament on Tuesday 19th March. This bill will mean that the law will be retrospectively changed and that sanctions which have been ruled by the appeal court as unlawful will now be legal.
The DWP themselves admit the new bill might be illegal under human rights legislation which provides protection for access to the courts. The explanatory notes for the new bill concede a claimant might argue: “that legislation which removes their right to a a refund of sanctioned benefits, or allows the Secretary of State to impose a sanction, notwithstanding the Court of Appeal’s decision, is a breach of their right of access to court under ECHR Article 6.”
So desperate is Iain Duncan Smith to rescue his pride however,these concerns are brushed aside until the next inevitable court case. The bill also concedes that the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, which was not affected by the recent court judgement, may also have been illegal.
It appears that the DWP have decided they are no longer accountable to the laws of the land. This is hardly surprising as it is not just their workfare schemes which are legally questionable. But what will be the point of taking the Government to court if they can simply change the law on a whim to avoid facing any legal consequences?
Join the Week of Action Against Workfare beginning on March 18th.
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