Legislative Scrutiny: Welfare Reform Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Written Evidence

1. Letter to the Chair, from Mr A. Fisher, of 17 October 2010

I am writing to you with a concern I have over the current proposals within the 2010 Welfare Bill; namely that the Coalition government are looking to encompass an element of a United Sates style 'Welfare to Work' programme and its likely impact upon Human Rights.

In particular I am very concerned that should an individual find themselves without work for an extended period (through no fault of their own other than economic conditions outside their control) and claiming one of current main benefits i.e. Job Seekers Allowance and/or Housing Benefits, they will be forced to undertake community type activities in order to continue to receive benefits.

As I am sure you are aware Article 4 (ii)—Servitude of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protects European citizens from the effects of Forced Labour; namely where people are forced to work against their will by the threat of destitution, detention, violence or other extreme hardship to themselves or their family. Clearly to make a so-called 'work for your dole' programme effective there has to be an element of compulsion. Therefore if an individual refuses to participate and the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) threatens to reduce or stop any or all parts of their benefits; then the DWP has broken ECHR legislation. The simple threat of stopping benefits for not participating in the programme would in my understanding be enough to have invalidated Article 4 (ii).

There are a number of exemptions to Article 4 (ii) namely, during a state of emergency, work enacted in lieu of a custodial sentence, military conscription and work, which is part of normal civic duty. The Coalition government may try and claim that any such programme would sit within the final of the four exemptions. However no 'reasonable person' could argue that this is the case, given you do not see the elderly or teenagers scrubbing graffiti off town centre buildings up and down the land. Alternatively perhaps the government intends to change the law to criminalize the unemployed, by making it a criminal offence to be out of work!

My concern is that rather than putting in place significant programmes of retraining or re-skilling of the long-term jobless, it will be seen as politically expedient and cheaper to just leave them in a suspended state of permanent 'feudal serfdom' to the British tax payers. Any such 'work for your dole' programme clearly has to be voluntary and not compulsory. Any Welfare Act moving forward which forces the unemployed to undertake community type, street cleaning, tidying of parks and or graffiti removal for a period of say 30-40 hrs per week in return for their JSA or Housing Benefit would be illegal under not only the minimum wage legislation, but more significantly Article 4 (ii) of the ECHR.

17 October 2010

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