So, thanks to a ruling at the Court of Appeal in London yesterday, unemployed graduate Cait Reilly has succeeded in legally challenging the UK government over its work-for-benefits scheme.
In July last year, Reilly took the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to court on the basis that working for Poundland for a few weeks was tantamount to ‘slavery’ and therefore contravened her ‘human rights’. Reilly’s case was rightly dismissed by the judge at the time who declared that ‘such a scheme is a very long way removed from the colonial exploitation of labour’. Quite right. Comparing working in Poundland to labouring on sugar plantations takes historical ignorance to spectacularly insulting levels.
Yet on Tuesday, the judge’s original verdict was overturned. A three-judge panel at the Royal Courts of Justice ruled that the secretary of state for work and pensions had acted unlawfully by not telling the unemployed enough about the penalties they faced and their right to appeal against being made to take unpaid work. On these narrow grounds, it was deemed unlawful to be required to work for benefits. The government has already amended the legal regulations to meet the court’s objections and has also announced it will appeal.
Nonetheless, the case is still seen as a major coup. Joanna Long, a member of campaigning group Boycott Workfare, captured the mood of Reilly’s supporters: ‘Today’s ruling is a victory for the people against a government which thought it could compel unemployed and sick people to work without pay, backed by a vicious regime of sanctions which made the poorest far poorer.’ Really? Only in this victim-centred age could doing a few shifts at Poundland be seriously compared to forced slavery.
What the ruling in favour of Reilly is not, however, is a victory for ‘the people’. Rather, it is a triumph for our culture of self-pity, narcissism and whining entitlement. The new ruling will further cushion and cosset young people, relieving them of any impositions or pressures. And it will bolster the infantile notion that young people must be protected from the demands of becoming economically independent or hard working. In the long run, this will do the development of young people far more damage than a few weeks working for benefits.