Cait Reilly was out of order about Poundland, but not half as out of order as the Government

Cait Reilly shot to fame as the woman who was too special to work for her Jobseeker’s allowance because she was too busy with more important things to do with her time. In particular she wanted to do her work experience in a museum rather than Poundland.

Now my experience of work has usually be that he who pays the piper calls the frickin’ tune, so evenually when I came to be sick of the tune I had to tell the piper to get on his bike. Then you don’t get the pay, natch. So as far as I am concerned Reilly’s case doesn’t wash. In the end if the DWP is paying you, Cait, and they say you go  to Poundland, well, you go to Poundland. Or you stop claiming JSA. The choice is yours.

Cait Reilly in Poundland
Cait Reilly in Poundland

However, Reilly pressed her case through the courts, and the law of the land as it stood at the time found in her favour. Which in the end is as it should be. I’m entitled to shoot my mouth off here but the whole point of living in a complex human society is that you need organised ways of determining rules and we have one. And it found that Cait Reilly was right and the DWP and I were wrong.

We have Parliament, which makes the laws, and the judiciary, that interprets the laws, and that’s because tough experience in human societies shows that when the guys who make the laws do the intepreting and applying it all tends to go downhill and ends up with some Big Cheese saying “You lot damn well do what I say and I call the shots round here”. The more swivel-eyed nut-jobs think we’ve already got that but I’m not one of them. Although Britain has its problems at the moment they pale into insignificance compared to the issues of some human societies at the moment that have ended up with the “I call the shots round here”, and if the price of that is that the Cait Reillys of this world get their way and a free ride at the taxpayer’s expense then that’s not too bad a price to pay for holding the thin line against mob rule 😉

Parliament is perfectly entitled to say, having seen this debacle, that no, what they meant to happen agrees a lot more with my view on things than Cait Reilly’s. And obviously I think that’s a Very Good Thing. But what I am most certainly not happy about one little bit is the attempt by the DWP to create a retrospective law to avoid paying out the JSA that was denied to jobseekers up to now because they were wrong.

The Department for Work and Pensions has introduced emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of a court of appeal decision and “protect the national economy” from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished.

Hello Iain Duncan Smith and the government generally. What exactly is it about unlawful that you don’t get? We’re going to a bad place when the Government shows a disrespect for the laws they make, and retrospective legislation is always a disrespect for the rule of law. Law only has meaning when it is knowable, and if people can come back in time and change laws retrospectively, then anything can be made unlawful.

So back off, IDS and call off your dogs. By all means change the legislation from this point on, so that precious princesses like Cait Reilly do get it – claim JSA and you bloody well do what the Jobcentre tells you to do. But since that did not hold when her JSA and that of others was docked then bloody well pay it back, with interest and accept you screwed up.

After all, the West Coast cock-up cost 50m and rising simply because of a lack of common sense – that’s what you get when you run an operation with consultants rather than competence – you end up not knowing what you’re doing. So less of this ‘protect the national economy’ bullshit. You protect the economy by plugging this particular loophole from now on. You don’t protect the economy by overturning the rule of law, chumps. I wouldn’t go as far as to say Cait Reilly deserves the money that was withheld. But she should get it, as should anybody else who was in that situation, because the Government needs to  respect the law.


6 thoughts on “Cait Reilly was out of order about Poundland, but not half as out of order as the Government”

  1. I always had mixed opinions about the cait reilly case, on the one hand yes if the govt is paying you, you should do the work they say, on the other hand, she was already getting valuable work experience, and then the gov’t said, ah no it only works if you provide free labour for one of our large multinational partners, I think if they had instead partnered with more large charities and volunteer organisations, then people wouldn’t have complained so much, and the gov’t probably would have gotten away with it


  2. I too have reservations here, but I don’t agree with you. When DWP pays someone JSA they are not employing them. The Govt may have all kinds of rights or duties here, but it is just not as simple as “employment”, where the one who pays is buying your time. DWP pays JSA because of a social contract to support people in need, and therefore as a consequence of the people’s situation; not in order to buy their time.
    We may think that it is reasonable, or even a duty, for DWP to give someone work experience to do (and I do think so), but that does not mean that they are “calling the tune” in the way that an employer does.


  3. @ chris, and to some extent @ Edward – Reilly made the case she was getting job experience with the museum job. But the essential issue was that it didn’t pay – in the end there’s more grunt in showing up to a job where they pay you. It’s the devil’s own job to manage volunteers because they always know they can walk off the job, so to that extent non-paid third sector ‘jobs’ are cushy numbers and not fully representative of working for a living, though they may well be worthwhile to society. If she wants to do that instead of what the Jobcentre says, she isn’t available for work.

    @Edward I guess we don’t agree there. I haven’t claimed the 6 month’s contributions based JSA I would be entitled to until Universal Credit comes in, after working and paying my taxes and NI for thirty long years. I don’t do it because though I could invoke the Cait Reilly doctrine and volunteer somewhere to avoid them, I would still be tempted to lamp some pipsqueak at the Jobcentre if they gave me any lip about what to do and what not. And the consequences of taking that attitude is that I walk away from the roughly £1500 it’s worth, because I accept I’m an awkward bastard and not prepared to do what they tell me. The same ‘social contract’ applies to me if it applies at all, but unlike Cait I am prepared to accept the consequences of my actions. Working for a living isn’t a la carte unless you’re a contractor, if you want a regular paycheque you have to suck it up at times, which is something that seemed to have escaped Ms Reilly.

    However, the issue is she was docked unfairly in the eyes of the law, so she should get what she is due. And only then should they change the law, not before 😉


  4. I realise that your comment was about the government’s obligation to obey the law, and I agree with you 100% there. That is importanat, and I apologise for hijacking that.
    On the particular case, I think I may be wrong. I asked myself if I would feel exactly the same if her own desire had been to sit at home all day, and DWP’s suggestion had been to work in the museum. No, in that case I would not have been sympathetic to her. So it is not a principle here, so much as my sympathy with her and lack of it with DWP, in this case.

    However I do still think that DWP was wrong, in simply giving Poundland some free labour. If Cait has obligations, so does Poundland, to pay for what they get; and DWP, to act with some sense. Or to put that another way, if as a taxpayer I have a right to ask something of Cait in return for the JSA she gets, I also have a right ask something of DWP and Poundland in return, for the same reason. I would ask that Poundland not get free labour, and DWP not give it. Can’t blame Poundland for taking it, but I can blame DWP for, in effect, putting someone else out of work.
    (Admittedly that too was not the point in this here post of yours).


  5. > However I do still think that DWP was wrong, in simply giving Poundland some free labour

    I agree wholeheartedly. I feel uncomfortable with the whole way the world of ’employed work’ is going in taking advantage of people’s work for free, be this internships or indeed this sort of thing. The DWP could perhaps do better here. The current managerial theory of government seems to limit vision – there were things wrong with the Depression era Works Progress Administration but if we really have a serious mismatch of labour and demand at the moment then that was at least a more courageous and honest attempt to do that without the Poundland problem.

    Although people starting in the world at work did sometimes do it for no monetary return, there usually was some onus on the ’employer’ – either to teach a craft or to provide board and lodging. We don’t necessary want to go back to that because it doesn’t fit with the values of our times, but if an employer gets somebody’s work for free then there should be an enforceable onus on them to provide something of value in return. A lot of ‘work experience’ is running and making the tea – fine if it pays at least NMW, not fine at all if it doesn’t.

    In practice I think what is happening is that we are trending towards a world of work that is more contracting and paid by output and not buying people’s time. There used to be a word for contracting/paying by output, piecework and it wasn’t associated with good working conditions 😦


  6. @ermine well poundland didn’t pay her either, they just said “do work for a 2 weeks in order to recieve jobseekers” I don’t see why they couldn’t have just said “keep ‘working’ at the museum for two weeks in order to recieve the money” usually to qualify for jsa you have to prove you’ve “looked for wor” this can mean applying, or looking in the newspaper, or at least it used to, so it doesn’t to me seem a stretch that someone at the job center be given the phone number for whoever manages the museum, and calls daily (or recieves an email daily) saying cait has done a days work, now obviously this is open to potential fraud (working at a family company while just slacking off all day) but the system of “have you applied for jobs this week?” is also susceptible to that, and i’d still think in most cases the volunteer work would do more good, and give people wider experiences, it seems an unnecessarily rigid system for dealing with the unemployed is all


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