Museum volunteer told to work unpaid at Poundland

Cait Reilly was told she otherwise would lose her Jobseeker's Allowance

Cait Reilly [David Sillitoe/Guardian]
Cait Reilly [David Sillitoe/Guardian]

A university graduate was told she had to stop volunteering at a local museum for four weeks and do unpaid work in a Poundland store in order to continue receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Cait Reilly, who graduated from Birmingham University in 2010, was regularly volunteering part-time at the Pen Museum & Learning Centre in Birmingham because she hoped to pursue a career in museums.

But last autumn she was told by her local Jobcentre Plus that she had been placed on a "sector-based work academy", a four-week programme made up of two weeks’ employability training and two weeks’ unpaid work at Poundland.

Reilly has this week launched proceedings to seek a judicial review of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, which include a power to compel JSA claimants to carry out work.

Her solicitor, Jim Duffy of Public Interest Lawyers, said Reilly had been volunteering at the museum since May. He said she was placed on the work academy programme by her local Jobcentre Plus and agreed to do it after being told about the scheme in "vague and inaccurate terms".

Duffy said when Reilly found out more about the programme, she told staff at the Jobcentre Plus that she did not want to take part, but was told that it was mandatory. She did the Poundland placement in November.

Brian Jones, another volunteer at the Pen Museum, a registered charity, said Reilly was not able to give much notice that she would have to stop her work for a month. "She is a valued volunteer here, so to lose her in that period was very difficult for us," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Working in retail is perfectly good experience for a career in a museum. There are very similar transferable skills involved."

The department also issued a statement that said: "Our priority is to help people off benefits and into work. We are looking to help people get practical experience that will give them a better chance of getting into work.

"It is simply absurd to suggest that we should not be providing this support and effectively leaving people at home doing nothing."

Poundland said in a statement: "Poundland has had a positive experience of the Work Placement Programme. We work in partnership with Jobcentre Plus and other government-funded organisations to implement a comprehensive Work Placement Programme designed to provide on-the-job training for those looking to retail as a career opportunity."

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