Millionaire minister Iain Duncan Smith was livid this week after the Court of Appeal put the kibosh on almost the entire workfare programme. But just wait until the Work and Pensions Secretary sees what it'll do to his fraudulent employment figures.
Plaintiff Cait Reilly, a would-be museum curator, had to abandon her volunteer work at a Birmingham museum after her case manager ordered her to give it up for a six-week "training" placement with the "sector-based work academy"- stocking Poundland's shelves for free, five days a week, on pain of losing her jobseeker's allowance - effectively working for £2.25 an hour.
Meanwhile former truck driver Jamieson Wilson was told he would be working an unpaid 30 hours a week for the next six months with a charity dealing in second-hand furniture - but when asked what he would actually do, the case manager simply told him he'd be following orders.
The position of Boycott Workfare and other activists is that it's a human rights issue covered in the European Convention of Human Rights as "forced or compulsory labour" - when your options are (a) become a general dogsbody for with no job description or even pay, or (b) literally starve while denied what had once been a guaranteed basic stipend that's free and optional only in the same sense that sweatshop workers can theoretically quit instead. That's not a welfare state - that's the world's worst temping agency.
But Judge Stanley Burnton explicitly ruled out consideration of "the social, economic, political or other merits" of workfare. Parliament was entitled to authorise schemes that helped unemployed people to find jobs, he said, and equally entitled to punish those who refused to participate in a "suitable" scheme.
The problem in the court's eyes was simply that Parliament hadn't actually done any of this. Instead DWP officials had apparently mocked up the various workfare schemes and sanctions as they went, without ever describing them in the department's actual regulations. The question of just how much detail was required was irrelevant, Burnton curtly noted, "since the regulations contain none."
So what now? The DWP has vowed to appeal against the ruling, but if rebuffed ministers will have to redraft regulations that articulate the schemes in detail. Until then the work programme and its many variants must come grinding to a halt, with claimants legally empowered to refuse or abandon their placements without fear of sanctions. Meanwhile those who've already been sanctioned for non-compliance should be able to claw back the money they're owed.
Only mandatory work activity remains - and even that is reportedly on its last legs following the hasty exit of several high-profile charities.
But these significant victories aside, the ruling is also set to unravel the coalition's record of fast-and-loose employment figures. As the Morning Star has previously shown, those on workfare programmes typically continue to draw a jobseeker's allowance since they're obviously not in paid work. But since stocking shelves at Poundland is technically a "training" programme, they count for statistical purposes as employed.
And it just so happens that the as-yet unchecked rise in employment began in June 2011, at exactly the same time the coalition launched the Work Programme that would prove so useful in fudging such figures.
One might be forgiven for thinking workfare might simply be, well, working. But as the first official review found in November, just 3.5 per cent of those put through the Work Programme had found unsubsidised work six months later. That's not a typo: 3.5 per cent.
At the same time the baseline for the general population had been a 5 per cent chance of re-employment - in other words, the £65m project actually demolished the prospect of a job with every £4,600 it spent. And with a case like Reilly's, it's easy to see why.
The ruling will also put a stop to at least some of the sanctions that have also masked real unemployment. Again, official policy is that any loss of your job-seeker's allowance also removes you from the claimant count and it's these sanctions which have been wielded like a hammer according to advocacy organisations.
Citizens Advice Scotland for instance has recorded a 459 per cent rise in assistance over benefit sanctions since the Con-Dems' rise to power in 2010. And if you drill down to the Work Programme specifically, the DWP's own records note 32,820 sanctions of up to 26 weeks for "failing to participate" in its first six months alone.
So watch carefully for the next six months of labour market statistics - and if you see a sudden spike in the unemployment rate, be sure to ask whether those poor suckers were stuck in the paperwork all along.
Reilly and Wilson deserve congratulations for scuppering workfare for the moment, but they've done more than that. They've put austerity itself in the dock, and the cross-examination will be merciless.