IDS - graduates not too good to work in supermarkets

Mon, 18/02/2013 - 14:06 -- nick

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith has hit out at graduates who believe they are too good to work in supermarkets.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Duncan Smith denied that his work experience programmes were a form of slave labour, and criticised geology graduate Cait Reilly who had brought a successful court case against the government alledging this.

He said: "She was paid jobseeker's allowance by the taxpayer to do this. Most young people love this programme and I am sorry but there are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff."

Reilly had been forced to work at a Birmingham Poundland shop under threat of losing her Jobseeker's Allowance, but was already undertaking her own work experience which was more suited to her career aims.

Duncan Smith rejected the idea that work experience gained at a level below the jobseeker's aspiration was unsuitable:

"The next time these smart people who say there's something wrong with this go into their supermarket, ask themselves this simple question: when they can't find the food on the shelves, who is more important: them, the geologist or the person who's stacked the shelves?"

The ruling by the UK's Court of Appeal stated that the legislation the government had introduced to allow free work programmes did not cover all the methods that were being used, and that insufficient information was being provided to jobseekers.

It did not find that working for free was illegal, but the 130,000 people who had had benefits withdrawn for refusing to do work experience while unemployed could still be able to claim their money back as they were sanctioned under the old law.

The government is determined to prevent this happening; it has asked the Court for leave to appeal, and has already introduced new laws in to Parliament to ensure those who have benefits removed for refusing a placement in the future will not be able to get them back.

Ian Duncan Smith made his feelings on the Court ruling clear, describing it as "rubbish" in his BBC interview.

"I have already put emergency regulations down. That has ended it. I am not going to give way on this. I absolutely clearly tell you this. People who think it is their right to take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over."

DWP has already sent letters to those on current government work programmes clarifying the law, as required by the ruling.

Cait Reilly is now working, paid, in a Morrisons supermarket.

UnemployedNet says:

Making work experience mandatory for jobseekers was always a mistake.

It is a shame that the court did not see that the forced labour argument had merit on human rights grounds, but stopping current compulsory programmes is welcome.

The whole idea of forcing people in to placements is wrong, not just on moral grounds but also because they actively work against the thing they are supposed to help, namely getting people in to paid jobs.

Taking choice away from jobseekers is demotivating and hurts self-confidence, two of the most important things needed if they are to get work.

And what about the companies who provide placements? Cait Reilly was stacking shelves and cleaning in Poundland, surely tasks which should be paid and provided as a real job to someone who desperately needs one?

Work experience programmes could actually be increasing unemployment, and acting as a subsidy to private sector companies in contravention of competition laws, which ban these subsidies.

What is it like for those who work with them, and customers, to have reluctant placees in their shops?

A company could get addicted to the supply of cheap labour while its standards of customer service gradually drop - reluctant placees are unlikely to be smiling and helpful when they are being forced to compromise their career goals and are not in place long enough to receive training in customer relations - gradually eroding goodwill with those who use its services.

Ian Duncan Smith's interview with Andrew Marr, in which he attempted to defend the government's programmes and attitudes, did not make for comfortable watching for unemployed people or those with an interest in social justice.

He criticised Cait Reilly directly for believing she was "too good" to work in a supermarket. Cait Reilly now works, paid, in Morrisons.

He said that "You have to learn early that if you commit to something you stay by and do it," but, as the Court of Appeal showed, she was not given sufficient information to base any commitment on.

He criticised the value of some learning: "when [shoppers] can't find the food on the shelves, who is more important: them, the geologist or the person who's stacked the shelves?". Even in these incredibly narrow terms, the supermarket would have needed to be built to have stackable shelves, and a geological survey would have been part of the building process.

He claimed that "People who think it is their right to take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over", despite Cait Reilly being taken off another work experience placement she had found herself.

He said of forced work experience that "most young people love this programme"; really? Most young people love having their choices taken away and compromising their career goals for two weeks in Poundland or similar?

Any professional evaluation of an employment programme is unlikely to ask the level of love participants have for it, so it is very hard to know where the Minister got this piece of information.

The government needs to stop dealing in this misinformation, pretending that to be unemployed is a personal moral failure, or a series of individual failures, rather than a failure of the market to provide enough jobs for the whole country.

This is one of the main reasons why we started UnemployedNet; a lack of organisation and representation in this area is a key reason why successive governments, newspapers and others have been able to get away with putting this kind of misinformation into the public domain.

While more than five jobseekers are chasing each job, while half of all jobseekers get work within three months of signing on, and while the government is directly contributing to unemployment through making over one million people redundant through its austerity programme, it is time for the government to take responsibility for unemployment instead of blaming each jobseeker for their circumstances.

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