IDS attacks people who 'think they're too good' for work schemes


Iain Duncan Smith: "Terry Leahy started his life stacking shelves"

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The work and pensions secretary has criticised people "who think they're too good" to stack supermarket shelves on back-to-work government schemes.

On the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Iain Duncan Smith suggested that many "smart people" overlooked the importance of effective shelf-stacking.

A geology graduate recently won a legal victory over the back-to-work scheme.

But Mr Duncan Smith warned against assuming that geology was more important than supermarket work.

Geology graduate Cait Reilly, 24, argued at the Appeal Court that her unpaid work placement at Poundland, which she had been required to undertake in return for continued benefits payments, breached laws on forced labour.

'Most successful' scheme

Start Quote

I don't think I am above working in shops like Poundland. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working”

End Quote Cait Reilly

Although Miss Reilly won the case, Mr Duncan Smith said the judges had decided her argument that the scheme breached her human rights was "rubbish".

The court had ruled against the government, he explained, because "the regulations were set too wide and weren't specific enough".

"I've already put emergency regulations down, and that's ended it," he added.

Commenting further on the case, Mr Duncan Smith said: "I understand she said she wasn't paid. She was paid jobseeker's allowance, by the taxpayer, to do this.

"I'm sorry, but there is a group of people out there who think they're too good for this kind of stuff.


The Cait Reilly case has clearly niggled Iain Duncan Smith. To him, it's about a wider political principle that there should not be a "something-for-nothing" culture.

While Cait Reilly argued she was being asked to work for free, Mr Duncan Smith has in effect said that Job Seeker's Allowance should be seen as an equivalent of a wage for those sent on work placements.

Meanwhile his remarks about the importance of supermarket shelf-stackers suggest he believes that some job seekers are too snobbish about certain kinds of work.

"Let me remind you that [former Tesco chief executive] Terry Leahy started his life stacking shelves.

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

Mr Duncan Smith argued that "most young people love" their work experience placements.

It was the government's "most successful" back-to-work scheme, he said: "It's been so successful that over half of those kids have left benefits."

The scheme had been launched to help young people trapped in a vicious circle where they could not get a job because they did not have any experience on their CVs, he said.

'Complete waste of time'

Mr Duncan Smith added: "But what we've said to them is: once you commit to doing that programme, because companies have to make arrangements around it, then if you don't do this you may suffer a benefit withdrawal because you have messed them around and they are therefore going to suffer as a result of that.

"It's a point that anyone out there listening to this will know. You have to learn early that if you commit to something, you stay and do it."

Miss Reilly, a University of Birmingham geology graduate, and 40-year-old unemployed HGV driver Jamie Wilson, from Nottingham, both succeeded in their claims that the unpaid schemes were legally flawed.

This was because the regulations behind the schemes did not comply with the Act of Parliament that gave the DWP the power to introduce the programme.

Miss Reilly said that in November 2011 she had to leave her voluntary work at a local museum and work unpaid at the Poundland store in Kings Heath, Birmingham, under a scheme known as the "sector-based work academy".

"Those two weeks were a complete waste of my time, as the experience did not help me get a job," she said, after the court ruling on 12 February.

"I was not given any training and I was left with no time to do my voluntary work or search for other jobs.

"The only beneficiary was Poundland, a multi-million pound company. Later I found out that I should never have been told the placement was compulsory.

"I don't think I am above working in shops like Poundland. I now work part-time in a supermarket. It is just that I expect to get paid for working."

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Duncan Smith also said:

  • The UK faces a "big battle" in the EU institutions over rules governing access to benefits, accusing EU officials of trying to "take control" of policies previously left to member states.
  • Labour's attempts to characterise planned housing benefit changes as a "bedroom tax" were "nonsense". He added: "We have in social sector housing a very large number of people in houses where they have many more bedrooms than they actually need."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1550.

    So I would say to mr Duncan Smith I was overjoyed to get a shelf filling job That nobody wants to do but still got made redundent by the great employer Waitrose .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1549.

    Iain Duncan Smith: "Terry Leahy started his life stacking shelves", and hopefully Mr Duncan-Smith will end his life doing the same!
    Shame on you, perhaps you are the reason the Tories were un-electable for for over a decade!
    Cameron, you are a bigger idiot than anyone has given you credit for! Sack this idiot and resign.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1548.

    I remember the Tory arguement to increase student fees to £9K a year was that they got better jobs than the rest so could afford to pay them back (plus extortionate interest). This lady has a degree in geology surely useful to any growing economy. She should not be a shelf filler. She should be part of this country's growth strategy . This will only happen when we get rid of IDS and his ilk

  • rate this

    Comment number 1547.

    Why is there no outrage about this? where is criticism from the opposition? He said "She was paid jobseekers allowance by the taxpayer to do this" Someone has to employ you for you to get paid and at 24 she would earn 6.19 an hour at least for a minimum wage. This means she could work only for 9hrs at poundland per week. If she was doing anymore It would be illegal. DWP now ignore the law ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1546.

    I would not employ Miss Reilly, but I would employ her twin sister who was prepared to roll up her sleeves and do what Miss Reilly regards as pointless. It demonstrates work ethic and a positive attitude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1545.

    The Cait Reilly case has clearly niggled Iain Duncan Smith. To him, it's about a wider political principle that there should not be a "something-for-nothing" culture.
    If thats the case Mr Smith maybe you should start paying for your own breakfasts and petrol

  • rate this

    Comment number 1544.

    This is ridiculous. I can attest to why unpaid back-to-work schemes are a total farse for two reasons: On one hand, as an upcoming university graduate myself, I would rather emigrate from Britain and get work abroad where we are appreciated than work for nothing in Poundland, and also when my mother did a similar scheme in the NHS was used as unpaid slave labour and got no job for her efforts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1543.

    Note that all those who post a comment here supporting ConDems view that the Geology student in question considered herself to be above shelf stacking have wilfully misunderstood what happened and have ended up doing the Government's misinformation dirty work for them.
    I say to ConDems supporters that if your World-view is formed by listening to asses like IDS then God help the rest of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1542.

    I agree - no one is above stacking supermarket shelves to earn a living (How many have you stacked Mr Duncan Smith?). However, after having studied for three/four years to improve chances of employment (plus getting themselves in thousands of pounds student debt) surely we should ensure that there are posts out there for these young adults that would give them living wage!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1541.

    Iain Duncan Smith talks about not wanting shelf filling jobs ,after a year out of work after being made redundant from a publishing management job I was more than happy to get a shelf filling job with the supposed good company Waitrose for three months,yet after 7 weeks they ended my contract along with 8 others blaming " the economic situation" despite posting record Christmas trading figures....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1540.

    this is just a means for the ConDems to massage the unemployment figures as we are not classed as unemployed while we are on "training for work"

    I too was a volunteer for national health charity shop who receive not one red cent off the government, and the experience I gained there was more suited to the work I wanted to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1539.

    @1485. Posted a comment and when it came up it was noted that it had a minus 1 negative rating, how on earth did this happen when no one read it. Or is the the BBC moderators sticking there ore in before we get to see what people say and manipulating the results.. Obviously some quick researchers as it has now a minus 3 rating in the space of 10 minutes.. Something rotten in Denmark is there BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 1538.

    @1518 Gtino

    If high levels of expectancy include being paid at least minimum wage for the hours they are expected to work then I'm sure you're also guilty of that too.

    You miss the point that people aren't complaining about being 'forced' to work, but not getting the same level of pay as someone else in that position for the hours worked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1537.

    If the idle minoritygot off their butts and looked for work they might just learn that work has its rewards. Everyone seems to know their rights but don't appear to realize that they also have responsibilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1536.

    Would IDS agree that shelf stacking is more important than, say, being a politician?
    Perhaps he can become the shelf Stackers very own champion?
    This sounds to me like another attempt to turn the working/middle classes onto the unemployed (or scroungers, as IDS would have them labelled).
    Let's hope this one backfires and people begin to see him for what he is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1535.

    1) Benefits come out of a tax pot that we all contribute to (and of course we have no say over whether or not to pay tax - VAT we all pay). It's our money to reclaim when times are tough and we need them.
    2) When graduates were telling you they wanted work experience to get a job IDS, I'm sure they were referring to experience in their chosen fields of work, not working for free in poundland...

  • Comment number 1534.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1533.

    1510 Ancient Sceptic
    "When are people going to realize that this country is next door to bankrupt because of the actions of the last govt?"
    When are YOU going to understand that the meltdown in the UK...AND USA, Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Greece.....etc could not possibly have been caused by Gordon Brown!! Unrestrained capitalism has failed us big time. I'll say it just once more. It WAS THE BANKS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1532.

    There is also a risk that winning the case sets a precedent whereby anyone could choose to volunteer at a museum rather than work in a store, working against genuine people. The govt scheme should allow people to work in an establishment only if they have studied the subject and achieved a certain minimum good grade to ensure people like her who are genuine get such career related placements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1531.

    The geologist contradicts herself. She says her two week work placement was a complete waste of time and did not help her get a job, then says she now works part time in a supermarket (which presumably DOES allow her time to continue getting voluntary experience in the museum). I am less sympathetic than I was. Two weeks is not excactly a life sentence.


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