Minister hits back in row over work experience

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CONTROVERSY over the Government’s work experience scheme will not be allowed to derail efforts to get people off benefits and into work, Employment Minister Chris Grayling has warned.

A “concerted campaign” against the scheme has been fuelled by “snobbery” about the jobs on offer and the “entitlement culture” that has grown up around the benefits system, he said.

Mr Grayling stressed that any work placements under the scheme, which allows claimants to keep benefits while boosting skills, are voluntary amid unease from retailers targeted by campaigners attacking “slave labour”.

“People on benefits volunteer for work experience, they are not forced to do it,” Mr Grayling told the Yorkshire Post. “Once they sign up they have to continue with the scheme as a condition of their benefit and cannot just drop out. We think that is a fair approach.

“But the fact that this week has seen people balking at the idea of offering people on benefits some kind of short-term work experience shows how entrenched and damaging the ‘something for nothing’ benefit culture has become.

“We will not allow this campaign to derail the work we are doing with employers to get people on benefits back into work. It is only by giving people who can work the help they need to get jobs, that we can break the cycle of dependency and help them improve their lives.”

Mr Grayling has accused socialist activists of pressuring firms to quit the scheme. Several major retailers have expressed concerns that those taking part could lose benefits if they pull out after a week.

But Iain Iriving, 20 from Harrogate, has been offered a permanent job with furniture store Alpha Pine after a placement.

“This is my first real job,” he said. “Before this I was unable to get a job due to my lack of experience. The majority of employers are looking for someone with experience, and there’s no opportunity in the workplace environment to find that experience without a job.”

Poundland said it was pulling out of another Government scheme – the Work Programme – which pays companies and charities to get the long-term unemployed back to work. Claimants who refuse to take part in recommended work experience can face benefit sanctions.