Youngsters on the Government’s work experience scheme will be able to leave after a week without facing benefit sanctions under a change announced by Ministers aimed at heading off criticism of the programme.
The move followed a meeting with scores of employers following protests by activists who complained that youngsters were being forced to work for nothing.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said sanctions would still apply for cases of gross misconduct, such as stealing or racist abuse, but those taking part would be able to leave after a week without losing their benefits.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling insisted that opponents were “completely misguided”.
He said: “Following a productive meeting with employers I am delighted that we have pledges from some of the UK’s top companies to take part in the scheme.”
Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons: “I think it is time that businesses in Britain, and from everyone in Britain, who wants to see people have work experience, stand up against the Trotskyites of the Right to Work campaign and perhaps recognise the deafening silence we have had from the party opposite.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Of course proper work experience can be useful and helpful for many young people, but it needs to be designed to help the young person, not provide free labour for employers or displace paid staff.”
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne said: “Ministers appear to be lurching from one muddle to another while more and more jobs are lost and unemployment rises. Work experience is incredibly valuable but somehow this Government have botched it so badly that they have lost the good will of businesses across the country.”
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