Jobless graduates should not think they are “too good” to stack supermarket shelves, the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said today, adding that he did not accept a critical Appeal Court ruling which threatens the Government’s controversial back-to-work scheme.
In a direct rebuke to a former university student who challenged having to work for free at her local Poundland store or face losing her unemployment benefits, Iain Duncan Smith said “smart people” should reflect on which jobs in society were more important.
“Most young people love this [back-to-work] 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,” he said.
“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?”
Referring to Cait Reilly, the 24-year-old graduate from Birmingham who brought the successful legal challenge, he added: “People who think that it is their right to take benefit and do nothing for it, those days are over. She volunteered for a work experience programme that many young people want to do and then decided that actually they didn’t want to do it any more. That’s unacceptable.”
Mr Duncan Smith said he had tabled emergency regulations to deal with a Court of Appeal ruling that the rules of the work experience scheme were unclear, having previously called the judgement “utter madness”. His comment reflect a growing sense of frustration among ministers that decisions by the Government and Parliament can be unpicked by judges on the basis of technicalities.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, also attacked judges when she accused some of ignoring Parliament’s intention that foreigners found guilty of rape or serious assault should be deported.
Mrs May said judges had “got it into their heads” that the European Convention on Human Rights meant that a “right to family life” could not be curbed. She insisted that once Parliament had approved the rule change, stating that it did not apply to serious criminals, judges should have toed the line.
“Unfortunately, some judges evidently do not regard a debate in Parliament on new immigration rules as evidence that Parliament wants to see those new rules implemented,” she said. “For almost all of the long history of disputes between judges and Parliament, it has been common ground that Parliament is the ultimate law-maker, and that it is not for the judges to be legislators.
“It is essential to democracy that the elected representatives of the people make the laws that govern this country – and not the judges. Yet some judges seem to believe they can ignore Parliament’s wishes. A minority think it is their role to determine whether or not foreigners who commit serious crimes shall be deported.”
But the Labour peer and lawyer Baroness Kennedy dismissed Mrs May’s attack on the judiciary was about “a populous bit of politicking”.
“This is a common story with Home Secretaries,” she said. “We have to remember that this is about the independence of the judiciary and why that’s so important, and why the rule of law runs it is absolutely imperative judges are not under the thumb of Home Secretaries. It can be frustrating for Home Secretaries, of course, but it is not good to see this vocal attack on judges.”