UK Politics

Minister attacks 'reprehensible' coverage of jobs plan

Chris Grayling
Image caption Mr Grayling said he was surprised and disappointed by the coverage of the scheme

Employment Minister Chris Grayling has strongly criticised the BBC's coverage of the row last month about the government's Work Experience Scheme.

Appearing in front of the Work and Pensions Select Committee in Parliament, Mr Grayling said that with hindsight though he might have given the scheme a different name.

In two hours of questioning, he talked about the Work Programme and the Work Experience Scheme.

He admitted he was very surprised at the reaction from some to the Work Experience programme.

The scheme allows unemployed youngsters to do unpaid work for up to two months without losing benefits but has been criticised by some as "slave labour".

'Reprehensible'

"We are doing some difficult things, sometimes controversial things at the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) at the moment," Mr Grayling told MPs. "The Work Experience Scheme is not one of them.

"It literally does what it says on the tin. It is oversubscribed. It is voluntary.

"It never seriously crossed my mind that we'd have the Socialist Workers Party protesting on the streets protesting about the Work Experience Scheme. If I could turn the clock back I might have called the scheme something else. There are some things you can't predict," he said.

Mr Grayling added that he was "very disappointed" at the BBC's coverage.

"I do think there has been a laziness in the coverage. I think some parts of the media frankly took a very bizarre approach towards this. I was very disappointed by some of the coverage of the BBC.

"I think the Guardian newspaper got things wrong, but the BBC had more of a duty to get things right and I don't think it made an effort to do so. At the end of the day all of this created a situation where we could have lost something that was making a real difference to young people and I think that was reprehensible."

'Job hunting'

The minister was particularly annoyed with the use of the word "workfare" in reporting.

"One word that kept recurring was 'workfare.' In none of our titles of our schemes or any of the principles of our schemes is workfare. It is all about job search.

"Sometimes intensive activity is designed to stimulate job search but what we haven't done is simply said you have to work for your benefits and that's that nothing else."

Answering earlier questions, Mr Grayling confirmed there are two ongoing investigations into the Work Programme provider A4E - one involving the police, the other a team of auditors from the DWP.

He said contracts would be terminated "if there is evidence of systemic failure".

"We will not tolerate fraud against the DWP," he added.

Mr Grayling said he had high hopes for the Work Programme, but acknowledged it wouldn't be able to help everyone.

"The hard reality is we won't get everyone into work. We won't be able to do something for everyone. We have to be realistic. Some people will be disappointed."

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