James O’Brien interviews Iain Duncan Smith on LBC 97.3, Wednesday 20th February 2013.
I am including the highlights (most of the interview) as a result of the Court of Appeal's ruling in the case of Cait Reilly (and the other appellant), though you will miss out on the condescending sneers and irritation in Iain Duncan Smith’s timbre. You will also miss out on James O’Brien’s perceptiveness and wonderful technique for demolishing the meaningless waffle espoused from the mouth of IDS.
JO: ...You think that they think shelf-stacking is beneath them…
IDS: ..That’s a ridiculous point if you don’t mind me saying so. Because I didn’t say that. What I said was -
JO: I've got the transcript in front of me.
JO: I've got the transcript in front of me.
IDS: People who are doing work experience which is us allowing people to continue to earn their Job Seeker’s Allowance…they will learn all sorts of different skills…going into a business and involving yourself in a supermarket stacking shelves is as vital as any other job that you might have to do and particularly as all of us go to shop in supermarkets the point I was making - which is more important in life if your shelves have not got food on them, doesn’t the shelf-stacker have some particularly strong position in society?
JO: Yes, but you were talking about a woman who had no problem with stacking shelves, she merely wanted to be paid for it.
IDS: She was paid for it…what do you think the taxpayer was paying for God’s sake? That’;s what we are paying her to do (shouting down James O’Brien)
JO: I’m glad you’ve said that …(repeats it several times)
IDS: So what, you’d rather -
JO: If you let me, I’ll tell you -
IDS: - that the taxpayer allows her to sit on unemployment not getting work experience?
JO: If you let me I’ll tell you…let me read to you the official Department of Work & Pensions response to a petition to abolish Workfare and I quote from your own department: ‘We do not have Work For Your Benefits or Workfare Schemes in this country.” A further response to a Freedom of Information request for your own department states -
IDS: We don’t have a Workfare Programme.
JO: “…Benefit is not paid to the claimant as a remuneration for the activity” so explain to me how she can earn her Job Seekers Allowance in a country where benefit is not paid as a remuneration ?
IDS: Because the Work Experience Programme is one which you can volunteer to do…once you volunteer to do it’s made clear to you
JO: But the Court of Appeal has just found -
IDS: (Getting worked up): Listen, you’ve asked me a question, why don’t you let me answer it?
JO: I am letting you answer it but you’re not answering the question I asked.
IDS: Let me finish OK? If you just want to make a mess of this that’s fine …
JO: That’s your prerogative, Mr Iain Duncan Smith
IDS: We do not have a Workfare Programme…
JO: Aren’t they forced to do it? The Court of Appeal has just found that they are.
IDS: You don’t understand what the Court of Appeal has just found.
JO: I’m afraid that I do.
IDS: You don’t, with respect.
JO: Why don’t you explain.
IDS: I will, thank you. What the Court of Appeal found was that it was not against their Human Rights to do it which was -
JO: I haven’t mentioned Human Rights.
IDS: That’s what they did – they brought that case on the basis of Human Rights…
JO: I haven’t mentioned Human Rights
IDS: …the Court found that the regulations around this should have been more specific to each individual scheme. We deliberately set them general around all work schemes and they’ve asked us to set them more specifically, we have done that…
JO: I need to clarify this point. You used the word ‘earn’ to describe the payment of Jobseekers Allowance to somebody working for a highly profitable company like Poundland. That is your phrase. You used it on this programme and you used it on the Andrew -
IDS: That’s because -
JO: You don’t like being interrupted yourself, Mr Duncan Smith.
IDS: OK, fire away.
JO: And then we learn from your own department that benefit is not paid to the claimant as a remuneration for the activity. Those two positions are completely irreconcilable.
IDS: No, they’re not. Listen. They volunteer to do this. Wehave allowed them to continue to receive Jobseekers Allowance for the time they’re doing Work Experience. What she was saying is ‘we’re not paid, we don’t receive any money.’ My answer is you do – the taxpayer is paying you Jobseekers Allowance. We’ve allowed you to do Work Experience and not lose your Jobseekers Allowance.
JO: So it’s remuneration for working
IDS: In the past she would have lost her Jobseekers Allowance.
JO: So the benefit is payment for the work.
IDS: I don’t quite understand what you’re getting concerned about.
JO: If you concentrated on what I’m saying instead of telling me to listen all the time you would. She’s getting paid for doing the work at Poundland with her Jobseekers Allowance.
IDS: It’s Work Experience.
JO: It’s a pay packet.
IDS: It’s Work Experience. She’s benefiting from the Work Experience but then she’ll go on and be more likely to be employed in the future. I think that’s a positive. I think it’s ludicrous to assume this is some kind of negative -
JO: You know that this woman had actually secured voluntary work experience and you also know that to describe as somehow sneering or looking down at shelf-stacking is absurd.
IDS: But she volunteered to go on the Work Experience Programme.
JO: Because she’d been lied to about what it would involve as the Court of Appeal found last week.
IDS: They did not find that she was lied to.
JO: I’m sorry you just said that they needed to clarify exactly what the regulations were.
IDS: The regulations were around the withdrawal of benefit if she failed to comply with what she’d agreed to do.
JO: Which only works if the benefit is a reward for doing the Work Experience.
IDS: With respect, if you’d read what the judgement was –
JO: I’ve read every word of the judgement, Mr Duncan Smith.
IDS: Then you need to understand it, with respect.
JO: Well with respect to you I do and insulting me doesn’t advance the argument in any way.
IDS: I’m not insulting you. This debate is going nowhere because you’ve made your mind up before you gave this interview.
JO: Au Contraire. This debate is incredibly illuminating.
IDS: Are you saying to me that these kids shouldn’t be doing Work Experience - ?
JO: I’m saying if they’re working they should get paid. It’s quite straightforward. You are. Why shouldn’t they be?
IDS: They’re on Jobseekers Allowance. The taxpayer is paying them. They’re getting Work Experience -
JO: So what is the minimum wage for?
IDS: This is Work Experience. They are doing up to two months Work Experience. I don’t quite understand why you think they shouldn’t be doing that, that they should be paid a full wage because the companies aren’t committed to taking them on…many of them do…
JO: Hang on, remind me of the companies that have pulled out of the scheme?
IDS: There are more companies that have joined the scheme than have even pulled out.
JO: I don’t think that’s an answer to my question.
IDS (Starts singing the praises of the schemes and benefits to young kids etc)
JO: It doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it doesn’t sound any more plausible or convincing that the bottom line is you’re using benefits to pay an incredibly cheap workforce to subsidize incredibly profitable companies and passing it off as some sort of assault on a fictional feckless generation.
IDS: I don’t agree with you.
JO: Of course you don’t…1700 people in Nottingham applying for 8 jobs.
IDS: Look, there are more people in work today than at any time on record.
JO: There are more people alive today than any point since records began. What a strange observation!
IDS: OK, this is turning into a bit of a political diatribe on your part…I’ve come on here to talk quite rightly about the fact that even in quite difficult times the British Labour market is doing better than we would have expected, that long-term unemployment is falling, that the reality is that employment is improving and that unemployment is falling as well and I believe that the Programmes we’ve set about this…that Work Experience is critical to that to help young people get the experience of the world of work. We simply won’t agree about that…
JO: I’m terribly sorry, I agree with you entirely. People need an awful lot of help to get back into work as has been proved by the fact that 1700 people are applying for 8 jobs in a coffee shop in Nottingham today, What would you say to the 1692 who failed?
IDS: The reality is that even in that area there are 15,000 vacancies and the reality is that the claimant count in that area is falling.
JO: That’s really what you’d say to them? The reality is -
IDS: Let me finish…what I’d say is actually this. You have to keep looking for jobs, there are jobs there, it’s not easy, I’m not saying there’s a magic wand around to wave, with the reality that people are looking for those jobs is a positive point to make for young people’s determination to find work, our job is to make sure we make the circumstances right around those companies so they can actually create more work -
JO: Sorry you’ve lost me.
IDS: - Which is what they’re doing
JO: Sorry you’ve lost me.
IDS: Come back to the figures. Overall -
JO: Yeah 1962 people
IDS: - there are 15,000 vacancies in the same area
JO: So it’s a positive
IDS: I don’t quite know what your point is here.
JO: I’m not surprised. You’re not listening to a word I’m saying. To the 1692 people who failed to get one of these jobs in a coffee shop you’d say that’s a positive.
IDS: I didn’t say that at all.
JO: I think you did.
IDS: But if you want to keep trying to indicate what I say when I said quite clearly, look all of them will be deeply disappointed but the reality is there are jobs, there is work there and people will have to keep on looking for it, this is not easy times. You know, if you were sitting in France or Italy or Spain-
JO: Yes, but we’re not.
IDS: - you’d find these positions much more positive.
JO: OK, so I understand now. You say to them, be grateful you don’t live in France.
IDS: No, I’m not saying that. I said, the positive figures today are a good indication that the private sector is creating jobs, there are more people in work, there are more jobs, the claimant count is falling, these are positives, I’m not saying they’re brilliant, they’re positive…there are half a million vacancies on a daily basis in the UK -
JO: - For two and half million Job Seekers.
IDS: …more people are entering the work force, more people are being employed and long term unemployed people are being found work and the programmes we’re putting around them including Work Experience which you don’t seem to think much of –
JO: No, I just think people should be paid.
IDS: They are being paid, the tax-payer is paying for them.
JO: Yes, that’s the astonishing element of this whole exchange, isn’t it?
IDS: There’s nothing astonishing about it –
JO: - that you think a benefit is a payment for work done.
IDS: No what I think is, Work Experience gives people a chance to see the world of work, it gives a chance for the company to see them, I think the taxpayer is making an investment in that because for 2 months that gives them now a much better chance of getting into work. I don’t agree with you at all. I think the Work Experience Programme is a huge success –
JO: Apart from the little wobble in the Court of Appeal last week.
IDS: - It is a strong and good programme and I’m very proud of it
JO: What happens finally if your challenge to the Court of Appeal findings last week fails?
IDS: We’ve already said we’ve changed the regulations going forward –
JO: So the thing you’re proud of has been changed.
IDS: No, the programmes themselves are exactly the same.
JO: But the regulations have changed…the programme is exactly the same but the regulations have changed.
IDS: The regulations around the programme they said should be tightened up and we’ve tightened them up.
I think the interview says it all. To hear it in its entirety go to: