Work. It’s a subject people always want to talk about, even though most would probably prefer to forget about it as soon as they down tools for the day. It may be bad for the employed among us to talk about, but I guarantee it’s even worse for those who have no work. Never is it more obvious how much people talk about work than when you’re in the conversation, but unemployed. It makes you feel inferior, even when you know that nobody around you likes what they do. You’ll try anything to change the subject on to something more interesting, but it always ends up back at the same point.

Someone who couldn’t change the subject, even if he wanted to, is the UK government’s secretary for work and pensions Ian Duncan-Smith (or if you’re on Twitter, IDS). Imagine you’re working life revolving around the topic of work. He’s the nightmare person to sit next to at a wedding breakfast, especially, after last week, if you are unemployed.

After further thought I should probably change “unemployed” to “Jobseekers”, as it was a Jobseeker who handed down a defeat to IDS and the government, via the Appeal Court, last Tuesday. The defeat was to the new back-to-work scheme, set up as a way to drive people on Jobseeker’s Allowance to do something other than sit at home and pretend to search for jobs. The case was brought forward by a geology graduate who was forced to stack shelves in the UK equivalent of the Dollar Store in order for her to receive the weekly check (worth between $85-$165 a week). As far as the court was concerned, this amounted to forced labor. Duncan-Smith, as the figurehead of the scheme, strongly disagreed with the ruling, and went on TV to explain why.

On a show loosely resembling Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union”, IDS complained about “a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff”. On this I think he has a point, and the frustration in the comment is obvious. Unfortunately, other arguments along the lines of people not understanding the value of shelf stacking, make him sound dumb. For a government minister I expected a better argument on what is a serious issue.

I find it difficult to argue against the government allocating people to temporary work while they find their own permanent solutions, but using companies who no doubt see the scheme as a profit-margin enhancer almost completely devalues the idea. What would be wrong with bring together charities and local councils, offering them jobseekers to make a difference in positive ways in the local community. To me that would look better on a CV than carrying boxes of cheap biscuits around all day.

Unfortunately, successive British governments have had an obsession with big supermarkets like Tesco. I’m convinced this partly explains IDS “shelf stacking” comments, and also why he bought up Tesco’s chief executive during his TV interview. You’re more useful to the government if you can stack shelves than you are making the community a nicer place to live. I shouldn’t be surprised by this short-sightedness, and IDS’s little rant will score well with members of the UK public who think the country is over-run by scroungers and illegal immigrants (it’s never anything else). For once though, people might be talking about the subject of work instead of actual work for a change. For the unemployed you wonder which one is worse.