Superdrug, Maplin’s, mental health charity Mind, Waterstones, Sainsbury’s and Burger King have all turned their backs of the scheme due to public criticism of the scheme.
Sir Stuart’s comments came only a day after the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, was also highly critical of the scheme, claiming it took advantage of vulnerable people by using them as free labour.
Dr Sentamu said: “We can encourage people to volunteer, but a worker should be worthy of their wages.”
But Sir Stuart said he was baffled by criticism of the Workfare scheme.
The British businessman, who was knighted for services to retail in 2008, said he stacked shelves and swept warehouses when he began his retail career as an M&S management trainee 40 years ago, describing the duties as part of working life.
Sir Stuart said the notion that youngsters on the scheme were being exploited was “nonsense”.
Many smaller business owners, including Will Davies, – co-founder of property maintenance and refurbishment concern aspect.co.uk – have sprung to Sir Stuart’s defence today.
“Unfortunately, youth unemployment is set to continue rising because more experienced workers are being made redundant and they are taking jobs that would – in different circumstances – be open to the young,” said Mr Davies.
“Young people should be jumping at the prospect of any sort of work experience. Even if they have only been stacking supermarket shelves prospective employers know that they have made an effort and got up every morning,” said Mr Davies.
aspect.co.uk – one of Britain’s fastest growing property maintenance companies – have announced expansion plans to take their £10 million London into the regions but have been shocked by the lack of applications from young British workers.
“It is becoming acceptable for the young in Britain to be unemployed and use the economic situation and the massive youth unemployment figures as an excuse,” said Mr Davies.
“We have had plenty of applications from workers over 30 but we want to see a mobilisation of younger British workers to take on the challenge of getting out to work and delivering a service like ours,” he said.
Critics have labeled the ‘Get Britain Working’ programme a source of ‘slave labour’ and say that it is open to abuse from employers who can use the scheme to provide ‘free’ work and actually reduce the number of real jobs available for young people.
Human rights lawyers have also threatened to sue any company taking part in the government scheme.
“Young people are leaving school without the basic skills necessary to enter and progress in the workforce,” said Mr Davies.