24/02/2012 04:12 GMT | Updated 24/04/2012 06:12 BST

Chris Grayling Backtracks On Claims His Email Was Hacked By Socialist Workers Party

The employment minister Chris Grayling has had to backtrack on claims that his email had been hacked by campaigners against a Government work experience scheme, which is continuing to attract controversy.

Chris Grayling accused a group of socialist activists of pressuring firms to quit the scheme amid accusations that it was "slave labour" because youngsters worked for nothing, while keeping their benefits.

But his claim that his email was hacked as part of the campaign clearly sent alarm bells ringing across Whitehall, and a retraction was hastily issued.

Supermarket giant Tesco this week offered to pay people on the scheme and asked ministers to remove the threat of benefit sanctions against those not completing their work experience. Retail giant Poundland has expressed similar concerns about the mandatory element to it.

Mr Grayling defended the scheme, saying that half of those who joined it after the launch 11 weeks ago had now found a job, often with companies which offered them work experience.

He also claimed that firms reportedly pulling out of the programme, including supermarket giant Sainsbury's, had never formally been involved in the government initiative because they ran their own scheme.

About 100 organisations were involved in the scheme and not one had pulled out, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Grayling said a lot of large companies were coming under pressure from right-to-work activists to withdraw from the scheme.

Tesco stores have been targeted in the past week, with one in central London having to close last weekend because of a protest.

"It is a small number of activists trying to destabilise companies," he told the programme.

“What’s happened in the last week is we’ve got a lot of companies who are very jumping, they’re coming under pressure from a big internet campaign that is being run by an organisation that is a front for the socialist workers party.

“Now the high street retail sector is going through a tough time at the moment. If you’re running a company and you’re getting streams of e-mails attacking you it’s very unsettling. It’s a false campaign.

“Let me give you an example, my own e-mail address was hacked by this organisation and used to lodge a complaint with Tesco so I don’t accept the scale of the campaign is very large. It’s a small number of activists who are deliberately targeting these companies and are trying to destabilised them.”

Grayling defends government work experience programmes (mp3)

However this astonishing claim was then watered down when Today programme presenter Evan Davis offered a clarification on Grayling's behalf around 30 minutes later. Apparently his email address had been used as part of the campaign, but had not been hacked.

Grayling has previously described opponents of the work experience programme as "job snobs" and he again defended training for work in supermarkets.

Retail was one of the biggest industries in the country, offering "hugely diverse" career opportunities, including management, he said.

"There seems to be a view that a career in a supermarket is a bad thing," said Mr Grayling, adding that retail was "big business" with big career opportunities.

Many managers, such as those in the John Lewis chain, had started work on the shop floor, experiencing the front line of the business, he said.

Offering youngsters work experience, with the chance of a job at the end, was better than "simply leaving them" on benefits, he said.

Ken McMeikan, chief executive of bakery chain Greggs has voiced concern over the scheme, telling the BBC he was not comfortable with young people potentially losing their benefits if they leave the initiative.

The Government has come under pressure to suspend contracts with a welfare-to-work firm at the centre of a police fraud investigation after its boss quit as the Prime Minister's "family champion".

Emma Harrison, chairman of A4e, said she did not want the probe, which has seen four ex-members of A4e staff arrested, to distract from the Government's efforts to help vulnerable families.

The Socialist Workers Party denied it had hacked Mr Grayling's email to tell employers "not to employ slave labour on his workfare schemes".

Charlie Kimber, the party's national secretary, said: "Grayling should know that the campaign against forcing the unemployed to work for nothing is supported by very large numbers of people, not just the SWP.

"That is why the campaign by Right to Work alongside others has scored successes against several major employers and will continue until the whole scheme is scrapped."