The row over a flagship Government employment programme took another twist when geologists hit back at comments made by a Cabinet minister.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said at the weekend he would not back down over the work experience scheme despite a High Court ruling that the scheme's rules were unclear.
He issued a direct rebuke to university graduate Cait Reilly (24), from Birmingham, who challenged having to work for free at a local Poundland discount store or face losing jobless benefits.
The minister said: "The next time these smart people who say there's something wrong with this go into their supermarket, ask themselves this simple question: when they can't find the food on the shelves, who is more important: them, the geologist or the person who's stacked the shelves."
The Geological Society said it was "surprised" at the comments. Prof Alan Lord, its secretary for foreign and external affairs, said it was an "unhelpful way" to frame the argument, adding: "Geologists are a vital part of that supply chain – mining the minerals essential for fertilisers, obtaining metal ores, discovering the fuel which transports produce to the store and engineering our transport infrastructure.
"Without geologists, there would be no way to supply supermarkets with produce, no transport for customers or staff – no shelves, in fact. We would be surprised if Mr Duncan Smith considered geology graduates anything less than equally vital to the economy as those who stack supermarket shelves.
"Many geologists spend a lot of time in challenging conditions – on oil rigs in the North Sea, in trenches and mines, conducting field work in all weathers. We certainly do not consider ourselves above shelf stacking."