After the budget: Blunkett cuts benefit for work-shy youth

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Unemployed youngsters who drop out of the Government's pounds 3.5 bn Welfare to Work programme for no good reason will have their benefits removed completely, ministers revealed yesterday.

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, spelled out the details of his New Deal for the young which will grant them "rights" and demand obligations and will be compared to the tough "Workfare" Schemes in the USA.

Introducing his crusade to get people off benefit and into jobs, Mr Blunkett said: "No one except those with disabilities or very good cause should refuse to take up the option to earn their own living." Unlike previous schemes the watchwords for the new regime would be "Quality, continuity and employability", he said.

When sanctions were imposed on the "workshy" by the Conservative Government under the Jobseekers' Allowance scheme, similar penalties were denounced by Labour - and by Alan Howarth, the Conservative who subsequently defected to Labour and now serves as a Minister in Mr Blunkett's department.

The big difference now, according to Ministers, is that young people will be offered quality options.

As Mr Blunkett gave the Commons details of the new sanctions process last night, there was no sign of protest or dissent from the two dozen backbenchers in the Chamber.

Mr Blunkett told the House: "I know that young people will be persuaded that this is hope, not punishment." One new Labour MP even broke Commons convention with a short burst of clapping when Mr Blunkett ended his Budget debate speech.

Under the Welfare to Work programme, 178,000 jobless people between the ages of 18 and 24 and who have been out of work or training for more than six months would be forced to make themselves available.

The New Deal scheme begins with a programme of counselling as part of the "gateway" to the new system.

Each participant will have an individual employment service advisor and, if necessary, will receive help with basic numeracy and literacy. Some may find jobs during this period which could last up to four months.

Participants would then progress to one of four options:

A job with an employer each of whom would receive pounds 60 a week for up to 26 weeks. An additional pounds 750 would be paid to the employer for one day's education or training a week.

A placement with the Government's Environment Task Force, which will include day-release for education or training. Participants will receive a grant of pounds 400 each.

Work with a voluntary organisation including periods of training.

The opportunity for those without qualifications to take up full-time education or training for a period of up to 12 months.

Where young people refuse all the options a government-appointed adjudicator would then decide whether to cut off their Jobseekers' Allowance, or remove 40 per cent of it for those with dependants.

Under the old JSA regime they had to wait two weeks to resume payments, on appeal. Under the New Deal they would have to wait four weeks. A single person receives pounds 38.90 a week JSA.

Those classified as vulnerable, normally people with children or dependants, but also those with disabilities or chronic sickness, would see their benefits reduced.