Blair's Britain: Harman pledges an end to wasted lives on the dole

`There won't be the option of life on benefits'
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The Independent Online
The hardline attitude to be taken by the new Labour government on social security fraud and "benefits for life" was spelled out yesterday by Harriet Harman.

The Secretary of State for Social Security told GMTV's Sunday Programme: "When the welfare state was set up, it was for people who, for one reason or another, couldn't work. It wasn't for people who just didn't want to work."

She said that young people were to be offered a range of options; quality training or worthwhile jobs. "But there won't be the option of simply life on benefits. But that's not what young people want ... I don't think people will support a welfare state which is simply about an alternative way of life."

The fact that Frank Field, former chairman of the all-party Commons Social Security Select Committee, has been appointed number two at the department has already sent out a signal that Labour means it when it says that radical reform of the welfare state is now being sought. Ms Harman said yesterday: "The best form of welfare for people of working age is work. We can't go on with the situation where one in five households of people of working age has no one in work, so the entire household is dependent upon benefits.

"That gives them a low standard of living and it means the taxpayer has to pick up the bill, so then everybody else is told, education is told, `Sorry, there's not enough money', hospitals, there's not enough money, because too much of the public purse is being eaten up by people who don't want to be, but are, dependent on benefits, and we have to turn that round." This year's social security budget is set at pounds 99.3bn, with an expected rise to pounds 102.75bn next year. Ms Harman added: "We're not going to lecture them or thump them. We're going to ensure that offers are made ... and they are required to take those."

There was no option of rejecting a worthwhile offer of a job or training .

As for pensions, Ms Harman repeated the Labour commitment to create a "stakeholders' pension" scheme, run by the private sector, but organised and monitored by government.

Later, on London Weekend Television's Crosstalk, she said that as minister with special Cabinet responsibility for women, she would be giving high priority to helping single mothers.

"Lone mothers often face huge problems moving off benefit and into work," she said. "But it is a step the vast majority of them want to make.

"So I shall be starting with the biggest barrier they have to cross, namely access to childcare. I shall start talking to the key groups involved in this area within the next few days.

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