Partners of jobless forced to seek work

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DEPENDENT WIVES and girlfriends of jobless young men are to be forced to look for work under tough new proposals drawn up by the Government.

The radical plan means that from next year, childless couples aged between 18 and 24 will be compelled to make a joint claim for jobseeker's allowance (JSA) or risk losing benefit.

Under current rules, unemployed men or women in a relationship can claim a higher rate of JSA on behalf of both themselves and their partner.

Ministers believe that the system effectively allows one partner to sit at home receiving benefit without actively having to look for work. Most young women in relationships now go out to work rather than staying at home and ministers believe that the idea of a "dependent" wife or girlfriend is therefore outdated.

As more than 90 per cent of dependants are women, the change will predominantly affect wives and live-in girlfriends of unemployed young men.

Ministers also claim that young men are deterred from taking up jobs because they would lose an income for both themselves and their partners.

The new measure, which has been included in the Government's flagship Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, will come into force from next October if it is approved.

The Bill, currently passing through the Commons, includes a key clause that will "require" all joint claimants of JSA to join the New Deal for Young People after six months.

Under the New Deal, they will be forced to go into full-time education and training, join an environmental task force or voluntary group or take a subsidised job. The scheme, which has been hatched by both the Department of Employment and the Department of Social Security, may even be extended to cover childless couples of all ages if it proves successful.

Andrew Smith, the Employment minister, said the change was being introduced because dependants should no longer be treated as "passive recipients of benefit".

"Where one of a couple is in the 18-24 age range and the couple have no children, we propose to introduce this joint regime so that both must comply with active labour market requirements," he said.

"It is entirely appropriate that we should expect a recipient of jobseeker's allowance in the 18-24 age range without children to be fully engaged with the labour market.

"The provision will grow with the couple with time. Progressively, therefore, childless couples will be required to be actively engaged with the labour market."

Mr Smith said the measure took into account the fact that society had changed and more young women in relationships went out to work. "It's a matter of basic equity," he said.

Under the current system, unemployed men with a partner can claim JSA of pounds 80.65 a week, compared to pounds 40.70 a week if they claimed as an individual. The new system would force both partners to claim JSA jointly, making them both liable for work.

The alternative to joint claims would be to allow both partners to make individual claims, but the Government has estimated such a move would cost pounds 17bn a year across the welfare system as a whole.

As well as the new measures included in the Welfare Reform Bill, the Department is launching a nationwide pounds 60m New Deal for Partners to tackle further the "culture of dependency".