Politics: Labour under attack over benefit changes and welfare- to-work plan

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS were under attack from two sides last night over plans to reform benefits and get the unemployed back to work.

As a group of campaigners for the disabled met Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, a Labour- supporting record company executive attacked the government's Welfare to Work scheme for stifling budding musicians.

Alan McGee, head of Creation records and a member of the Government's Creative Industries Task Force, said the programme was "incredibly naive" and was also unworkable for people hoping to be musicians.

The new system would force ambitious young musicians to take jobs which would prevent them from pursuing their musical goals, he said.

"You cannot be promoting this `Cool Britannia' image that the Government's promoting - which is fair enough because it's never been better for 20 or 30 years - and then put the next generation of Noel Gallaghers and Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespies into jobs doing plumbing," he said.

The Government could not expect to gather in the accolades being handed out to Britain's revived entertainment industry while wiping out the chances of the next generation of stars. "It's killing off people's spirit and we don't want to be Belgium," he said. McGee, who signed up Oasis after discovering them in a Glasgow club, gave the Labour Party pounds 50,000 before last year's general election. He was also a guest at a Downing Street reception last year.

Later there was more dissent when the all-party disability group, led by Lord Ashley of Stoke, emerged from a meeting with Ms Harman to accuse ministers of turning disabled people into militants by reviewing their benefits.

Although the Secretary of State reiterated assurances that no disabled person in genuine need should fear the reassessment of their payments under the Benefits Integrity Programme, the campaigners were not convinced. However, she refused to suspend the wider-scale review of welfare benefits on which the Government has embarked, or to guarantee there would be no significant cuts to disability benefits.

Lord Ashley said: "It seems ... that this government is making militants out of six-and-a-half million moderate disabled people."