Tories to expand workfare into job blackspots

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The Independent Online
The Government is expected to announce a large expansion of a "workfare"- style scheme next week in which the long-term unemployed must undertake community work or suffer a reduction in state benefit.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, is planning to use the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth to reveal the expansion of the Project Work pilot programmes from the present two schemes into 20 or 30 areas, many of them unemployment black- spots.

Mrs Shephard believes the current projects, in the Hull and Maidstone areas, have been successful in getting the long-term jobless off the register. Out of 4,000 people on the schemes, 181 have taken up employment advertised in Jobcentres.

Tory sources also believe that many of the programme participants were claiming benefit while undertaking work in the "black economy". Strategists believe an expansion of the scheme will go down well with Conservative activists at the conference, but will also prove popular with the electorate.

The scheme is aimed at "restoring work disciplines" among 18- to 50- year-olds unemployed for two years or more. The jobless on the programme are granted their benefit plus pounds 10 of expenses.

A 13-week period of counselling and help with job hunting is followed by 13 weeks of work in the community. In both Hull and Maidstone the unemployed have been set to work in old people's homes and on charity projects. Failure to turn up can result in a 20-40 per cent reduction in benefit.

Some critics of the approach believe that the unemployed, most of whom have paid tax in the past, are entitled to benefit without mandatory work schemes. Others attack the programme because it is regarded as expensive.

Mrs Shephard believes that the programme has been successful, but that the Treasury will require more evidence before risking the cost of a nationwide programme.

It is understood that Labour is planning a programme for the jobless which would also involve a "stick-and-carrot" approach. Peter Hain, a Labour employment spokesman, said: "Labour will provide jobs and high- quality training for a quarter of a million young people who are wasting away on the dole."

Project Work, he added, was just a cynical attempt to "bootleg" people off the dole and make unemployment figures even more bogus.

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