Bill to encourage more people into 'sustained employment'

The Government is to press ahead with reforms of the welfare system, including moves to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefit by a million and increase the employment rate.

Amid warnings from pressure groups, unions and Labour left-wingers not to "bully" lone parents and the disabled into work, a Welfare Reform Bill was published with the stated aim of improving incentives for people to move from benefits into "sustained employment."

The bill aims to tackle worklessness and increase the responsibility of those on benefits to help themselves back to work.

Ministers said the Bill will help achieve the goal of an 80% employment rate, which they said would be the highest of any major industrialised country.

The legislation will also help 300,000 more lone parents and a million more older people into work, according to ministers.

Under the Bill Income Support will be abolished and claimants moved onto either Jobseeker's Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance if they are sick.

A new regime of benefit sanctions will be introduced for people who refuse to attend jobcentres to look for work.

Partners of benefit claimants will also have to look for a job, and there will be so-called work-focussed interviews for the over 60s.

A fresh row over welfare reform blew up yesterday after a Government-commissioned report called for unemployed people to do a 9-5 day looking for work or undertake community service-style duties such as digging gardens.

Virtually everyone on benefits should be required to take steps towards finding a job and should face having their benefits stopped for up to four weeks if they repeatedly refused to co-operate with attempts to find them work, said Professor Paul Gregg.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell strongly welcomed the report, saying its "direction of travel" was the right way, adding: "The approach that virtually everyone should be doing something in return for benefits is the right one."

Steve Ford, chief executive of the Parkinson's Disease Society, said: "Nearly half of people of working age with Parkinson's are on incapacity benefits.

"Parkinson's disease is a complex and fluctuating condition, with the potential for someone affected to appear healthy one minute, but to be incapacitated the next.

"We are concerned that the new work capability assessments have the potential to deem someone with Parkinson's capable of seeking work when they are not, and being forced to go through work-seeking activities under threat of sanctions when they are not well enough.

"It is vital that work capability assessors have had training on complex disorders like Parkinson's so no one is unfairly accused of being a benefits cheat."