Cameron pledges crackdown on jobless to cure 'sicknote culture'

David Cameron will pledge today to cure Britain's "sicknote culture" as he signals another crackdown on jobless people accused of not making enough effort to find work.

The Prime Minister will express concern that 300,000 people leave jobs each year to claim sickness-related benefits and half of those who end up on employment and support allowance start by being signed-off sick.

Dame Carol Black, the Government's national director for health and work and David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, will head a review of sickness absence and propose measures to improve health and wellbeing at work.

In a speech in London, Mr Cameron will say: "We simply have to get to grips with the sicknote culture that means a short spell of sickness can far too easily become a gradual slide to a life of long-term benefit dependency."

He will risk criticism for launching a punitive policy towards the jobless at a time when unemployment is rising. However, he will point out that five million people remained on benefits after the recent economic growth, even though millions of jobs were created.

He will argue the fault lies mainly with the system rather than the claimants. "The benefit system has created a benefit culture," he will say. "It doesn't just allow people to act irresponsibly, but often actively encourages them to. Sometimes they deliberately follow the signals that are sent out. Other times, they hazily follow them, trapped in a fog of dependency."

Mr Cameron will unveil the Welfare Reform Bill with Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who will announce that his £2.6bn universal credit to replace existing working age benefits and "make work pay" will lift 600,000 working adults and 350,000 children out of poverty. He will promise that 2.7 million households will be better off, with a million of them seeing their incomes rise by more than £25 a week.

Mr Duncan Smith will hail the biggest shake-up of the welfare state for 60 years as "a very progressive policy", publishing figures showing that 85 per cent of the new credit will go to the bottom 20 per cent. He will promise transitional payments will ensure there are "no cash losers" from the changeover to the universal credit.

However, the Social Market Foundation(SMF) think-tank warned last night that 400,000 families with children who currently receive tax credits will be left with little or no state support.

Families with £16,000 or more in savings will not qualify for the universal credit. At least a further 200,000 families with savings of between £6,000 and £16,000 will lose some of their entitlement under the new regime, the SMF said. It warned that a family with two children and a combined income of £25,000 per year could lose around £50 per week. Ian Mulheirn, the SMF's director, said: "These reforms will save the Government a lot of money, but they send all the wrong signals to working families."

Under the Bill, people who make false claims for benefits could lose state handouts for three years. Civil penalties of £50 for minor offences will be introduced. The measure will also include previously announced curbs on housing benefit and disability living allowance. A "personal independence payment" will target support for the disabled on those who need it most.

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