Field urges dole fraud curbs to boost jobs

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Indy Politics
A dramatic new package of rights and obligations in order to achieve full employment was called for yesterday by Frank Field, the Labour chairman of the Commons Social Security Committee.

Benefit abuse should be tackled by requiring those suspected of it to register at varying times each day at their local Jobcentre, in order to ensure they are undertaking job searches and upgrading their skills.

Equally, however, employers should be required to register long-term job vacancies at Jobcentres; at present only one-third of vacancies are estimated to go through them. That would ensure that claimants can be offered real jobs before losing their benefits, he argues in Beyond Punishment, a pamphlet written with Matthew Owen.

Employers will also have to invest more in training and the taxpayer fund more job-creation and training measures.

Mr Field argues that workfare, the requirement to work in return for benefits, is being introduced by stealth as a means of controlling benefit abuse. As a result, claimants are losing out twice over. They do not get the guarantee of a job, but lose their unrestricted right to benefit for which they have paid insurance contributions.

The issue should be tackled by dealing with benefit fraud head-on. Its most serious form is males working full-time and claiming the dole. That should be dealt with by requiring them to sign on daily. At the same time, however, part-time working while onbenefit should be decriminalised, with the unemployed able to work part-time provided they register their earnings with the Department of Employment. When they return to full-time work, their savings would be paid over, although they would be able to draw on them at Christmas and, for children, at the start of school terms.

Government would have to become an active advocate of properly staffed public service. Employers would be required to register all job vacancies and invest in training.

Taxpayers would have to fund enhanced training schemes and personalised training accounts. Unemployment benefit should also be made more generous.

Training schemes should not be made compulsory because reluctant trainees disrupt training for others, Mr Field argues.

But he says the tougher requirements for preventing abuse may produce more willing trainees.

One effect of tackling fraud head-on would be that benefit levels could be set at rates which meet the needs of families and individuals, rather than setting them at rates which the Government believes will deter people from settling down to a life on benefits.