Government to launch plan to force claimants into work

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Virtually everyone on state benefits will have to take steps to prepare themselves for work under a new crackdown to be announced by the Government today.

Only the severely disabled and single mothers with children under the age of one will be exempt. Others of working age will have to prepare themselves to join the labour market or suffer benefit cuts as Labour seeks to end the "something for nothing" culture.

Writing in The Independent today, the Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, rejects calls from Labour MPs and pressure groups to slow the "tough love" reforms to the benefits system because fewer jobs will be available in the recession.

Pledging to go "further and faster", Mr Purnell reveals: "The next wave of reform is to make sure that virtually everyone has a clear obligation to look for work, or prepare for work." He writes: "Some people say we should be slowing down because of the economic downturn. I passionately believe we should be doing the opposite."

A Welfare Reform Bill bringing in a tougher new regime will be included in the Queen's Speech tomorrow. But the measure could provoke a rebellion by Labour MPs.

Labour has already announced plans for lone parents to prepare themselves for work when their youngest child reaches the age of seven in order to receive income support. In future, the cut-off could be reduced to when the child is just a year old.

Ministers say that a single mother with a child between the ages of one and seven would not be forced to apply for a job but might have to take steps such as finding out about childcare. "Our goal is a system more like the Scandinavian one with more universal childcare but also higher obligations to work," said a government source.

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