Young people leaving education with no job to go to will be made to do three months full-time unpaid work experience with charities and social enterprises or have their benefits cut, the Government has announced.
Under new plans, 18 to 24-year-olds who have spent less than six months in employment since leaving school or college will have to work at least 30 hours a week to get their £56-a-week jobseeker's allowance. They will also get a 10 hours a week help preparing their CVs and searching for a job.
Some 968,000 aged 16 to 24 are now not in employment, education or training, up from 949,000 in the first quarter of the year, although 16- and 17-year-olds will not be covered by the scheme as they are ineligible for jobseeker's allowance.
Ministers denied the plan amounted to "slave labour" and claimed it was designed to ensure that young people leaving education got into the routine of work immediately and didn't become used to a "benefits lifestyle". "We don't want them waking up at lunchtime and playing computer games all day," said a Department of Work and Pensions source.
However, the move has been criticised by Labour and the unions who said more effort should be put into organising paid training for young people that was directly relevant to future employment.
The scheme will initially be launched in London but is expected to be rolled out around the country.
Announcing the move, the Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, said the scheme would help young Londoners improve their career prospects. "A something-for-nothing culture does no one any favours," he said. "It makes those who are doing the right thing cynical. And for those who head straight into the welfare state, it sets them out in life on precisely the wrong footing."
The scheme will be tested in 16 London boroughs including the areas affected by last year's riots.