Labour pledges 'tough love' campaign against unemployment

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Labour will propose "tough new measures" designed to force the unemployed back to work as part of the party's general election manifesto, ministers announced yesterday.

Labour will propose "tough new measures" designed to force the unemployed back to work as part of the party's general election manifesto, ministers announced yesterday.

As the monthly jobless figures hit a 29-year low, the Chancellor Gordon Brown, said: "It will be a priority for our third term to strengthen the New Deal further: new opportunities matched by tough new compulsory measures for the unemployed. No one able to work should be sitting at home on unemployment benefit."

Ideas include more regular mandatory interviews, which the jobless must attend every three months; "benefit penalties" if they refuse offers of interviews, work or training; extending nationwide pilot schemes under which the jobless must go on skills or work-focused training courses, and the 2.7 million sick and disabled people on incapacity benefit are called to job-focused interviews.

Yesterday's figures showed the number of people claiming unemployment benefit fell by 6,000 in April to 876,300, the lowest figure since August 1975. A total of 1.41 million people were jobless in the three months to March, a fall of 48,000 during the quarter, and the lowest quarterly figure for 20 years. Jane Kennedy, the Minister for Work, said Labour would extend its "tough love" approach to the jobless if the party wins re-election. "We do have to be tough to get people's attention to come in for interviews. Potentially, there are sanctions involved if people refuse."

A review of existing schemes will shape Labour's third term agenda, Ms Kennedy said. "We want to continue what works and discontinue what doesn't. Work-focused interviews do work."

She rejected Tory claims that the Government was encouraging young people to go on to incapacity benefit when they left the New Deal, so it could keep down the number joining the unemployment register.

"In 1979, the number of people on incapacity benefit was 0.7 million. By 1997, the figure was 2.55 million. Since then the increase has been much slower." Four in 10 people have been on it for at least seven years but the number of new claimants fell from a peak of over one million in 1995 to 700,000 last year.

"Having 2.7 million people receiving incapacity benefit is too high. We know a lot of people who claim it want to find work," said Ms Kennedy. "There is a culture we are working to change. The longer you are on the benefit the more difficult it is to persuade you you can work."

Comments