Major accused of 'workfare' plan

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Indy Politics
JOHN MAJOR last night raised the prospect of making unemployment benefit dependent on claimants taking work or training - prompting an immediate Labour accusation that he was planning a form of the US-style workfare.

In his Carlton Club speech the Prime Minister said: 'I increasingly wonder whether paying unemployment benefit, without offering or requiring any activity in return, serves unemployed people or society well.' Referring to the Restart programme, which docks benefit from the long-term jobless who do not attend training, he said this principle had already been introduced 'in a limited sense. I believe we should explore ways of extending it further'.

He underlined that 'any conditions imposed' would have to 'improve the job prospects of unemployed people and give good value to the country,' - but his words prompted Labour charges that he was advocating workfare, the US-style schemes in which some states' benefits are dependent on the unemployed working in community-organised work schemes.

Donald Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman, said: 'What the unemployed want is work and new skills. What is unacceptable is workfare by any name, leaving many stranded without income or hope.' The Prime Minister, he said, should send Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, to the Commons, 'to tell us what this deliberately obscure passage actually means'.

Greville Janner, the Labour chairman of the Employment Select Committee, said he was writing to the Prime Minister asking 'precisely what he has in mind'.

Mr Major's revival of the idea follows repeated public warnings from Gillian Shepherd, the Secretary of State for Employment, that workfare-type schemes are expensive - a view the Treasury is thought to share.