Minister plans to end 'benefits for nothing'

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The Government faces growing concern from backbench Labour MPs about the scale of welfare reform.

A White Paper to be published by Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell was described as the next step to a society where virtually everyone will be expected to do something in return for their benefits.

Ministers said this could be something as simple as updating a CV or finding out about childcare, although it could also involve full time training or a work trial.

The only exceptions will be carers, workless parents of very young children and severely disabled people.

Labour MPs who campaign on behalf of trade unions in Parliament said opposing the welfare reforms will be one of their main priorities in the coming months.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) said: "The Government has got its priorities all wrong. It has allowed the bankers to get away with extravagant bonuses and yet is turning on the poorest and most vulnerable.

"It is lunacy to force people into jobs that are not there and to force lone parents to take-up childcare which is either unaffordable or non-existent.

"There is widespread and growing dismay at the Government's dismantling of the welfare state built by the post-war Labour government. This smacks of unfairness and another 10p tax rate, which will cause revolt and revulsion across the labour and trade union movement."

Radical changes to the welfare state recommended by city financier David Freud, such as paying private and voluntary groups to help get people back to work, will be implemented in full, it was announced.

Mr Purnell added that the Government will go "further and faster" with the next wave of welfare reform and will take the first steps to adopt recommendations from a report it commissioned which called last week for unemployed people to do a 9-5 day looking for work or undertake community service-style duties such as digging gardens.

Virtually everyone on benefits should be required to take steps towards finding a job and should face having their benefits stopped for up to four weeks if they repeatedly refused to co-operate with attempts to find them work, said Professor Paul Gregg.

Mr Purnell said the White Paper will start to implement the first steps of the Gregg report, which would see "virtually everyone" given support to find work in return for their benefits.

Couples claiming benefits where one of them doesn't have to actively look for work will be a "thing of the past", while new rules will be introduced for claimants who are drug addicts to make sure they tackled their problem or face sanctions.

Mr Purnell will say when he launches the White Paper: "These reforms will transform peoples' lives. We will give people on benefits the personal support they need to help them make a better life for themselves and their families. I believe that for the majority, work is part of the path to that better life which is why our reforms put the individual, and their needs, at the heart of the welfare system.

"Now is the right time to introduce these fundamental reforms. When times are tough you give people more support not less. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past when previous Governments did nothing but fiddle unemployment figures and abandoned the most vulnerable to the scrap heap.

"We will give people the support they need and in return we will have higher expectations on people to take up that support. I believe it is wrong to have a welfare system which doesn't encourage people to prepare for or get back to work. In future virtually everyone will be expected to do something in return for their benefits."

Child Poverty Action Group chief executive, Kate Green said: "The new bill should not reform an inadequate welfare state into an authoritarian welfare state. We need to create an active welfare state for the 21st century that empowers the powerless by breaking down barriers to work, increasing economic equality and enabling high-quality, self-directed skills development."

Barnardo's chief executive Martin Narey said: "We understand the tensions these proposals generate but we support them because we believe they will help to end child poverty.

"These proposals will affect thousands of children we work with who are our priority. However, cutting parents' benefits must be a last resort, so children don't suffer unfairly."

The charity called for further research into the effects of sanctions and said compulsion should only be a "last resort" after a claimant has been fully supported to overcome any barriers to work.

The White Paper, Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: Reforming Welfare for the Future, will be laid before Parliament later today.