New plan to get jobless to work

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New help intended to get unemployed people off benefit and into work was outlined by the Government yesterday.

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, told MPs he was determined to bring the jobless back into the labour market.

Speaking during the first Commons Work and Pensions question time, he said all claimants would be offered interviews to help them take job opportunities and claim financial help through the tax system.

The aid will be available at 50 new Jobcentre Plus offices due to be opened in October. Mr Darling said: "There are many people of working age who could work given the help to do so ... In the past, they simply got a benefit cheque and were told to get on with it."

Mr Darling was questioned repeatedly on Labour's decision to award a 75p a week increase in the basic state pension, which was introduced last year. But pressed by Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, to implement the earnings-related rise called for by last year's Labour Party Conference, Mr Darling refused.

Ms Jones said: "The Labour Party conference was clear about what should be done about this when it passed the resolution to restore the link between pensions and earnings. When is the Government going to implement Labour policy?"

Mr Darling said an across-the-board increase in pension rates would maintain inequalities between pensioners. He said: "To perpetuate that inequality doesn't seem right in terms of social justice, so I have to disagree with you."