Shephard considers making jobless work for benefits

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Indy Politics
Unemployed people could be asked to work in schools, hospitals and parks under long-term proposals to be considered by Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Employment.

The Government is braced for a backlash tomorrow when the figure for total unemployment is due to exceed 3 million for the second time since the Conservatives came to power.

Ministers have decided to delay plans for tightening the rules on benefit until unemployment stops rising. But the plans being discussed in government circles involve three steps before benefit is taken away.

Firstly, an unemployed person would be offered a job on a scheme, such as working as a park attendant or labouring on construction schemes for schools.

If the offer was refused, he or she would be called in to explain why they had declined. One reason could be that the person was highly qualified and the work would make it more difficult to find employment in a profession.

The third step would be to offer the person a position on the Restart scheme, providing full-time training. Anyone who refused the course at the first opportunity would be denied benefit, which is not the case now.

'Refusing to join a Restart scheme will weed out fraud. If someone doesn't want to do it, they must be doing something else, such as operating as a mini- cab driver,' one Whitehall source said.

Social security ministers are considering getting unemployed people to do voluntary work with elderly people as part of the care in the community programme. But that is likely to get a cool response from other ministers, who are worried the risks might outweigh the advantages if untrained unemployed people were asked to carry out caring tasks for elderly people.

Mrs Shephard will not be announcing any new initiatives tomorrow, but as part of a 'Budget for jobs', she will announce next month a range of schemes, including changing the rules to allow the unemployed to take further education without losing benefit; help for the business start-up scheme for the self employed; and additional training.

She has ruled out reviving the Community Programme because it paid 'the rate for the job', but is extending Employment Action, for which the unemployed are paid benefit plus a bonus of about pounds 10.

John Major, under fire from Labour MPs during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, told MPs: 'The threat of recession and the reality of rising unemployment is spreading right across the Continent of Europe - those are not my words; they are the words of the Leader of the Opposition (John Smith).

'I would find his concern more convincing if he had one decent economic policy to tackle unemployment, but he hasn't'