Unions condemn 'draconian and regressive' welfare reforms

Far-reaching proposals to force the long-term unemployed to work for their benefits were condemned yesterday as "draconian and regressive" by union leaders and Labour left-wingers.

They attacked plans to force the unemployed to take up community work and pay private-sector firms and voluntary groups to get them back into jobs.

A Green Paper on welfare reform includes the abolition of income support and incapacity benefit Tough new requirements will be introduced to look for a job or face community work. Private and voluntary organisations will have the right to bid for contracts to get the jobless back to work, while single parents will be expected to seek work when their children reach seven.

In a foreword to the document, Gordon Brown said the Government had inherited a welfare state "weighted heavily towards rewarding and supporting people who were not actively seeking to improve their situation".

The main proposals are:

*People unemployed for more than three months will have to comply with a "challenging back-to-work action plan", including a skills health check and extra training. People out of work for a year or more will be moved to schemes, which could be run by private or voluntary providers, who will be paid by results to get them back into work. They will be forced to complete at least four weeks' full-time work to help them refresh their skills. Those still on benefits after two years will face full-time programmes and could have to sign on every day.

*Drug addicts will be forced to tackle their habit or risk losing benefits.

*Incapacity benefit will be replaced by a new payment known as the employment and support allowance by 2013, and a claimant's capacity to work will be assessed by doctors.

*Single parents will be moved off income support and on to jobseeker's allowance. At present they do not have to seek work until their children reach 16, but that will be slashed to seven. However, they will be able to receive maintenance payments without having their benefits docked.

*Funding will be doubled for the Access to Work scheme which funds help for disabled workers and their employers to overcome their disabilities.

Opposition to the plan was led by Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, who said: "These proposals are regressive and draconian, going further than even Thatcher dared in the 1980s."

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