Announcing the project, which will affect more than 100,000 long-term unemployed, Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State of Education and Employment, said the programme would also give genuinely unemployed people a new purpose in life and help them back into the labour market.
She said the two existing "project work" pilot schemes in the mid-Kent and Hull areas were to be extended in the new year to another 29 districts from Swansea to Dundee. The new trials will cover almost one-third of all 18- to 49-year-olds in Britain who have been out of work for two years or more.
The programme aims at giving the long-term jobless work which is useful to the community in return for their unemployment benefit plus pounds 10. Those who refuse to participate in the initiative, which involves 13 weeks of job searching, followed by 13 weeks of compulsory work, face reductions in payments from the state.
Mrs Shephard said the pilot schemes had been extremely successful. Some 25 per cent more people were leaving the unemployment register than in comparable groups elsewhere. The extension of the trials was good news for people who were genuinely seeking work and had been unemployed for a long time. "If other people who have been claiming fraudulently are encouraged to leave the unemployment register that is good news for the taxpayer."
She was joined at the launch by the deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, who said the long-term unemployed fell into three groups. The first, for which he had "nothing but sympathy", were those who didn't have the literary and numeracy skills to hold down a job. The second were those who were "dispirited" and had lost the will to keep searching, but were perfectly capable of holding down a job. The last category, with whom he had "no sympathy whatsoever" were people working in the black economy.
Project work was useful in such cases, he said, because it prevented them working and claiming benefit at the same time. The initial trials had shown that fraudsters signed off the unemployment register "in large numbers very quickly". Such people had been cheating the taxpayer, he said. All the evidence was that the schemes were of considerable benefit to the taxpayer and to the Exchequer and that the programmes paid for themselves.
Labour's employment spokesman, David Blunkett, said: "The Government is simply trying to keep the dole figures down without making any real contribution to getting people into lasting work.
"Gillian Shephard's claims for the original pilots are fraudulent - indeed she had to admit that only one in ten of those involved had got jobs - and she lost track of where many of the others had gone ...
"It is replacing the abandoned Community Action Programme which promised 40,000 jobs, but never delivered."Reuse content