Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Employment, yesterday hinted that some 18 to 24-year-olds could be targeted as part of a tougher approach to the jobless to be announced in the Budget on 16 March.
It is understood that Mrs Shephard is particularly concerned that single young people should not be allowed to draw state payments if they refuse all government help. Programmes on offer to the unemployed include training, community work and assistance to apply for jobs.
However, she told the Commons employment committee that she had ruled out a mass 'workfare' scheme for all 3 million unemployed. She said that those without work should not all be treated the same by one 'monolithic' programme.
Speculation that the Government might introduce workfare - where benefits are paid in return for work - was prompted by a speech by John Major at the Carlton Club, when the Prime Minister raised the possibility of extending the principle of compulsion for people out of work.
Under plans already announced, the Government is to withdraw a week's benefits from people who have been out of work for a year but who refuse to attend the Department of Employment's 'Jobplan and workshop'.
Mrs Shephard is also considering plans to allow the unemployed to be 'more active' and still qualify for state payments.
Under present rules, unemployed people are prevented from making commitments to voluntary work because they have to demonstrate that they are 'actively seeking employment'. The Government is also considering allowing the unemployed to take longer educational courses without incurring a benefits penalty.
The new line on the jobless has been set out by a Cabinet committee chaired by Lord Wakeham.Reuse content