Unemployed must work for benefits

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

In a decisive break with fundamental principles of Britain's welfare system, the Government is to introduce a compulsory workfare-style scheme, under which the unemployed are required to work for their benefits.

Ministers yesterday set out the details of a pounds 12m pilot programme, in which the long-term unemployed will be obliged to participate or lose payments from the state.

Explaining a statement by the Chancellor in his Budget speech, Eric Forth, Minister of State at the Department of Education and Employment, said taxpayers expected something in return for providing programmes for the jobless.

"Most long-term unemployed want to get back to work and will value the help the scheme gives. Some, however, may have no intention of finding work," Mr Forth said. He argued that the jobless were often at a disadvantage because they lacked motivation or confidence.

In the two trial schemes, in areas to be announced, all those aged between 18 and 50 who have been out of work for two years or more will be told to report for the "Project Work" programme.

For the first 13 weeks of the scheme they will be offered advice on how get back into the labour market with training for some claimants and work trials for others.

Thereafter they will be expected to obtain work experience in jobs provided by voluntary organisations, charities and private sector training companies, typically involving decorating, construction and gardening work.

The department says: "Refusal to attend the mandatory work experience programme will lead to loss of benefit." Under principles laid out in the Jobseekers' Allowance legislation, "vulnerable" defaulters, with family responsibilities or a degree of disability, will receive hardship payments of 40 per cent of their benefits and in some cases just 20 per cent.

On the first occasion an "able-bodied" person refuses to attend the work experience course, he or she will forfeit two weeks' benefit and on the second and subsequent occasions they will lose four weeks' money. If they refuse to have anything to do with the programme they will receive no benefit whatsoever. Mr Forth said: "I believe taxpayers who fund Britain's generous benefit system would expect nothing less."

The Department of Education and Employment denied that the two new pilot programmes, expected to cover about 6,000 claimants, constituted "workfare" in the American sense, as the Government did not provide the work.

However, Paul Convery, of the Unemployment Unit pressure group, said the only difference was that the work was farmed out to private training companies or voluntary organisations or charities.

"The Government has inched cautiously and with some subtlety towards compulsion. This is a decisive and very clear step towards a comprehensive workfare system."

Mindful that Labour is considering an element of compulsion for the unemployed, Michael Meacher, the party's employment spokesman, said it was necessary to ensure quality. Any programme should offer proper training and a "throughput to jobs".