SINGLE MOTHERS who refuse offers of work should have their state benefits cut when their children reach the age of 11, the Tories said last night.
Although the Tories' new policy is designed to draw a line under the party's previous attacks on single parents, it is harsher than Labour's approach of calling them to Jobcentre interviews and persuading them to take jobs. Labour ministers have shied away from extending the benefit penalties that apply to other jobless people to lone parents.
David Willetts, the Tory social security spokesman, said there was no point in "nagging" lone parents. "The rhetorical attacks on single parents have stopped; that is why we need a fresh Conservative approach," he told the Social Market Foundation think-tank.
He said the Tories' new policy needed to show "some human sympathy for what it's like trying to bring up a child on one's own." But he insisted that the 275,000 single parents whose youngest child was 11 or over should be actively seeking work, saving taxpayers part of the pounds 1.2bn a year paid to that group in benefits.
Under a future Tory government, they would lose part of their benefit after 13 weeks of searching for a job, although the portion of the state payments for the child's needs would be protected. The scheme would be phased in over five years, starting with the 40,000 lone parents with a dependent child between 16 and 18.
Mr Willetts stressed that the tougher benefits regime would be accompanied by practical help, advice and support. The single mothers would be offered jobs taken by married mothers in similar circumstances.
"That could well mean jobs in the 20-30 hours a week range so that the parent can help supervise his or her teenage child out of school hours. We do not want in dealing with one problem to create another - more latchkey children," he said.
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