Monday, July 21, 2008

Work - or lose your handouts: Jobless will have to pick up litter to earn benefit

Benefits claimants will be forced to pick up litter and clean off graffiti under radical U.S.-style welfare reforms designed to get millions back into work.

Anyone on the dole for more than two years will be made to take full-time community jobs in return for their weekly handout, signing in each day.

Those claiming for 12 months will have to do four weeks' work in their neighbourhood, or be stripped of their payments.
Other measures provide for private firms and voluntary organisations to be given cash incentives to find work for those on benefit.
Single parents will be expected to find a job when their youngest child reaches the age of seven, and drug addicts will have to receive treatment as a condition of claiming benefits.

ncapacity benefit will be scrapped by 2013. All 2.7million recipients will undergo fresh tests by independent doctors rather than their local GP to determine whether they can work.

The proposals include:

  • Making the work-shy pick up litter
  • Forcing drug addicts to admit their condition and accept treatment in return for benefits and force them to repay the welfare handouts if they lie
  • Jobless addicts who try to dodge the rules by hiding their habit will instead be deemed welfare cheats obtaining state handouts by deception
  • Pressing people claiming disability benefits to take a job if they are capable of working
  • Lone parents with children aged seven or more will be expected to seek work
  • Hardcore heroin and crack cocaine users could be jailed if they refuse to get treatment while receiving unemployment benefit.

Those deemed fit enough to take jobs will be switched to the same regime as unemployed claimants, while those too disabled for the workplace will receive a higher benefit worth £102.10 a week.

nother plan is to make people work for six months rather than the current four weeks before they can qualify for unemployment handouts.

The changes, which ministers are presenting as the biggest welfare shake-up since the Beveridge Report of 1942, were outlined yesterday in a Government Green Paper.

The proposals will now go out to consultation until October and ministers will hope to have a White Paper ready later this year, with a view to it becoming law next spring.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell told MPs yesterday that the overhaul was 'based on the marriage of two simple ideas: More support and more responsibility'.

He said he wanted to reduce those on benefit by a million over seven years.

'The longer people claim, the more we will expect in return,' he said.

'At three months and six months, claimants will intensify their job search and have to comply with a back-to-work action plan.

'Work works and it's only fair that we can ensure that a life on benefits is not an option.'

However, former Labour welfare reform minister Frank Field said the shake-up was doomed to fail as it had 'designs in the faults of the old system'.

Mr Field told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Mr Purnell's plan ignores 'time-limiting', which he says has been crucial to the scheme's success in the U.S.

Claimants in some states are given a limited period to find work, after which they are simply paid no further-benefits.

Under the new system in Britain, people will be able to claim indefinitely so long as they are happy to perform community work.

And unlike in the toughest American states, those stripped of jobless handouts will still be able to claim housing benefit and council tax benefit.

Many Americans are forced to survive on charity.

But the Government's reforms were backed by the Conservatives, who promised support to get them into law.

Tory work and pensions spokesman Chris Grayling claimed the plans were a 'straight lift' of those put forward by the Tories in January.

'Since these are Conservative proposals we will certainly support them,' he told MPs.

'I know you will have some difficulties getting them through your own party.

'Can I assure you we will help you get them through this House even if you have a backbench rebellion to contend with.'

Mr Purnell will face criticism from the Labour Left who accuse him of 'punishing people for being poor'.

The plan could also damage Labour's already battered appeal at this week's by-election in Glasgow East, which boasts some of the highest rates of joblessness in Britain.

But ministers are sure that the prospect of working a 35-hour week to earn £60.50 Job Seekers' Allowance payment - the equivalent of £1.70 an hour, less than a third of the minimum wage - will encourage claimants to find a proper job.

The overhaul of incapacity benefit was criticised by disability charities.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Scope, said: 'Disabled people face a myriad barriers in finding employment, including negative attitudes from employers and inadequate social care support.

'Punitive measures against individual disabled claimants will do nothing to remove these barriers.'

£138m of help for the disabled

Disabled people will be given millions of pounds of extra help to get them back into the workplace.

The Department for Work and Pensions pledged to pay £138million in back-to-work grants - doubling its current spending.

Claimants will be able to use the money to buy equipment, pay for a support worker or fund transport modifications to make it easier for them to get a job.

For instance, if a disabled person wanted to buy specially-made computer equipment to help them find work, they could use the new Access To Work grant.

A DWP spokesman said the scheme, currently being piloted, 'is extremely popular because the support it funds is personalised'.

Once in work they will receive an extra £40 a week to top up their wages.

But those too disabled for the workplace will receive a rise in their benefits to £102.10 a week.

An end to the sicknote culture?

The long-term jobless will have to undergo a stringent medical examination to prove they are simply too ill to work.

In an end to the 'sicknote culture', it will no longer be sufficient for the unemployed to be signed off on incapacity benefit on the say-so of their GP.

Instead, an independent doctor will say what work claimants could do rather than what they cannot.

Only full-time carers and the disabled 'with the greatest needs' will be exempt.

Those deemed fit enough by an independent GP will be switched to the new £82-a-week Employment and Support Allowance.

They will be given training, confidence coaching or work experience - or risk losing their handouts if they refuse to comply.

If they remain unemployed for more than a year they must do jobs in the community.

The 2.7million who claim they are too ill to work cost the UK £235billion a year - twice the bill for running the Health Service.

Private firms are called up

Private companies will be allowed to bid for lucrative contracts to get the long-term jobless into work.

Public, private and voluntary sector organisations will be invited to bid to run schemes to reduce the number languishing on the dole.

Hailing the Right To Bid scheme as a 'radical approach', Mr Purnell said it would allow 'greater freedom to innovate and deliver services' to get the unemployed into work.

Contractors will be free to put together 'personalised' packages for individuals lasting up to a year.

These would cover job-searching, training, skills, work experience, trials and support for workers.

For instance, a company which deals with the mentally ill would be allowed to run a scheme to get sufferers back into jobs.

Mr Purnell said: 'Rather than identifying a need and inviting suppliers to fill it, we are proposing a more radical approach.'


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