The Government’s proposals to reform the welfare system have been described as “enormously bold” by industry groups, but unions warned that they will not work because of the shortage of jobs.
Unveiling the White Paper on welfare reform in Parliament today (11 November), work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith confirmed plans to launch a single universal credit to replace work-related benefits.
Claimants moving into work will keep more of their income than at present – ensuring that “work always pays more” – but face losing benefits if they refuse a job, he said.
Duncan Smith also announced plans – widely trailed over the weekend – to give jobcentre staff the option to force some long-term unemployed claimants to take on mandatory work placements. Every participant will be expected to spend at least 30 hours per week, for up to four weeks, on their work activity placement and will be required to continue to look for work.
Katharine Moxham, director at Group Risk Development, the industry body for group protection providers and intermediaries, said: “This is an enormously bold move which could have a huge positive impact for British business in the long term.
“Making it work will mean changes for both employees and businesses. We advise businesses to consider what this means for them since they will increasingly be expected to accommodate people back into the workplace.”
But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that while making work pay is “an admirable objective”, it can only succeed by creating more jobs.
“With five people already chasing every job, the problem is not workshy scroungers but a shortage of jobs,” he said. “Of course we should be tough with the small minority that play the system, but there are already strong sanctions in place.
“It looks very much as if the Government is trying to blame the victims, while covering up the spending cuts that have already ended the Future Jobs Fund, and that will throw up to a million extra people on the dole,” Barber added.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka suggested that the proposals were part of an “orchestrated campaign” by ministers to portray some of the most vulnerable members of society as the new “undeserving poor” to persuade the public that some cuts are fair.
“Not only is this cruel, it is directly at odds with the fact the Government has admitted half a million public sector workers are set to lose their jobs, with even more expected in the private sector,” he said.