Welfare to work reforms could push people into poverty

Plans to force the long-term unemployed, single parents and disabled people to seek work should be reconsidered, according to a senior government adviser.

Richard Tilt, head of the Social Security Advisory Committee, warned that welfare-to-work reforms could push some people into poverty as unemployment rises.

At present, single parents can claim income support on the basis of being a lone parent until their youngest child is 16. But from Monday, those with children aged 12 and over will no longer be able to make a new claim for income support.

The new rules mean they will only be entitled to claim Jobseekers Allowance if they are actively looking for work. Those that do not comply could face sanctions, including having their benefits cut by up to 40%.

But Tilt told the BBC that the changes should be delayed by at least a year.

He said: “Benefit rates are relatively low and if you’re going to reduce someone’s benefit for a few weeks by 40% you are pushing people closer to poverty.”

In July, business groups backed the government’s new welfare reform plans, announced by Work and Pensions secretary James Purnell.

The Welfare Reform Green Paperaims to boost the number of people in work and reduce the estimated 2.6 million people claiming incapacity benefit.

Incapacity benefit and income support will be scrapped to create a more streamlined system by 2013 based on just two working-age benefits – the Employment and Support Allowance, for those who have a medical condition which prevents them from working, and Jobseekers’ Allowance, for everyone who is able to work.

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