Work and pensions minister confirms drastic shake-up of benefits system

The government has confirmed its shake-up of the current system of benefits and jobseeker support, with the bulk of the measures taking effect from next year and 2009.

Work and pensions secretary Peter Hain revealed reforms that aim to move hundreds of thousands of people on benefit from being ‘passive recipients’ of cash handouts to become jobseekers actively seeking work.

The key points:

  • Lone parents on income support who are able to work will be required to actively seek work once their youngest child is 12 or older from October 2008, 10 or older from October 2009 and seven or older from October 2010.
  • From October 2009, jobseekers who struggle to find work after 12 months will be referred to specialist intensive help from private, public and voluntary sector providers.
  • A commitment to look further at the idea of a single system of benefits for all people below pension age to provide greater simplicity and incentives to work.

Hain said: “A new vision is needed to achieve our goal of full employment in our generation. I am setting out how we will make this vision a reality by putting in place a radical shift, treating benefit claimants as active jobseekers rather than passive dependents.

“And because we believe in something for something, in return, we will extend, modernise and personalise the support we offer to people who often face multiple challenges to finding and keeping a job.”

The TUC said the government should be applauded for its “serious efforts” to achieve full employment. The union group was originally worried that proposals for mandatory work experience in jobs could have undermined paid employment and would have marked the introduction of US-style ‘workfare’ to the UK.

General secretary Brendan Barber said: “The decision to instead require activities tailored to the needs of the individual jobseeker is a welcome response, which addresses these misgivings.

“No-one should object to appropriate obligations on those receiving benefits, but any measures should be designed to achieve a long-term return to work – and not be about wishing to appear tough and get easy headlines,” he added.

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