Community service roles for long-term jobless

THE long-term unemployed are to be put into community service, made to look for work every day or be put on a programme to tackle their underlying problems in a dramatic toughening up of the welfare system, Chancellor George Osborne will announce today.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Picture: PAChancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Picture: PA
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Picture: PA

In his address to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Osborne will say that the option of simply signing on to receive unemployment benefits will end within months.

The Chancellor will promise an end to “the something-for-nothing culture”, in a move that is expected to go down well with Tory members.

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The £300 million “Help to Work” package will see 200,000 people who have been unemployed for at least two years, including more than 20,000 Scots, being forced to work for their benefits or attend intensive programmes aimed at getting them a job. The programme is set to be rolled out in six months, and Mr Osborne will tell Tory members that it is part of his strategy to make the economic recovery last.

In a conference where the Tories are pitching themselves as the party “for hardworking people”, the Chancellor will explain that he is an “economic optimist”, but tell delegates he is offering an “economic plan, not a quick fix”.

And in a direct rebuff to Labour’s attacks on falling living standards, he will warn that “without an economic plan, you do not have living standards”.

The unemployment initiative was last night condemned by Labour as a return to the spirit of the workhouse, as strict new rules will see people lose their benefits if they do not follow the programme.

From April next year, people claiming Jobseekers Allowance will have to either do full-time community work, attend the jobcentre and search for work every day, or be placed on the new Mandatory Intensive Regime – a tough programme which will see claimants with problems such as drug addiction or mental health issues attend jobcentres regularly to tackle the difficulties which stop them working. They will regularly meet specialist advisers to deal with their individual problems.

If they fail to do one of the three options they will lose their benefits, at present worth up to £71.70 a week.

Mr Osborne will boast that the scheme is the first across the UK which will see people forced to work or lose their benefits.

The Chancellor will argue that under Labour, people were left “trapped on benefits”, with 1.4 million people in 2010 having spent nine out of the previous ten years on benefits.

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Complaining about a “lost generation”, Mr Osborne will also point out that the number of workless households in the UK almost doubled under Labour, from 136,000 in 1997 to 269,000 in 2010. He will say: “By the time Labour left office, five million people were on out-of-work benefits. What a waste of life and talent. A generation of people recycled through the jobcentre, collecting their dole cheques year in, year out, and no-one seemed to notice.”

Recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics reveal that Glasgow has a higher proportion of workless households than any other part of the UK, with 30.2 per cent of homes in the city being workless. The figures showed huge disparity across Scotland. Only 12 per cent of households are out of work in Aberdeen and Moray, in contrast to many parts of west-central Scotland, such as North Ayrshire, where 28 per cent of homes had no-one working, and Inverclyde, where the figure was 25 per cent.

Mr Osborne will blame the “open door immigration policy” under Labour for keeping UK citizens out of the low-skilled labour market. Highlighting government achievements so far he will say: “Well, never again. We’ve capped benefits and our work programme is getting people into jobs. Immigration down by a third.”

The Chancellor will say previous governments have “abandoned” the unemployed.

“For the first time, all long-term unemployed people who are capable of work will be required to do something in return for their benefits to help them find work.

“They will do useful work to put something back into their community, making meals for the elderly, clearing up litter, working for a local charity.”

He will promise: “No-one will be ignored or left without help. But no-one will get something for nothing. Help to work – and in return, work for the dole.”

Political opponents last night hit out at the programme.

Labour MP Ian Lavery said: “This is absolute outrage. We have a failed economy and there’s not enough jobs. This is a throwback to the days of the workhouse of the last century.

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“We should be looking at creating more jobs and paying a living wage. This is the sort of thing the Tories enjoy: baiting the unemployed. It’s a sport of theirs.”

Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray said: “Having failed to create jobs through economic recovery, Osborne is now trying to scapegoat the unemployed.

“We should be creating jobs, paying the living wage.”

Margaret Burgess, Scotland’s Minister for Housing and Welfare, added: “A best way to reduce the benefits bill is to get the economy moving, which is why we need economic powers in Scotland, instead of being on the receiving end of George Osborne’s failed austerity agenda.”

Mr Osborne will also use the conference platform today to explain why he feels optimistic about the economy after recent figures suggested it had turned the corner.

He will promise to be “straight with people” about the recovery, saying: “Yes, we can make the recovery a lasting one, but it won’t happen by itself – many risks remain. We have to deal with our debts. And yes, if the recovery is sustained, then families will start to feel better off.”

He will claim that “what matters most for living standards” are jobs, low mortgage rates and lower taxes. However, he will warn that “family finances will not be transformed overnight”.

And in a bid to give an upbeat message he will add: “I’m an optimist about the world.

“I am a believer in freedom and free markets. I see the global economy growing. I see hundreds of millions of people in places like India and China leaving grinding poverty to join it. That’s something to celebrate.”

Union members take to the streets to protest at health cuts

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About 50,000 people took part in a union protest against austerity cuts yesterday, the opening day of the Conservative Party conference.

The aim of the Manchester protest was to highlight the impact of government policies on jobs and spending across the health service, as well as the “rapid sell-off” of the most lucrative parts of the NHS to private healthcare companies south of the Border, organisers said.

Greater Manchester Police said the protest passed off peacefully, with just two arrests for breach of the peace.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham addressed the rally, calling it an “unbelievable show of action for the best health service in the world” and an “incredible message of solidarity” for health service staff.

A tweet on Greater Manchester Police’s account described the march as “good- natured”. At one point the protest march was over a mile long as it snaked through the city centre.