The latest news steaming out of the Tory conference in Manchester, is long-term unemployed will be required to do community work or face losing their benefits under a new workfare scheme to be introduced in April next year.
Under the ‘tough love’ plan, people who are jobless after being on the current work programme (the two-year scheme for those claiming job seekers’ allowance for more than three months) will face three options; ‘community work’, daily visits to the Jobcentre or losing benefits. Osborne insisted the government would ‘not abandon’ the long-term unemployed but that no one will be able to get ‘something for nothing’.
‘We are saying there is no option of doing nothing for your benefits, no something for nothing any more,’ said Osborne.
‘People are going to have to do things to get their dole and that is going to help them into 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.
There will be another option for those who can’t take up the community duties and extra help for those with disabilities or addictions.
‘Others will be made to attend the Jobcentre every working day. And for those with underlying problems, like drug addiction and illiteracy, there will be an intensive regime of help.’
It is expected that 200,000 claimants will be placed into the Help-to-Work scheme each year and will have to remain on the scheme until they find a job. If people on the scheme breach the rules, they face losing four weeks’ worth of benefits – anyone who breaks the rules a second time will miss out on three months’ worth of payments.
The plan has already had a fistful of criticism – Labour, unsurprisingly, has called the scheme proof that the coalition’s Welfare-to-Work scheme (of which the work programme is a part) has failed.
In 2011 the work programme was introduced for those claiming benefits, it paid contractors a fee to help get people into work. Figures revealed last week by the Department for Work and Pensions, showed only 14% of those who had been on the programme had found sustained work. Since it was introduced in June 2011, 168,000 (out of 1.3 million long-term unemployed) had found jobs.
‘Both internationally and more recently in the UK, the experience has been these schemes really don't do much to help people get into sustained employment,’ said Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social research and former chief economist at the department.
‘The experience so far has been they cost quite a bit of money and don't deliver that much in the way of results.’
The move could well cause ructions between the Lib Dems and their Tory bedfellows - Sarah Teather, the former minister of state for children and families has said she won’t run for the Lib Dems in the next election because of the caps on benefits.
The choice of the phrase ‘community work’ runs terribly closely to ‘community service’ adding penal system connotations to Osborne’s ‘tough love’ rhetoric. But the chancellor is resolute that a bit of force is needed if Britain is to address its welfare ‘tragedy.’
‘The sanctions are important because ultimately, as a country, we can’t accept that people refuse all help, that the benefits system turns its back on these people. We’ve got to help these people,’ said Osborne.
‘We need to create a welfare system that works for those that need it and fair to those who pay for it,’ he told the BBC.