Unemployed workers face being refused benefits for up to three years if they don’t take up job offers, or ‘community placements’ under a new ‘claimant contract’, announced by Work and Pensions Secretary, former army officer Duncan Smith yesterday.
Downing Street officials have said the new claimant contract will come into force as soon as legislation is passed, and will not wait for the introduction of the proposed means-tested ‘universal credit’ system, to replace all of the existing benefits, in 2013-14.
Under Duncan Smith’s plan, anyone claiming unemployment benefit will have to sign a contract which will see them losing their Jobseekers Allowance if they fail to accept a job offer or community work, or refuse to apply for a position recommended by an employment adviser.
On the first refusal they will lose their £64-a-week Jobseeker’s Allowance for three months.
A second refusal will see their benefit halted for six months, and a third refusal will see them lose the benefit for three years.
Outlining the White Paper on Welfare Reform, Duncan Smith reiterated that under his contract ‘there will be sanctions for those who refuse to play by the rules.’
He claimed that workers from overseas took up job vacancies because ‘people here would not.’
He said he aimed to ‘break the cycle of welfare dependency’, help people ‘reconnect’ with the work habit, and aid the employers by providing extra flexibility.
He added: ‘Under this government choosing not to work if you can work is no longer an option.’
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Douglas Alexander backed the White Paper with minor reservations concerning the level of tax credits, saying nothing about the penalties for the unemployed.
Charity Family Action said that the ‘poor shouldn’t pay penance for their disadvantage’ adding: ‘It’s not a sin to be out of work and poor and disadvantaged.’
It warned: ‘Up to two million children on the DWP figures will be at risk if their parents can’t find work.
‘The existing sanctions regime creates sufficient incentives to actively seek work, and to take job opportunities when they are offered.
‘Further toughening of sanctions for jobseekers would be unnecessarily punitive, and would not tackle the key issues of job availability, and the provision of holistic support which many of our service users need to make employment sustainable.’
Civil servants union PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘This is part of an orchestrated campaign by ministers to portray some of the most vulnerable members of our 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.’