‘Long-term unemployment has doubled, not because of a sudden increase in work-shy scroungers, but as an inevitable result of economic policies based on cuts that destroy growth,’ insisted TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber yesterday.
Commenting on the just-published Welfare Reform Bill, Barber continued: ‘Just as conjurors divert your attention when doing a trick, today’s proposals are based on blaming the jobless for their own unemployment in the hope that voters won’t notice the real cause.
‘Making low-income working families thousands of pounds worse off through welfare cuts over the next two years, to claim that they will be slightly better off in 2013, is an absurd argument that will ring hollow as families suffer the toughest income squeeze for nearly a century.’
He added: ‘If people want someone to blame for being out of work they should look at the government ministers cutting back services and making hundreds of thousands of people redundant.’
The main elements of the Welfare Bill are the introduction of Universal Credit; reducing fraud and error with tougher penalties; a new claimant commitment; reforming Disability Living Allowance; giving greater power to local authorities over the Social Fund; Employment and Support Allowance to replace Incapacity Benefit; and a new system of child support.
Launching the Bill, prime minister Cameron said that ‘We’re doing something no government has done before – and that is get to grips with the cost of welfare.
‘Over the past ten years that bill increased by £56bn, that’s over and above inflation. Over the next four years we’re reducing it by £5.5bn, in real terms.’
He said: ‘The benefit system has created a benefit culture. . . By making the system simpler, we will be able to reduce fraud, error and overpayment costs by £1bn a year.’
He added: ‘What’s more, we are also going to place some real responsibility on the unemployed to ensure they try to get a job.
‘So if you’re unemployed and refuse to take either a reasonable job or to do some work in your community in return for your unemployment benefit, you will lose your benefits for three months.
‘Do it again, you’ll lose it for six months. Refuse a third time and you’ll lose your unemployment benefits for three years.’