‘With the economy slowing down, and many commentators expecting unemployment to rise, now is not the time to start blaming the victim,’ said TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber yesterday.
He was responding to the government’s Welfare Green Paper which includes proposals for workfare that force unemployed people to work on community service schemes in return for their benefits.
Under plans announced by Work and Pensions Secretary Purnell, Incapacity Benefit will be abolished as well as Income Support, and claimants will be moved to the new Employment Support Allowance by 2013.
He said the government wanted to get one million people off incapacity benefit by 2015.
Those claiming Jobseekers Allowance for more than two years will be required to work full-time in the community, which could see claimants forced to pick up litter and erase graffiti.
Purnell said yesterday: ‘The benefit system is not there to give you a choice between benefits and work.
‘We will toughen up the job search conditions, there will be a mandatory plan to get you back into work.
‘After a year, we will hand over claimants to private and voluntary providers, who will be paid on the basis of results.
‘And you will be required to do at least four weeks full-time work in return for your benefits. And longer, if the provider thinks that’s the right thing for you.’
People who don’t comply will be refused benefits.
TUC General Secretary Barber said: ‘People who lose their jobs want help in getting new skills and new paying jobs, not make-work schemes that provide no pay, no prospects and not even any time to search for a new job.
‘Workfare policies do nothing to benefit wider society.
‘And workers in low paid jobs could well be replaced by workfare claimants leading them to lose their jobs in turn.’
Public and Commercial Services Union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘These proposals are regressive and draconian, going further than even Thatcher dared in the 1980s. Picking up litter to receive benefits will stigmatise people and do nothing to get people back into long-term sustainable employment.’
He added: ‘The proposals will also entrench the role of the private sector in the delivery of welfare reform.
‘The public sector has consistently out-performed the private sector in getting people back into work and we fear that the profits for the few will increasingly be the driving factor in the delivery of welfare, rather than the needs of the many.’
The Tories welcomed the Green Paper.
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said he was ‘surprised and disappointed’ that the government seemed to be ‘punishing people for being poor’.