The Brown government and the Tories yesterday joined forces to cane the unemployed.
After Work and Pensions Secretary Purnell announced his ‘workfare’ Welfare Reform White Paper to MPs in the House of Commons, his Tory counterpart Grayling said: ‘We know his backbenchers, his union backers, his own social security adviser, are clearly opposed to these measures, but since much of what he is proposing is coming from the work we’ve published in January, I can assure him that Conservative votes will help these measure onto the statute book.’
Purnell said: ‘The White Paper kicks off the third phase of welfare reform.
‘It is based on a simple idea: that no one should be left behind, that virtually everyone should be required to take up the support that we know works.’
He added ‘we will implement the Freud report in full, including his “invest to save” proposal, where private and voluntary providers invest money to spend on helping more people back in to work, and get paid out of the resulting benefit savings.’
He said the White Paper will ensure ‘nearly all claimants are either preparing for work or looking for work.
‘So, we will migrate everyone on Incapacity Benefit on to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance).
‘Under the new benefit the poorest and most disabled will get nearly £16 a week extra.
‘Everyone else will get support to manage their conditions and prepare for work.
‘They will be required to attend interviews to develop their plan to do this, and advisers will be able to require them to implement that plan.
‘We agree with the Gregg report’s recommendation that parents should not be left until their youngest child is seven before they get help to prepare for work.’
He claimed: ‘Our goal is simple. We want more parents to benefit from that help, to help themselves and their children. That is why conditionality is so important.’
Referring to plans to introduce penalties of 40 per cent cuts in benefits, he went on to stress: ‘The Gregg report found that “conditionality backed with a regime of sanctions improves outcomes”.’
Purnell added: ‘Some people say that we should be slowing down the pace of welfare reform because of the downturn.
‘The government believes we should do the opposite. We should not repeat the mistake of the recessions of the 80s and 90s, when 100s of thousands were shuffled on to inactive benefits to keep the unemployment count down. . . .
‘In contrast, we are investing an extra £1.3 billion in helping people find work. But we will have increasing requirements of people the longer they are out of a job, to make sure they don’t fall out of touch with the world of work.
‘After a year, everyone will be allocated to a private or voluntary provider, and expected to do four weeks full time activity.
‘After two years, we will pilot requiring people to work full time for their benefit.’
The Child Poverty Action Group said: ‘The new bill should not reform an inadequate welfare state into an authoritarian welfare state.’
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said that the proposals would create a private sector monopoly of welfare provision whose motives would be profits and not people.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka warned: ‘What we are seeing is an attack on the welfare state, where the motivation is profit, not people and where the emphasis on support is replaced by an authoritarian regime.
‘What Jobcentres need are job vacancies not punitive sanctions.’
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘At a time of rapidly rising unemployment the government needs to stop talking as if every benefit claimant is a potential scrounger.’
‘People losing their jobs need practical help as quickly as possible. That should be the focus of the employment benefit services.’
He added that ‘the introduction of workfare will unfairly stigmatise unemployed people without having any impact on their chances of finding jobs.’
Barber concluded: ‘Despite cut backs, Jobcentre Plus, where the strengths of hard working and committed staff often go unrecognised, is working well.
‘It would be quite wrong to privatise this vital work, with sanctions being handed out for profit.’
The GMB issued a call for all Labour MPs to vote against the workfare measures.