Mark Hoban, the Employment Minister, uses an article for the Telegraph to deliver a warning to unemployed people who fail to “roll up their sleeves” and who think they can “play the system” to obtain a lifetime on welfare.
“I’ve got news for them – they can’t,” Mr Hoban writes. He adds that the new “three strikes and you’re out” approach – likely to be hailed by the Tory Right – provides a “tougher regime”.
A series of escalating penalties comes into force from tomorrow which will see the maximum period for which Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) can be withdrawn rise from the current 26 weeks to three years.
Last year, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), jobcentre advisers took action against 495,000 claimants for not doing enough to find work – including 72,000 who had refused an offer of employment.
The new move comes against a backdrop of worsening relations on welfare between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats amid reports that George Osborne, the Chancellor, is considering a one-year freeze in all benefits from next April.
Exploitative and despicable; a return to the Victorian workhouse; an example of modern-day slave labour: these are just a few of the insults currently being hurled at the Government’s workfare scheme. One newspaper columnist, in a spectacular example of reductio ad Hitler -um, even likened it to the sort of thing that went on in Nazi Germany. And what does workfare entail that warrants such opprobrium? It requires people on benefits to do something in exchange for the money rather than sitting idly at home. They work up to eight weeks for 30 hours a week in placements organised by employment centre managers, at the end of which they may be interviewed for a job. If jobseekers pull out after the first week they face having their benefits withdrawn.
Although the criticism is coming principally from Left-wing groups, the idea was pioneered by the Labour government and borrowed from America, where it was introduced by the Clinton administration 15 years ago. Until recently, it involved welfare recipients taking voluntary unpaid placements with public bodies or charities. But last year the scheme was extended to include private companies, and unemployed people are now being sent to supermarkets . And all of a sudden the roof has fallen in. How dare these highly profitable, multinational companies benefit from free labour? A Tesco store in Westminster was even picketed by protesters at the weekend for participating in the scheme.
The business group has urged the Government and employers not to let the debate on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook drive policy decisions on tackling youth unemployment.
Adam Marshall, BCC director of policy, said activists are increasingly using social media to mobilise support, but there are concerns that a relatively small group of people can reach large audiences and sway opinion without offering all the facts.
He said: “Social media has an important role in public discussions but everyone must understand the facts.
“The Twitter debate is symptomatic of a wider problem; sometimes the understanding of the good business does
in society is lost. You can’t expect business to create work experience placements while attempting to regulate those placements.
“Work experience has proven itself over the years and we wouldn’t want to see that undermined by the social media debate.”
Yesterday’s cold, sparse unemployment figures had a human face. Michael Taylor, an unemployed teacher, appeared on the BBC 10 O’Clock News and spoke in uncompromising terms of what it meant for him to be among the ranks of Britain’s 2.67 million jobless. His voice cracking, Mr Taylor spoke of being “humiliated”. “I feel like it’s my fault”, he said.
I don’t know Michael Taylor’s personal circumstances, or whether there’s truth in his argument that in his North West community, jobs simply aren’t available for those who want them. But he appeared sincere enough. Painfully so.
He was followed by the Prime Minister, who offered his ritual cold comfort. The jobless figures were “disappointing”, but the number of people actually in work was rising, as were the number of job vacancies. He, David Cameron, would be “rolling up his sleeves” to get Britain back to work. Though he appeared to be wearing a very nice suit jacket when he said it.
Unemployment jumped by 48,000 in the quarter to December to 2.67 million, a jobless rate of 8.4 per cent, the worst figure since the end of 1995.
The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance rose by 6,900 in January to 1.6 million, the 11th consecutive monthly increase.
The number of women claiming the allowance increased by 1,500 last month to 531,700, the highest figure since the summer of 1995.
A record number of people are working part-time because they cannot find full-time jobs – up by 83,000 over the latest quarter to 1.35 million.
Employment increased by 60,000 to 29 million, mainly due to a rise of 90,000 in the number of part-time employees to 6.6 million.