LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s long-term unemployed could be forced to carry out compulsory manual work or risk losing their welfare benefits under plans being put forward by the government, newspapers reported on Sunday.
The U.S.-style scheme would see the long-term jobless ordered to take up four-week placements in order to get them used to having a full-time job.
The idea is part of major reforms, due to be unveiled this week, to make cuts to Britain’s huge welfare bill, reduce dependency on benefits and weed out those earning money but not declaring it, papers said.
“What we are talking about here is people who have not been used to working having both the opportunity and perhaps a bit more of a push as well, to experience the workplace from time to time,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told BBC TV.
“The vast majority of people in Britain will think that is the right thing to do.”
Shortly after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took power in May, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith unveiled plans to simplify the complex web of benefits available to reduce errors and inefficiencies.
Duncan Smith said the system had become regressive and was not giving people the right incentive to work as many were financially better off unemployed.
Under his plans separate benefits for items such as housing, income support or incapacity will be replaced by a “universal credit” system whereby individual households would get a single welfare payment to ensure those in work would be better off.
The Observer newspaper said that in return, long-term unemployed would be told to take up work placements of at least 30 hours a week for a four-week period.
If they refuse or fail to complete the programme, their jobseekers’ allowance, worth 64.30 pounds a week for those over 25, could be stopped for at least three months.
Charities, local councils, voluntary organisations and private companies will be contracted to provide the placements, which could involve gardening, clearing up litter or painting schools, the Sunday Times reported.
“We will shortly be bringing forward further proposals on how to break the cycle of dependency blighting many of our communities and make sure work always pays,” a spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said.
The proposals echo similar schemes in the United States, but do not go as far as the system there which limits the time people can claim benefits.
“The message will go across; play ball or it’s going to be difficult,” Duncan Smith told the Daily Telegraph on Saturday.
Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said they would wait for full details of the reforms before deciding whether to oppose the measures but added she believed some of the proposals were unfair.
“Without jobs, welfare reform won’t work,” she told BBC TV.
In 2009/10, the government spent 87 billion pounds on benefits and tax credits for people of working age, dwarfing most other items of government spending.
The government estimates that some 1.4 million people in Britain have been on out of work benefits for nine or more of the last 10 years.
Editing by Jon Hemming
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