Labour May Need Tory Help to Beat Rebels over Benefit Reforms; POLITICS
Byline: Tomos Livingstone Political Editor
ALL benefits claimants will have to prove they have a plan to get back to work or lose their payments altogether, the Government will announce today.
In a wide-ranging package of reforms, Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell will go further than expected and say even single mothers with pre-school children will have to show how they intend to re-enter the jobs market.
The plans are likely to be fiercely resisted by Labour MPs and charities. One group dismissed the scheme as "unnecessary and inappropriate" last night.
Lone parents, those on incapacity benefit and the long-term unemployed will have conditions attached to their benefits.
Conditions will range from updating a CV and finding appropriate childcare, to full-time training or a work trial. People who skip interviews with job centre staff will have their benefits docked and eventually stopped altogether.
Only carers and the severely disabled, and parents of very young children will be exempt from the shake-up.
Ministers are desperate to cut the pounds 12.5bn annual bill for incapacity benefit, and tackle the workless "ghettos" in many post-industrial areas.
South Wales has some of the highest rates of incapacity benefit claims in the UK. Worst is Merthyr Tydfil, with 6,070 claimants - 11.3% of the workforce. There are 194,000 claimants in Wales, down from 217,000 in 1997.
Mr Purnell said: "These reforms will transform peoples' lives. We will give people on benefits the personal support they need to help them make a better life for themselves and their families.
"I believe that for the majority, work is part of the path to that better life, which is why our reforms put the individual, and their needs, at the heart of the welfare system."
He rejected suggestions the recession and rising unemployment meant the reforms should be postponed.
"Now is the right time to introduce these fundamental reforms," he said. "When times are tough you give people more support not less.
"We will not repeat mistakes of the past when governments did nothing but fiddle unemployment figures and abandoned the most vulnerable to the scrap heap.
"I believe it is wrong to have a welfare system which doesn't encourage people to prepare for or get back to work. In future virtually everyone will be expected to do something in return for their benefits."
Welfare reform is seen as one of the unfinished sections of the New Labour project, with attempts at reform dating back to an ill-fated Green Paper in 1998. …