U.K. Tories Propose to Tighten Rules on Welfare ; Conservatives Move to Harden Policy and Fight Threat to Their Right

By Castle, Stephen | International Herald Tribune, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

U.K. Tories Propose to Tighten Rules on Welfare ; Conservatives Move to Harden Policy and Fight Threat to Their Right


Castle, Stephen, International Herald Tribune


Jobless Britons could be forced to choose between charity work and losing unemployment payments, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, announced Monday.

Jobless Britons could be required to choose between charity work and losing unemployment payments, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, said on Monday in the latest in a series of moves to tighten benefit rules and crack down on "welfare dependency."

Under the plan, those out of work for more than two years could be required to take on tasks like cooking for the elderly or cleaning up litter to keep their payments. The initiative represents a significant hardening of policy in a country that once considered the idea of "workfare" taboo.

Mr. Osborne made his proposal in a speech at the Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester. He also said he would try to freeze duties on fuel in an effort to ease the squeeze on incomes still being felt by many Britons, even as the economy is showing signs of a recovery.

He simultaneously outlined a long-term goal of building a budget surplus, suggesting that if the Conservatives won the next general election, due in May 2015, they would keep up the pressure to contain public spending.

Despite clear signs of an economic upturn, Mr. Osborne was careful to emphasize that a recovery was not yet secure and that there should be no sense of "a task completed or a victory won."

But his most eye-catching pronouncement was on welfare -- the latest such shift from the Conservatives, who head a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats and who have identified such "tough love" policies as popular with the electorate at large.

The plans outlined by Mr. Osborne will not require primary legislation, which means there will not be a vote in Parliament, the Department for Work and Pensions said Monday. Instead, changes to regulations will be "brought forward shortly," the department said.

With an election less than 20 months away, the Conservative Party is trying to highlight the policy areas where it believes it has a lead in public opinion over the opposition Labour Party -- with welfare prominent among them.

The Conservatives are also trying to combat a threat to their right from the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns against the European Union and immigration, and says it wants to "make welfare a safety net for the needy, not a bed for the lazy."

At the same time, Prime Minister David Cameron has faced internal dissent from some right-wing Conservative lawmakers who opposed his move to allow same-sex marriage and who want him to take a tougher line on Europe and immigration.

Already, the jobless can be sent on work placements, where they are required to do a month's full-time activity in a workplace, on pain of losing their benefits, and the government has introduced a cash limit on the amount per week that most people aged 16 to 64 can receive from the state. …

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