City leader raises doubts over back to work scheme

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GOVERNMENT proposals to get people back to work in Portsmouth must not be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, the city council’s leader has warned.

Lib Dem council leader, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said he believes the coalition government’s Work Programme can help some people back into long-term employment.

But he fears some people with changeable medical states could be unfairly penalised, losing out on benefits even if they can’t work every day.

He said: ‘We have to divide people up very carefully.

‘There are some people who can’t work at all, and others who just don’t want to, and those groups are easily defined.

‘But there are others for whom a full-time job isn’t possible, but could work part-time, or for whom their condition means they can work some days, but not the next, as their condition worsens.

‘It’s very important those people aren’t ignored, or neglected, when they need to receive benefits.’

The Work Programme will see private firms paid by the government to find long-term jobs for people aged 25 or over who have been unemployed for a year or more, in a system ministers have compared to a ‘dating service’.

The Department for Work and Pensions says there are more than 550 Portsmouth people who have been claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance for more than a year, with 877 jobs registered at the city’s Jobcentre Plus.

Minister Chris Grayling said: ‘Now long-term unemployed people will get tailored and personalised support they need to get into work.’

But critics have claimed the scheme could see vulnerable or unfit people pressured into unsuitable jobs.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘There’s no doubt there are some people who can work and choose not to.

‘Other people shouldn’t have to pay for them. But we have to be very careful, because there are many others who may want to work, but are unable to. We have to protect people who can’t work.

‘There’s no argument for doing nothing, but we must keep a very close eye on how the system operates.’