Long-term unemployed will be forced to do community work

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PLANS to make the long-term unemployed ‘work for the dole’ have been cautiously welcomed by community leaders.

Chancellor George Osborne is announcing the Help to Work scheme in his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester today, saying the change will end the ‘something-for-nothing culture’.

Claimants who have been out of work for three years and fail to find a job through the government’s flagship Work Programme will be required either to do 30 hours a week of community work, report to a job centre daily, or undergo intensive treatment to tackle problems such as illiteracy or mental illness.

Those who break the rules, for example by failing to turn up for duties without a good reason, could lose their benefit for four weeks.

A second offence would see them lose out for three months.

Claimants would be required to carry out community work, such as collecting litter, cooking meals for the elderly or cleaning graffiti.

Tory MP David Willetts, who represents Havant where there are around 2,000 people in total claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, spoke of his support for the scheme.

He said: ‘I don’t think it’s nasty.

‘I think it’s practical help for people who are unemployed.

‘We want to help them get into work as quickly as possible.

‘They were left by the previous government on the dole without enough practical support and we are going to provide them with the opportunities of doing community work.

‘If they have underlying problems, such as illiteracy, then we will focus through our intensive regime with helping them tackle these problems.

‘There will be a range of options including doing community work in your area.

‘We think it’s better for people if they are helped into work as quickly as possible.

‘We are continuing relentlessly to save money on welfare so we can invest in other things. Money is very tight.’

He said getting people into the habit of getting up and going out to work made jobseekers a more viable option for prospective employers.

He added: ‘It absolutely overcomes one of employer’s big concerns “is this person job ready?”’

He said by cutting the welfare bill, it would mean more money could be spent on investing in science, technology and universities.

Mr Willetts, who is the universities minister, today announced a plan to invest £200m in new teaching facilities for science and engineering subjects in UK universities.

One ward in his constituency - Battins in Leigh Park - has high unemployment, with almost a tenth of working-age people looking for a job.

Battins Councillor Faith Ponsonby, a Lib Dem, told The News: ‘If they are able to do something I think it’s a good use of time.

‘It brings people into the habit of coming out of the house.

‘It’s really depressing being stuck at home, having no money and being out of the habit of making ends meet.

‘It’s a way of giving people a new dignity because they are going out and doing something.

‘But it’s difficult because I think it has to be done sensitively.

‘It’s going to need greater skills from people like the youth charity, Motiv8.’

She added: ‘It’s going to be difficult. It’s breaking not just the habit of a lifetime, but in a few cases families where two or three generations have been unemployed.

‘I think it’s going to be difficult for some people.

‘I am particularly concerned about people with disabilities who vary from day to day and find it difficult to get themselves dressed and out.

‘For some of them, there won’t necessarily be the right sort of job, even voluntary, that they are able to do.’

Potentially, around 200,000 long-term Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants across the country could be eligible for the new initiative, which comes into force in April next year.

The scheme, devised by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, will cost around £300m to implement - with the money likely to be found from departmental underspends.

But the Chancellor said he believed it would make savings on the welfare bill by helping people get off benefits.