Ian Duncan Smith will this week announce that the coalition government will make a move that even the Thatcher government stepped back from – by forcing the unemployed to work for their benefits.
The Work and Pensions Secretary will outline plans for four week placements doing manual jobs like gardening or litter clearing. Under the banner of the Work Activity Scheme, anyone thought to need “experience of the habits and routines of working life” will be forced to work for no additional money.
Anyone refusing to take part, or failing to turn up on time, could have their £65 a week Jobseekers’ Allowance stopped for at least three months.
The announcement will come through Ian Duncan Smith’s White Paper, in which he will outline plans for welfare reform, including the introduction of a universal credit to replace several benefits.
Danny Alexander, for the Liberal Democrats, supported the idea, denying that the plans would treat the long term unemployed in exactly the same way as criminals doing community service. He told the BBC’s Politics Show that the “purpose is emphatically not to punish and it’s not to humiliate”.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Douglas Alexander accused the Government of “focusing on the workshy but offering nothing to the workless”.
He also pointed out that there were five unemployed people chasing every job vacancy in the country, adding, “The tragic flaw in the Tory approach is that, without work, it won’t work. A longer dole queue will mean a bigger benefits bill.”
The Scottish Campaign for Welfare Reform – an umbrella group representing more than 40 organisations – also attacked the government’s plans.
John Dickie, of the Child Poverty Action Group, one of the leading organisations in the campaign, said, “These punitive proposals are a distraction from the real barriers people face trying to get back into work – lack of jobs, lack of childcare and discrimination in the labour market. People need real jobs that pay real wages.”
And there’s the crux of the matter.
We have a government that is cutting faster and deeper than required and therefore causing increased unemployment. But at the same time it is penalising those who cannot find work.
Surely the paradox is an obvious one?