Labour plan to relax benefits rules 'would worsen joblessness crisis'

Alison McGovern
The shadow employment minister has vowed to 'end the any job culture' which forces claimants to swiftly return to work - GARYROBERTSPHOTOGRAPHY/ALAMY LIVE NEWS
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Labour’s plan to relax benefits rules for 1.4 million jobseekers threatens to exacerbate Britain’s worklessness crisis, the Tories have said.

Alison McGovern, the shadow employment minister, has vowed to “end the any job culture” which forces claimants to swiftly return to work.

Her stance comes as Britain battles record levels of economic inactivity, with more than one in five working-age people currently jobless.

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, warned her plan would push up levels of unemployment and lump the taxpayer with extra cost.

At the moment the unemployed have four weeks to find a role in their preferred sector before they must look elsewhere or have their handouts slashed.

Those who persistently refuse to take up offers of work over 18 months can ultimately be stripped of their welfare payments completely.

‘Too many trapped in low-paid work’

Ms McGovern told a conference hosted by LinkedIn last year that Labour would soften those rules in favour of giving jobseekers greater choice.

Speaking in November, she said: “Labour will reform employment support, ending the ‘Any Job’ culture that wastes people’s time and talent.

“We know the DWP is failing because too many people end up trapped in low-paid work. Only 1 in 6 low-paid workers ever truly escape it.”

She previously told MPs that people should be supported to find “a fulfilling and well-paying career, not be told that they must just get any job”.

The change would affect 1.4 million jobseekers who are in the Intensive Work Search group, meaning they are getting extra help to find employment.

Mel Stride
'Our Back to Work Plan is driving down economic inactivity', Mr Stride said - VICTORIA JONES/PA WIRE

Analysis carried out by the Tories has found that Labour’s proposals could cost the taxpayer £450 million a year in extra welfare payments.

That would happen if each of those people currently moving into work stayed on benefits for an additional month as a result of the rule change.

Sir Keir ‘has no plan’

Mr Stride said the revelations showed that Sir Keir Starmer “has no plan” to crack down on joblessness and “get people off welfare and into work”.

He said: “Tellingly, Labour’s only serious proposal is to water down work-search rules for over a million claimants. This flies in the face of hardworking taxpayers across the country.

“By contrast, our Back to Work Plan is driving down economic inactivity and our welfare reforms have cut the number of people forecast to claim the highest tier of health benefits by 371,000 according to the OBR.

“With four million more people in work since 2010, unemployment halved and a fair welfare system focused on getting claimants into work, we can’t let soft touch Starmer take us back to square one.”

Labour branded the claims “laughable” and said that under its proposals people would still have to “look for work and take jobs when they are offered”.

The party has said the current system “wastes people’s time and talent” and has committed to giving jobseekers greater powers to turn down work.

‘Laughable claims’

Tory reforms to welfare have seen more than four million people enter work since 2010 and 700,000 fewer children grow up in jobless households.

According to the party, there are now an average of 100,000 benefits claimants moving into work every month, saving the taxpayer millions.

The changes proposed by Labour would only affect those people classified as unemployed, meaning they are fit to work but do not have a job.

Britain’s official unemployment rate is at a historically low level of just 3.9 per cent, but that masks a huge rise in the number of people who are out of work.

Economic inactivity, which covers those who are neither in work nor actively looking for a job, has spiked sharply post-pandemic and stands at 21.9 per cent.

This category includes those signed off with long-term ill health and has been swelled by a rise in mental health and musculoskeletal conditions.

A Labour spokesman said: “This is not a Labour spending commitment and never has been. Those who can work, must look for work and take jobs when they are offered.

“These are laughable claims from a desperate and failing Tory government with a spiralling benefits bill, instead of nonsense they should adopt Labour’s plans to get people back to work by tackling unacceptable NHS backlogs they’ve created.”

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