Jobless to lose benefits — and free prescriptions — if they refuse to look for work
THOUSANDS of benefit claimants who refuse to look for work are ‘taking taxpayers for a ride’ and will have their claims closed, ministers have warned.
Unveiling the biggest shake-up of the welfare system for a decade, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said yesterday the Government was no longer willing to give handouts to people who ‘coast’ along on benefits instead of looking for a job.
‘Next generation of welfare reforms’
The reforms mean that people who refuse to take action to ‘improve their employability prospects’, such as accepting a work placement, will have claims for universal credit shut down after 18 months.
In the worst cases, people could have their claims closed after six months if they refuse to engage with Jobcentre staff.
The move goes significantly further than existing benefit sanctions which are normally time-limited.
Government sources said that individuals also receiving benefits for children or for disabilities would not have their universal credit claims closed.
But those whose claims are shut down will also lose access to other ‘perks’, including free prescriptions, subsidised travel and discounted phone and broadband schemes.
A reform of the ‘fit note’ system will see people assessed regularly and offered help to return to work. Those with anxiety and depression will be offered NHS ‘talking therapies’ to help overcome barriers to work. And those out of work for more than six months will be placed on a ‘restart’ scheme offering coaching on interview and CV-writing skills.
It is part of a £ 2.5billion package designed to help get more than a million people on benefits back to work.
Official figures show that more than 300,000 people have been out of work for more than 12 months, despite there being about one million job vacancies across the economy.
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said: ‘We are rolling out the next generation of weltheir fare reforms to help more people start, stay and succeed in work...Our message is clear: if you are fit, if you refuse to work, if you are taking taxpayers for a ride – we will take your benefits away.’
The Chancellor added: ‘Anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers will lose their benefits.’
The reforms mean that no claimant should reach 18 months on unemployment in receipt of their full benefits if they have not taken ‘every reasonable step to comply with Jobcentre support’, the department said.
Mr Hunt is also drawing up plans to save £2billion from the welfare bill.
Benefits are usually raised in line with the September inflation figure, which was 6.7 per cent. But the Treasury could instead use the 4.6 per cent figure recorded in October.