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Government plans widespread changes to benefits

July 03 2010
Sanctions will be enforced more rigorously to make life on the dole less appealing

The new government is planning to reassess everyone on incapacity benefit and introduce tougher penalties on those who refuse offers of work from the job centre.

Last month, we touched upon the fact that new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, argues that true happiness and contentment comes from the pride and purpose working offers. The Conservative's 'Get Britain Working' campaign proved popular in the run-up to the election and many of its core values have been maintained under the new coalition government.

The key piece of persuasion the new government is using is that fact that many people can make more money from the benefit system than they could from working on the minimum wage. Mr Duncan Smith has described this as 'absurd' - and wants to remove the 'penalty' for moving from income support into a job.

"A system that was originally designed to support the poorest in society is now trapping them in the very condition it was supposed to alleviate," he said in an interview with the BBC. "We must be here to help people improve their lives, not just park them on long-term benefits. Aspiration, it seems, is in danger of becoming the preserve of the wealthy."

There are around five million people in the UK on benefits, 1.4m of whom have been receiving support for nine or more years of the last decade. In addition, there are another 1.4m under-25s out of work but not in education.

So, rather than making working more attractive, or possible, the government have moved to make life on the dole less attractive.

Those claiming incapacity allowance will be reassessed to see if any kind of work would suit them. This could mean, for example, that someone who has been unable to leave their home due to disability may be offered, urged or pushed into flexible working from home. Just how rigorous these tests will be remains to be seen.

For those claiming Jobseekers' Allowance, refusing work offered to them by the job centre could mean a reduction in the amount they take home. And there are plans to give Housing Benefit directly to landlords or housing associations, rather than individuals, to remove the temptation of spending the money on anything else.

But just how different are the Conservative's plans from those already tabled by the last government? Last year, The Pavement reported on new sanctions under Labour, such as cuts in benefits for failing to look for work, breaking the law, drug or alcohol abuse, or failing to supply correct information (Appealing benefit cuts, December 2009) In all cases, those facing sanctions have the right to appeal, but Mr Duncan Smith has added that all these measures, and more, will be enforced far more rigorously.