The Child Poverty Action Group has accused work and pensions secretary James Purnell of “reviving the workhouse” through proposals to make the long-term jobless go on work experience in return for benefits.
In a speech to the Social Market Foundation yesterday, Purnell said that people claiming jobseekers’ allowance would have to do four weeks of work or “work-related activity” unless they find a job within a year of going on the benefit.
He also promised a review of the sanctions regime applied to claimants who breach benefit rules, allowing job centre staff more flexibility in the punishments they impose. James Purnell also pledged reforms to employment support for disabled people.
Echo of Conservative plans
The work experience proposals echo Conservative plans to make all those who have claimed jobseekers’ allowance for two out of the previous three years join a year-long community work scheme or risk losing their benefits.
However, despite Purnell reaffiring the government’s commitment to abolishing child poverty by 2020, the Child Poverty Action Group criticised the speech.
CPAG chief executive Kate Green said: “Forced work paid at a fraction of the minimum wage fails the fairness test, rejects important values and leaves children in poverty.”
Budget must tackle child poverty
Meanwhile, Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey has called on chancellor Alistair Darling to use his Budget next month to put the government back on track to meet its target of halving child poverty by 2010-11.
Narey, chair of the Campaign to End Child Poverty, said: “Although initial progress was good, most recent figures show that progress has stalled and may even have reversed slightly.
“The government needs to make clear, through measures in the March Budget, that it will take the necessary steps to get back on track – actions speak louder than words.”
The Budget takes place on 12 March.