Welfare shake-up imminent

Work and pensions secretary John Hutton confirms government is looking to reform welfare and benefits system
Work and pensions secretary John Hutton confirms government is looking to reform welfare and benefits system

The government has confirmed that it is looking at a number of ways to reform the welfare system by encouraging long-term unemployed people to find work.

But work and pensions secretary John Hutton is adamant that nobody's benefits will be cut as a result.

Tomorrow an influential report from banker David Freud is expected to recommend the welfare system be overhauled to create private and voluntary groups dedicated to helping long-term unemployed return to work.

Among the proposals already confirmed by Mr Hutton is that single parents be pushed towards employment once their child reaches 11.

"If you are a lone parent, the system does not expect you to take any active steps to get back to work until your youngest child is 16," the minister told BBC1's Sunday AM programme today.

"We know that having spent years in the benefits system those single parents are usually not in a position to make active steps to get back to active work so a lot of them go directly from income support onto incapacity benefit.

"We've got to break that logjam," Mr Hutton added.

The work and pensions secretary went on to claim that businesses set up to help people find work by offering employment advice could work alongside existing government agencies.

"Job Centre Plus does a fantastic job but what we should consider now is whether it should focus on those who are easiest to help and if we should use is a network of specialist providers to provide the help for those who are furthest away form the labour market," he said.

"It's easier for people who have been on long-term benefits to work with those types of organisation and develop the personal relationship than sometimes it is with an arm of the state bureaucracy.

"For a lot of people it is about confidence building and sometimes, if you want to present yourself well at an interview, you've got to look the part," Mr Hutton elaborated.

"If you've spent a long time on benefit you won't be in a position to do that."

But the work and pensions secretary reiterated that benefit cuts remained the "last resort" for the government.

"The status quo, I think, is not defensible. We should be prepared to have an open mind about reform, but it will not be based on the principle that the first thing you do is cut people's benefits," he concluded.


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