Long-term unemployed 'could have benefits cut'


David Cameron: "Millions of working-age people sitting at home on benefits even before the recession hit."

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Unemployment benefits could be cut for people who fail to get work over long periods of time, under Conservative plans to change the welfare system.

People receiving payments could also be expected to learn to read, write and count, to make them more employable.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the system had gone "truly awry" and a "culture of entitlement" had to be addressed to boost the economy.

But Labour accused him of using the "wrong approach" to joblessness.

In a speech in Kent, Mr Cameron said he wanted to debate ideas for welfare reform before the Conservatives produced their manifesto for the next general election.

It had been widely reported that he would propose varying the rates at which benefits are paid according to the cost of living in different regions. This was dropped from the final text of his speech, but Downing Street insisted it was still among ideas to be discussed.

Proposals outlined by Mr Cameron included:

  • Out-of-work benefits linked to wages rather than inflation, if wages are lower
  • A cap on the amount people can earn and still live in a council house
  • Reduce the current £20,000 housing benefit limit
  • Stopping the out-of-work being better off by having children
  • Consider paying some benefits "in kind" rather than in cash
  • Expecting parents on income support to prepare for work while children have free nursery care
  • Getting the physically able to do full-time community work after a period out of work
  • Sickness benefit claimants should take steps to improve their health

Mr Cameron's speech is being seen as an attempt to reconnect with disgruntled Tory backbenchers who have accused him of allowing the Liberal Democrats to water down traditional party values.

The prime minister said he hoped the Lib Dems might agree with some of the ideas so they could even be brought in before the next election, which is due in 2015.

His deputy, the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, told the BBC: "David Cameron was speaking as a leader of the Conservative Party about his own personal ideas, about the kind of things he would like to see happen after 2015. He's entirely free to do so, as is any leader of any political party."

Regional rates of benefits - which would presumably see people in more affluent regions getting higher payments than in poorer regions - would be likely to prove controversial.

No 10 stressed, an hour before Mr Cameron's speech, that no decision had been taken but the PM wanted to look at whether "it makes sense if you set all benefits at the national level or whether there should be some local or regional element".

The prime minister defended benefits for the elderly and disabled but said the system of working-age benefits had gone "truly awry" and created a "welfare gap between those living long-term in the welfare system and those outside it".


David Cameron is not just calling for a minor tweak to the welfare state - he is opening the door to a re-casting of the entire welfare system and who it is meant to serve.

"The time has come to go back to first principles," he says.

If the welfare state is meant to be a safety net, he argues, then a lot of people are receiving benefits who are not in need, and therefore should not be receiving them.

Hence he raises the prospect of limits to the amount of support claimants should expect for larger families; curbs to the rights of young people to get help with their rent; and tougher requirements on those seeking work.

It is a bold statement of intent that will reassure and please an unsettled Tory party, both inside and outside Parliament.

But it carries with it a huge political danger? It risks undermining what was Mr Cameron's core pitch to the electorate, namely that he was a different sort of Tory leader.

His critics will seize on this - together with the apparent playing down of the green agenda and wobbles over gay marriage - as further evidence that Mr Cameron is turning his back on Compassionate Conservatism and returning to a much more traditional Tory agenda.

"Those within it grow up with a series of expectations: you can have a home of your own, the state will support you whatever decisions you make, you will always be able to take out no matter what you put in.

"This has sent out some incredibly damaging signals. That it pays not to work. That you are owed something for nothing. It gave us millions of working-age people sitting at home on benefits even before the recession hit. It created a culture of entitlement.

"And it has led to huge resentment amongst those who pay into the system, because they feel that what they're having to work hard for, others are getting without having to put in the effort," he said.

He said the housing benefit system for people under 25 encouraged young people to "grab" their independence through the benefit system rather than earn it.

"For literally millions, the passage to independence is several years living in their childhood bedroom as they save up to move out while for many others, it's a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19 - even if they're not actively seeking work, " he argued.

Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show that, out of the 385,000 under-25s claiming housing benefit, 204,000 have children.

Mr Cameron said it was necessary to look at the "interaction of the benefit system with the choices people make about having a family", arguing the welfare system encouraged working-age people to have children but not work, making taxpayers resentful.

He also suggested there could be a loosening of benefit conditions for those who have paid into the system through work but have lost their job, against those who have never worked.

Other questions Mr Cameron raised but did not address in detail were whether school leavers should be allowed to draw benefits, whether non-contributory benefits should be paid to those living abroad and if the majority of benefits should continue to be paid in cash rather than in kind.

His idea to scrap housing benefit for people aged under 25 would save almost £2bn a year, but housing charity Shelter fears the consequences of such a move.

Graphic showing number of under-25s claiming housing benefit as of March 2012

Chief executive Campbell Robb said: "To take away housing benefit from hundreds of thousands of young people - particularly in the current economic environment where young people in particular are finding it very difficult to find jobs - would have a devastating impact on many people's lives.

"I think we would see many more people ending up homeless as a result of this kind of very significant change."

For Labour, shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said the prime minister was "coming at it from the wrong approach for the long-term".

"First we need stronger action to help people get back into work so Labour has said 'Let's put in place a jobs guarantee for young people'. We're starting a debate about how childcare and social care could actually help people work the hours that are on offer," he said.

In March, the government's Welfare Reform Act received Royal Assent. That act - which applies to England, Scotland and Wales - introduces an annual cap on benefits and overhauls many welfare payments.

Chancellor George Osborne indicated in his March Budget that the welfare bill should be cut by another £10bn between 2015 - the expected year of the next election - and 2017. That is on top of the £18bn of cuts during the current parliament.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1612.

    Why on earth do scroungers on benefits receive cash in the first place, most only spend it on booze fags,big screen tvs, games consoles and latest fashion, if they want this sort of thing they got out and earn it like the rest of us have to.
    If people feel that bad for receiving hand outs then make them do community service after 4 weeks of being on benefits it should make everyone feel better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1611.

    The current system of uniform benefit rates irrespective of location, is causing long term claimants to gravitate to particular pleasant areas. The social composition of much of the Welsh coast has been distorted and anglicised by claimant migration from Birmingham and Liverpool.
    Sadly this is undermining the cultural heritage of the Cambrian coast and North Wales.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1610.

    The benefit system in this country has been flawed for a long time, well done David Cameron for trying to do something about it! why should tax payers pay for people that DONT want to work? if jobs are so scarce in this country how come that all these European Citizens that have entered the country in the past few years have managed to get jobs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1609.

    i agree in some ways bt disagree in others, iv been trying to get a job since my youngest started school (nearly a year). i have good qualifications and references and yet despite this and applying for more jobs than i can count i still cant get a job. trust me there are some of us out there who wud much rather be working than trying to live on £200 a fortnight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1608.

    Surely a smokescreen to deflect our attention from the next round of eurodisaster?
    The Greek cabinet seems to have gone on sick leave, the Cyprus crisis looks like the trickle before the dam bursts.
    Meanwhile, our 'efficiencies' have failed to secure one jot of progress on the UK deficit.
    The argument for immediate EU exit is irrefutable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1607.

    Instead of targeting poor people’s benefits, why not focus on rich people’s tax avoidance issues? For example, we can design a better taxation scheme to encourage rich people do more investments for our future economy, such as if they help an inventor or an external (not from their own R/D department) patented invention to be commercialized, then they can receive good tax relief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1606.

    if a company refuses to pay their fair tax due then ban them from trading here and impound their assests, i dont think the likes of tesco do that well abroad, seems better than allowing massive tax evasion though it might be more difficult with true multi nationals, or tell the people who avoids tax and we can refuse to shop with them, they can go abroad but they cant trade here will make them pay

  • rate this

    Comment number 1605.

    It will work providing the minimum wage is scrapped for the under 25 s or better still scrapped altogether.

    At least then they will have no excuse for not being offered a job !!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1604.

    In fact most of the the money of the wealthy wil end up outside the country and of the poor will be mostly spent here. Hence the longer this goes on the less there will be for people in this country. No buy,no work"

    It's the same flaw with globalisation - outsource all the jobs, and bingo! - no customers, as you just put them all on the dole.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1603.

    I am well-qualified, but 39, single parent and unemployable as I have no 'flexible childcare' and have several health problems. I wouldn't pass an employer medical, which is why I work (in no profit) for myself. If employers paid a realstic wage and didn't expect me to jump through hoops, I'd get a job. I'd LOVE to work for someone else, but age/illness prevents this. Where is that scrap heap??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1602.

    40,000 years of evolution and we have got to a point where we have to work from the age 16-68 so we can then retire and die. They want to regulate the amount of money spent on benifits but refuse to regulate housing costs, energy prices, food prices and duty on taxable goods.This attack on the underclass is unsavoury and hides the real fact a few people are getting very rich at the expense of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1601.

    Ex Tory Voter

    It changes all the time. A couple of years ago whilst on benefits for a couple of weeks they refused to pay direct to my landlord (which i asked them to do), yet recently i didn't even have the option (it's gone direct to landlord, tbh that suits me anyways). It will likely change again soon as those fiddling with the system need to change things to justify their job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1600.

    We have been socially engineered by the left for thirteen years now we are been socially engineered by the right.The voter has had enough!

    No more blame on the poor for your failures Cameron start concentrating on your failed economic strategy.You have two months to sack under performing ministers.Failed US style benefits will not be tolerated here either!!!

    All trust has gone in this failed gov

  • rate this

    Comment number 1599.

    It's amazing that comments criticising the benefits culture get rated down. I just can't understand how you can prevent people from having child after child just to claim benefits. I agree with some of the commenters that child benefits should be capped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1598.

    1571.Ex Tory Voter
    "it is quite difficult to get a council (at least ours) to pay to the claimant rather than the landlord ( a 'choice' you get) - not least so they can trace the landlord"

    As I explained in my previous post 1556, most Local Authorities pay Housing Benefit direct to Housing Associations, but come the Tories Universal Credit in Oct. 2013 it will be paid direct to the claimant??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1597.

    1571. Ex Tory Voter

    Different experience from different Local Authorities I guess. In response to an earlier post, Social Housing tenants are treated differently than Private tenants.

    Universal Credit is only going to make the problem worse. Giving claimants 'independence' by paying their benefits direct to them in one lump sum. Great idea Dave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1596.

    As a 'leftie' it might seem surprising but I encourage Cameron to spout more of this Thatcherite drivel as each time he does he goes another couple of points down in the polls.

    He knows he is not going to win the next election either on his own or with Clegg so he is just trying to make life as unpleasant as possible for those he has a natural bigotry towards. But not the bankers of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1595.

    I don't know what the answer is. There is certainly a problem with people relying on benefits, but what can be done? You could open factories in every town tomorrow and a lot of people would turn their nose up at the chance to work. We have become a get rich quick, lazy, materialistic, indisciplined and PC society - with a world around us who are willing to step up to the plate. Not great news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1594.

    We're in dire need of houses. We have unemployed youth. If we were some "uncivilized tribe" living in the jungle it would be a "no brainer". So what am I missing?


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