UK Politics

David Cameron suggests cutting benefits for under-25s

David Cameron has suggested benefits paid to people under the age of 25 could be cut in an effort to reduce long-term worklessness.

In his speech to the Conservative conference, the prime minister promised to "nag and push and guide" young people away from a life on the dole.

It was later confirmed that the government is reviewing policies for 16 to 25-year-olds.

But Labour accused the Conservatives of a "desperate" lack of ideas.

In his speech, Mr Cameron promised to create a "land of opportunity" by boosting business and reducing reliance on benefits.

He also vowed to improve the education system and told party activists that there was still much work to do to fix the economic "mess" left by Labour.

'Bold action'

The latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions showed 1.09 million people between the ages of 16 and 24 were not in work, education or training.

The problem has proved stubbornly hard to tackle across Europe, with rates of youth unemployment soaring above 50% in Spain.

Mr Cameron argued that action was needed in the UK, saying: "There are still over a million young people not in education, employment, or training.

"Today it is still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming housing benefit and opt for a life on benefits. It's time for bold action here."

He promised the Conservatives would consider, as they write their manifesto for the 2015 general election, whether "that option should really exist at all".

A Conservative source has told the BBC the manifesto will definitely contain a commitment to end the automatic entitlement to housing benefit for the under-25s, as suggested previously by Mr Cameron.

In his speech, the prime minister criticised reliance on benefits, saying: "Instead we should give young people a clear, positive choice: Go to school. Go to college. Do an apprenticeship. Get a job.

"But just choose the dole? We've got to offer them something better than that."


He added: "And let no one paint ideas like this as callous. Think about it: with your children, would you dream of just leaving them to their own devices, not getting a job, not training, nothing?

"No - you'd nag and push and guide and do anything to get them on their way… and so must we. So this is what we want to see: everyone under 25 - earning or learning."

During the week-long conference in Manchester, the Conservatives have announced plans to make the long-term unemployed undertake work placements if they want to continue receiving benefits.

Mr Cameron did not set out any specific changes regarding under-25s during his 50-minute speech, but Education Secretary Michael Gove offered more detail when questioned on BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

He announced that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood was already reviewing the policies in place. He is expected to report his findings by the end of the year.

Mr Gove said: "It is always going to be the case that there are some people for whom you need not so much a nudge as a dunt (a firm blow or stroke) towards the workplace.

"It's important also that we all recognise that welfare is there explicitly to help those people through hard times that it shouldn't become habituated."

He said he would not pre-empt the policy review, adding: "I don't think any of us would want to take away any form of necessary support to young or old vulnerable people."


However, unions warned that any cut in benefits would hurt the worst-off.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Given the government's awful track record of helping young people find jobs, the prime minister's threat to ban the dole for under-25s will simply push hundreds of thousands of young people, including those with young families, even deeper into poverty.

"Young people suffered most in the recession. Today the prime minister has pledged that they will suffer most during the recovery too."

The general secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said: "What we need is a real plan at local and national level which provides sustainable and secure employment opportunities for young people and access to education which is useful and mind-broadening.

"Cheap headlines about lazy youngsters or cutting their benefits are no substitute for a strategy which is on the side of young people and allows them to realise their potential."

A Labour spokesperson said: "This is an empty and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that there was absolutely nothing in David Cameron's speech to deal with the cost-of-living crisis facing families.

"If the Conservatives really wanted to get young people off benefits, they'd be backing Labour's youth jobs guarantee, giving young people who've been out of work for over a year a job they must take or lose benefits."

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