UK Politics

Parents not spared benefit sanctions - Duncan Smith

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Media captionIain Duncan Smith tells Andrew Marr that families with children will not be exempt from benefit cuts if they refuse work

People with children will not be exempt from having their benefits cut if they refuse to take work, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said.

Under sweeping welfare reforms, claimants who refuse job or training offers could have their benefits stopped for up to three years.

Charities have warned it could lead to "extreme hardship" for some families.

Mr Duncan Smith said the sanctions would be less severe for parents but they would still lose some benefits.

He told BBC One's Andrew Marr show: "If you as a parent, in a family, point blank refuse to take work - and, by the way, this could be work tied in with your caring responsibilities, they have the discretion to do that - then the answer is you will be losing some."

'Game over'

He said the principle of the reforms, which start coming into effect for new claimants in 2013, had to be established.

"You cannot now refuse to go to work if work is there and you have been offered that work," he told Andrew Marr.

Mr Duncan Smith also hit back at claims that a planned cap on housing benefit payments will lead to "social cleansing" of Britain's inner cities, as people on benefits are forced to move to cheaper areas.

He said the plans would actually force private rents down in the inner cities, and the number of people who would be forced to move would be in "a very low number of thousands".

"Because we are 40% of the rental market, we drove all the rents up in places like London.

"So that if you are a working person, on low or marginal income, you can't afford to live in central London, you have to be on benefits or incredibly wealthy."

He said his message to private landlords was "the game is over, these rents are coming down".

'Extreme cases'

Mr Duncan Smith has said he expected up to 350,000 children and 500,000 working age adults could be moved out of poverty by his welfare reforms.

He also insisted that the plans did not depend on a big increase in economic growth to create the necessary jobs.

Under the plans, the low paid will be able to keep more of the money they earn - but there will be "tougher penalties" for those who repeatedly fail to look for work.

In the most "extreme" cases, people could lose Jobseekers' Allowance for three years if they have "serially and deliberately breached conditions" and other sanctions have not worked.

Lone parents with young children are currently only expected to attend "work-focused interviews" and that would continue and financial penalties for failing to comply will be imposed "broadly in line with current arrangements".

Hardship payments will also continue for those stripped of their benefits, although the white paper published this week says the government is examining ways of turning them into loans.

It also said the government was considering ways to ensure "those who persistently fail to meet the requirements imposed upon them cannot rely on these alternative sources of support for the entire duration of their sanction".

Oxfam said leaving people with no income could expose them to the risk of destitution. Save the Children said it would create a "climate of fear".

Currently someone on Jobseekers' Allowance who refuses a job can lose their benefits for up to six months.

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