28 Sep 2014

Removing the safety net? Cameron targets young benefit cuts

David Cameron wants 3 million more young apprentices, and plans to slash unemployment benefits for 18-21 year-olds to fund them. But is this a reform too far?

Removing the safety net? Cameron targets young benefit cuts

Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled plans to “abolish” youth unemployment and prevent young people from slipping into lifetime dependency on benefits.

Mr Cameron wants to create 3 million new young apprenticeships in the next in the five years following the next election by slashing housing and employment benefits – cutting the cap for 18 to 21-year-olds by £3,000 to £23,000.

Mr Cameron told the BBC: “At heart, I want us to effectively abolish youth unemployment. I want us to end the idea that aged 18 you can leave school, go and leave home, claim unemployment benefit and claim housing benefit.

You can start a life of dependency and that is no life at all Prime Minister David Cameron

“We shouldn’t be offering that choice to young people; we should be saying, ‘you should be earning or learning’.”

He added: “We are not talking about those people with children. This is about single people aged 18 to 21.

Removing the safety net? Cameron targets young benefit cuts

“You can start a life of dependency and that is no life at all, that is no future for your children when you do have them.”

Detailing the plans, Chancellor George Osborne said the government’s mission was “not just to save the pounds here and there, we’re trying to change the welfare system so it doesn’t trap people in poverty and a culture of dependency”.

“It is a tragedy for them and a waste for the country,” he told the Mail on Sunday.

The Tory reforms are likely to be strongly criticised by anti-poverty campaigners and may also find tough passage into law, given previous opposition from their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats who previously blocked attempts to reduce the benefits cap.

The proposals would require unemployed 18 to 21-year olds to find work or training within six months of becoming unemployed.

Removing the safety net? Cameron targets young benefit cuts

They would also be required to take part in community projects in order to qualify for jobseeker’s allowance.

A “youth allowance” would be paid out to those aged 16-24 while carrying out community work, which would be set at the same level as the jobseeker’s allowance – currently £57.35.

Under the plans, most unemployed 18 to 21-year-olds would also be barred prevented from claiming housing benefit in order to leave home.

Mr Cameron sai the government’s policy to reduce the benefits cap has already worked “very well”.

“People said this would cause chaos, that people would have to move across the country, that it wouldn’t work. What has happened is a lot of those families have gone into work, have found a job and it’s been a policy which has helped them with their lives,” he added.

“All the evidence is the cap is too loose, particularly in some parts of the country, so bringing it down to £23,000 saves money, will mean more families getting into work and what I want to see, the plan we have for Britain, is to spend less on welfare and more on helping people into work.”

[View the story “Will cutting benefits help get more people into work?” on Storify]