George Osborne defends his plans to make the long-term unemployed “work for the dole”, saying it will help people get off benefits.
The chancellor will announce the scheme at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Monday, and will say that it will make the welfare system “fair”.
He is expected to tell the conference: “No one will be ignored or left without help. But no one will get something for nothing.
“Help to work – and in return work for the dole – because a fair welfare system is fair to those who need it and fair to those who pay for it too.”
Under the new conditions attached to welfare payments, claimants who have been out of work for three years, and have failed to find a job under the coalition’s work programme, will be required to do 30 hours a week of community service.
This will involve anything from collecting litter, cooking meals for the elderly or cleaning up graffiti.
Those who break the rules, for example by failing to turn up for duties without a good reason, could lose their benefits for four weeks. A second offence would see them lose out for three months.
Potentially around 200,000 long-term jobseekers’ allowance claimants could be eligible for the scheme, which will come into force in April 2014.
The government, however, believes that the numbers will be significantly lower, suggesting that many JSA claimants will decide it is no longer worth trying to claim benefits, and will drop out.
The scheme will cost around £300m, but Mr Osborne is said to believe it will make savings by helping people get off benefits.
Despite critics’ claims that the government is exploiting or punishing the long-term unemployed, Mr Osborne said the scheme is in fact “compassionate”.
He told Sky News: “This is for people who have been unemployed for more than three years and we are saying we are going to help you get into work, but we’re going to ask for something in return…
“I think it is a very compassionate approach to people who previous governments just ignored, and I don’t think that’s very fair.”
Labour has criticised the plan, saying its own ideas for welfare reform outstrip the Conservative party’s.
Labour Treasury spokeswoman Rachel Reeves said: “It’s taken three wasted years of rising long-term unemployment and a failed work programme to come up with this new scheme.
“But this policy is not as ambitious as Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee, which would ensure there is a paid job for every young person out of work for over 12 months and every adult unemployed for more than two years.
“With Labour’s plans we would work with employers to ensure there are jobs for young people and the long-term unemployed – which they would have to take up or lose benefits. Under the Tory scheme people would still be allowed to languish on the dole for years on end without having a proper job.”
The scheme follows the announcement by David Cameron on Sunday that he will be bringing the help to buy 2 scheme forward.