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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 17:59 GMT
Benefits trap
Gill Dummigan
The Politics Show

Job Centre
The headline jobless rate was at 5.5%

If half a million Poles can find jobs in Britain, why are more than 5m British people of working age jobless?

It is a point which Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton MP referred to when he announced a new review to look at getting the long term unemployed back into the job market.

Economist's review

That review, carried out by the economist David Freud, is due to hit the minister's desk next week.

It will concentrate on training and support. But there is also a definite mood in Government to get some of those on benefits thinking about their responsibility to work.

"Today I think there is a sense that some people have come to rely too much on the welfare system and that they need to think about how they can do better for themselves and their families and that I think is a significant shift that's taken place on both the left and right of politics over the course of the last two decades," says Patrick Diamond, a former government advisor now at the London School of Economics.

"If you want people to lead healthy fulfilling lives and not to have to live in poverty then you have to ensure not just that they have benefits and support when they need support but also that they're encouraged to find jobs, to raise their skills.

"The welfare system can't just be about keeping people where they are. They have to move on."

Benefit trap?

But moving on can be a daunting prospect for someone who's spent years having their rent, council tax and major bills looked after by the state, according to Mal McCall, head of the Demesne Community Centre in Middleton near Manchester.

She offers training and help to the unemployed, and says people "got themselves into a rut with their benefits, and probably it's a good rut in a sense that they're always going to keep their home. Their benefits pay for that.

"Their council tax is paid for. Whatever money they have in their hand when they go to the post office is a lot more than they are going to have when they have done a week's work."

Lacking qualifications

But there is another problem. Many people who have been on benefits long term have little in the way of qualifications or experience.

If they went out looking for a job they would probably end up doing something which does not pay that well and which, frankly, not many people want to do.

"And financially they may end up being hardly any better off. Given that prospect, it is not surprising that many people do not bother.

"If you do your sums the minimum wage, and these people all start off on the minimum wage because they haven't got the experience, is not enough because it might only work out that you're clearing 14-15 a week.

"Well instantly common sense will tell you that you're not going to give benefits up for 15 in your pocket," says Mal.

But the Government disagrees.

All the research shows that people in work are more likely to get themseves, and their children, out of the poverty trap.

And they will tend to feel better about themselves too. More and better training is likely to be on the cards to help those who can work back into the habit.

But for those who decline the offer, life could be about to get more difficult.

The Politics Show Sunday 04 March 2007 at 12.00pm on BBC One.

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