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Tuesday, June 15, 1999 Published at 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK


'Britain heading towards workfare', says charity

Single parents are likely to be forced to attend job advice sessions

Britain is inching towards a US-style workfare system, where the most vulnerable are forced to accept any work or lose benefits, says a leading charity.

The Child Poverty Action Group says the government's announcement earlier this year that lone parents and the disabled would have to attend repeated advice interviews for jobs under threat of losing benefits was "a step towards a US-style workfare system".

The CPAG wants the government to abandon the plans which were described by Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling as "harsh, but justifiable".

'Poverty of expectation'

He said they would tackle the "poverty of expectation" of many people on benefits.

Under the proposals, new claimants who refuse to be interviewed by Benefits Agency staff could be refused benefits and existing claimants who do likewise could see their welfare payments cut by up to 20%.

Lone parents could be called in for an interview shortly after their child is born, and again at significant points in their lives, such as when they start primary or secondary school.

For the disabled, the frequency of interviews is expected to vary according to inidividual circumstances.

The government has consistently denied it has any plans to bring in US-style programmes which deny benefits to people who refuse to take the posts offered to them by jobs advisors.

CPAG director Martin Barnes said: "Compulsion shoud not even be considered until the government has fully evaluated the New Deal programmes for lone parents and the disabled.

'Distress for vulnerable people'

"Many vulnerable people will be put through a process which could cause them anxiety, distress and even hardship.

[ image: The government wants to get people off welfare dependency]
The government wants to get people off welfare dependency
"Paid employment is not, and should not be made to be, an option for all."

The CPAG is holding a conference on welfare reform on Wednesday which will be addressed by social security minister Angela Eagle and Peter Mathison, head of the Benefits Agency.

The National Centre for Social Research is also holding a seminar on the future of the welfare state.

It will review key research on the government's welfare to work programmes and draw general conclusions on how they can best be evaluated, how they can meet the needs of participants and how they can deliver the government's aims.

A keynote speaker in the evening is Eli Segal, presidential advisor on the US's welfare to work partnership.

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