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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 March, 2004, 13:56 GMT
Brown tackles 'hard-core' jobless
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Partners are to be made aware of their work options
New measures aimed at encouraging people to move off benefits and back to work have been unveiled in the Budget.

From October 2005, unemployed partners of benefit claimants will be given 20 a week if they look for work.

And from April 2004, partners of new and existing benefits claimants must attend a "work-focused" interview or face losing their benefit.

There are more than 4.2 million people of working age and almost 1.8 million children living in workless households.

Central policy

Encouraging people to move off benefits and back into work is a key concern of the government, and has been a central theme in previous Budget statements.

Although there were few references within the speech, there are a raft of new measures on the horizon - and more details were given in Budget documents.

The government believes "all those who are able to work should be given the opportunity to participate in a flexible and buoyant labour market".

It is increasingly focusing on partners and, in particular, women who are long-term unemployed.

KEY MEASURES
Pilot a 20 "job preparation premium" of 20 a week for people on incapacity benefits
20 a week for non-working partners in low income families in six pilot areas who are looking for work
Childcare taster pilots from April 2004, giving parents formal childcare for up to one week

A measure announced in the 2002 pre-Budget report will soon require the partners of all new and existing benefits claimants to attend work-focused interviews, which provides advice on going back to work.

If they fail to attend an interview they could risk losing their partner's or joint benefits.

The New Deal for Partners will also be enhanced from April 2004 to provide the same package of support that is currently available to lone parents.

Partners will also be eligible for an improved Job Grant from October 2004.

Andrew Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: "This Budget continues the winning formula to help even more people find work and with it a route to a life off benefits and out of poverty."

Granny nannies

One major barrier for parents returning to work is childcare provision, and the strict rules governing who can qualify for official childcare payments.

The government is now planning to extend the range of childcare that can qualify for financial support, either through tax credits or a new 50 tax exemption to be introduced in April 2005.

It will publish a consultation paper in the summer.

Campaigners are hoping the government will allow payments to be extended to grandparents and other family members.

Findings by Age Concern published in 2003 revealed more than two in three British parents rely on their own parents to provide some childcare.

Bill Kirwan, employment tax director at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, said he would like to see family members included, but said the chances were "slim".

"I think they will stop at family members to be included in this. They will want to avoid people using it for inappropriate means."


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