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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK

UK Politics

Concern over 'workshy' crackdown

Where people can work, they should work - Gordon Brown

Campaign groups for the low paid have voiced "extreme concern" after Chancellor Gordon Brown signalled a government crackdown on the unemployed.

Mr Brown told The Times newspaper he wanted to extend benefit sanctions, currently used to penalise those who refuse to take up a place in the government's flagship New Deal jobs programme.

But the Child Poverty Action Group said it was "extremely concerned and disappointed" by the chancellor's remarks.

"The benefit regime is already very tough for unemployed claimants and their families - it is already possible for someone to be refused benefit for up to six months for refusing to apply for a job," said director Martin Barnes.

[ image: Brown:
Brown: "We have made work pay"
"We have not yet achieved full employment in this country and poverty for families in paid employment has not been abolished."

The director of the Low Pay Unit, Bharti Patel, also urged ministers not to impose a further crackdown, until the effect of current benefit sanctions had been assessed.

"It is too soon to know whether the New Deal sanctions are working. We need an analysis of the reasons why people don't take part in the New Deal programme."

Work a responsibility

In The Times newspaper, Mr Brown said that the unemployed have a responsibility to find work.

He said: "As a government we have created the opportunities for training and jobs. We have made work pay.

"But this is something for something. People have a responsibility where they can work, to work. I will not relax the toughness of our approach."

'Three refusals and out'

According to the newspaper, the chancellor is planning to extend to everyone penalties now imposed on young people if they refuse to accept a suitable job or training opportunity.

That would mean losing benefit for six months for anybody who turned down three job offers.

Mr Brown said the government could no longer "happily tolerate" people staying at home and claiming unemployment when they were able to work.

He said: "We have kept our side of the bargain by providing opportunities. It is now for young people to look at 1m vacancies and the opportunities that exist and show they have the responsibility to take them up."

Benefit claims at 19-year low

Earlier this week, unemployment fell to a 19-year low.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits fell by 22,300 in August to 1,211,500.

The claimant rate of 4.2% of the working population was the lowest since February 1980.

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