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Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2006, 13:07 GMT
Is Hutton jobless plan different?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

In 1997, Tony Blair pledged one of the core policies of his welfare reforms would be to ensure "those who can work should".

Job advert
Mr Hutton believes jobs are available
In 2001 the prime minister declared an obligation to work, instead of the right to benefits, would be "the defining theme" of his second term in office.

Now, with just months of his premiership left to run, his welfare secretary John Hutton has proclaimed it is time to tackle the "can work, won't work" culture.

Anyone who deliberately avoids taking a job may expect their benefit to be cut or stopped altogether, he said.

He stressed that the work opportunities are there to be had, but are often being left to be taken by East European immigrants.

Over the past decade, there have been highly controversial policies aimed at "encouraging" the jobless back into work, with single parents and incapacity benefit claimants being targeted in particular.

They have almost always been greeted by large backbench Labour rebellions amid fears the government was trying to force people back into work by threatening to cut their benefits.

Work shy

Ministers, however, regularly insisted their plans were nothing of the sort.

They were about offering people the help they were crying out for to enable them to take jobs.

Mothers with pushchairs
Single parents have been targeted before
But there was always the promise that shirkers and the work shy would be rooted out.

By Mr Hutton's own admission, that has not happened to the extent hoped for, and he is now threatening to get tough with those he describes as the hardcore of "can work but won't work" claimants.

According to government figures, around 950,000 people were claiming Jobseeker's Allowance last month, with 100,000 of them believed to have spent six of the past seven years on benefits.

But, with Mr Blair's reign coming to an end, many are already asking whether this latest pledge will ever amount to anything - Mr Hutton is one of the Cabinet's staunches Blairites and it is far from certain he will be left in charge of welfare if Gordon Brown takes over.


In any case, the opposition parties are dismissing the latest proposals, claiming they have heard it all before.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Philip Hammond said: "After 10 years to make good on Labour's promise of welfare reform, this 11th hour assault has more to do with Labour's internal feuding than with a genuine attempt to help people back to work."

And the Liberal Democrat David Laws declared: "Labour has been in power for almost 10 years, so it seems extraordinary that in the twilight months of Blairism, John Hutton should be calling for 'a review' to sort out such an important problem.

"If the usual Blairite gimmicks haven't worked since 1997, they're not likely to work now."

Mr Hutton will now have to answer those critics and persuade his own backbenchers this is not an attack on the most vulnerable.

Hardcore jobless face benefit cut
18 Dec 06 |  UK Politics
Unemployment falls to 1.7 million
13 Dec 06 |  Business

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