Single parents will have to seek work to get benefits once their youngest child is seven from 2010, under welfare changes announced by Peter Hain.
Single parents' welfare rules are to be changed in two stages
At the moment single parents do not have to seek work to get benefits until their youngest child is 16.
That age is to fall to 12 from October 2008, and then seven from October 2010, the work and pensions secretary told MPs in the Commons.
Mr Hain said by 2010 "wraparound" child care would be available to parents.
But he said there was a need to "re-ignite the jobs crusade" from when Labour came to power in 1997.
Mr Hain added: "We propose, first and foremost, a renewed partnership with employers to ensure those on welfare applying for jobs have the skills and work attitude employers need, underpinned by a new jobs pledge aimed at finding opportunities for 250,000 people currently on benefit."
Mr Hain said the government would introduce a "more personalised, flexible and responsive" New Deal programme to help welfare claimants into work.
He identified the groups who "remain furthest from the labour market" with "untapped potential".
As well as lone parents, these include long-term claimants, ethnic minority groups, 16 and 17-year-olds not in education, employment or training and inner-city "pockets of poverty and worklessness".
Through new Local Employer Partnerships, Mr Hain said, people on benefits "will be expected to do all they can to help prepare themselves for work".
The partnerships, involving major employers, will offer guaranteed job interviews to people who have been on benefits and are ready to work.
Among the firms to have signed up are Asda, B&Q, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco, Primark, Gala bingo, Transport for London, Wetherspoons, McDonalds, Group 4 Security, Network Rail and Vodafone.
Mr Hain said there would be "clear sanctions" for failing to comply with measures designed to help claimants back to work.
Partners of parents who are job seekers' allowance claimants would have to go for "mandatory work-focused interviews" every six months.
Mr Hain said lone parents would be "expected to make an eventual move into the labour market in return for new and more personalised support".
Children of unemployed lone parents were five times more likely to be in poverty than children of lone parents in full-time jobs.
Mr Hain added: "Because we are serious about tackling child poverty, we intend that this age will be reduced to seven from October 2010, backed up by the local availability of high-quality wrap-around childcare."
Shadow welfare reform minister James Clappison said he welcomed any proposals that encouraged people back to work but said the government "seems to be watering down its proposed reform".
"We still have this huge problem of millions of people who are economically inactive," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.
"We have incapacity benefit with more people claiming it today than claimed in 1997."
Chris Pond, of one-parent families' group Gingerbread, said trying to force people into jobs could be counter-productive.
"With the threat of sanctions, we may see them turning away from the employment services altogether, for fear that all that's going to happen is that they lose their benefits," he said.
Kate Stanley, of left-leaning think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research, said: "By focusing on lone parents of children 12 and over, the government will increase the complexity of the system but is unlikely to help many into work."