Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Sunday, 7 December 2008

Welfare claimants face conditions

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Most people should do something to receive benefits, says James Purnell

Welfare claimants will have to do some form of work or prepare for a job in the future if they want to receive benefits, a minister has warned.

James Purnell, speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr show, said claimants would have to take up a "reasonable job offer" or there would be "sanctions".

Only severely disabled people and single mothers with babies under one would avoid any benefits conditions.

He is to set out his plans in a White Paper published this week.

The work and pensions secretary said the government was adopting a "tough love approach".

Mr Purnell said claimants who refused to take up such offers could stand to lose their benefits - or they would be required to carry out full-time work such as community service, in return for it.

However, he ruled out adopting any time limit to such benefits.

"In America where they tried time-limiting, first of all it wasn't effective and second it punished the most vulnerable in our society.

"It increased child poverty because some people just dropped out of the system, they weren't getting either work or benefits, so I don't think that is the right approach," he said.

Unemployment forecasts

The most controversial aspect of the proposals concerns the more than 2m people on incapacity benefit and hundreds of thousands of non-working mothers, according to an interview with Mr Purnell in the Sunday Times.

Mr Purnell told the paper: "We don't think it is appropriate to make you take work at this stage, but you should be preparing for work."

He added: "I believe very strongly in a system like the Dutch or the Danish or the Swedish, where you have more support but also higher expectations.

"They have maternity and paternity leave and then people are treated in exactly the same way."

In November the business group CBI warned unemployment could peak at close to 2.9m by 2010, up from about 1.8m at present.

The British Chambers of Commerce, and the Standard Chartered Bank have also said that unemployment could reach about 3 million before the recession ends.

However, Mr Purnell would not be drawn on how high UK unemployment could go next year, saying "governments never do that".

He told the BBC that the government's aim was to make the recession as "shallow and short as possible. That reduces the human cost - but also the financial cost".

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