Purnell threatens long-term jobless with sanctions

People who refuse to take steps to find work will be punished with sanctions, the government said today.

In his first speech as work and pensions secretary James Purnell said there would be “no free-riding on the welfare state”.

Outlining a range of measures designed to help the long-term unemployed, Mr Purnell warned that people able to work will be obliged to seek employment or training or face sanctions.

“Our goal is a welfare state that is a way out of worklessness and a way up the career ladder, but not a way of life,” he said.

To enable this he promised to “radically” look at social inclusion, including how work can pay, tax credits and lack of opportunity.

The government is focused on combating inactivity, with targets to get one million people off incapacity benefits, 300,000 more single parents in work and one million older workers back in employment.

To facilitate this, Mr Purnell confirmed the government will abolish incapacity benefit in its present form. It will be replaced with an employment and support allowance, which will focus on what jobs people can do.

Mr Purnell explained: “We do not think of people as incapable. We think of them as being perfectly capable, with the right support.

“That’s why incapacity benefit will go, replaced by the employment and support allowance with the emphasis on what a person with a physical or mental health condition can do rather than cannot do.”

All new incapacity benefit claimants, as well as existing claimants under 25, will be subject to review. The government has also pledged to target long-term claimants with mental health problems or alcohol and drug misuse.

Mr Purnell said the new policy would recognise that some people face “greater barriers” to getting into work.

Individual budgets, inspired by the Department of Health’s care budgets, will be introduced so those people who cannot work will have the “dignity” of controlling their support.

The new work and pensions secretary also promised to look at the role of the private, public and voluntary sectors in providing welfare, arguing government should not be ideological about who provides services.