Far-reaching proposals to force the long-term unemployed to work for their benefits were condemned yesterday by a church agency.
Church Action on Poverty expressed concern that new welfare reforms would increase the exclusion of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people.
The Government plans to force the unemployed to take up community work and pay private-sector firms and voluntary groups to get them back into jobs.
The Green Paper on welfare reform includes the abolition of income support and incapacity benefit. Tough new requirements will be introduced to look for a job or face community work. Private and voluntary organisations will have the right to bid for contracts to get the jobless back to work, while single parents will be expected to seek work when their children reach seven.
In a foreword to the document, Gordon Brown said the Government had inherited a welfare state "weighted heavily towards rewarding and supporting people who were not actively seeking to improve their situation".
But Church Action on Poverty said the reforms would force people who have been unemployed for long periods to join “work for dole” schemes and require everyone – including single parents and many people with long-term illnesses – to seek work if they are to receive benefits.
CAP’s National Coordinator Niall Cooper commented: “We are alarmed that these reforms will perpetuate the harmful stereotypes that portray people living in poverty as work-shy scroungers. CAP’s grassroots research with some of the hardest-to-reach and most excluded people in the UK shows that they need support, not punishment. Many people experiencing long-term unemployment suffer from depression and other mental illnesses.
“CAP wants people in poverty to achieve income security and paid employment, but these reforms stigmatise people unfairly. They have already been described by the Sun newspaper as a ‘blitz on scroungers’. Presenting this image of people on benefits will make things worse for some of the most excluded people in our society.
“If the Government wants to do something about real scroungers, it should target the super-rich – the people who benefit from this country’s workforce and skills, but evade £42 billion of tax each year.”