Unions angry at welfare reform plans

Public employment services face shake-up in welfare reform bill
Public employment services face shake-up in welfare reform bill

By Alex Stevenson

Opposition is growing from the Labour backbenches towards proposals making claimants work for their benefits contained in the welfare reform bill.

At a lobby in parliament yesterday organised by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union the government faced criticism for pilot schemes which would force some jobseekers to engage for up to six weeks in full-time community-based work experience.

An early day motion by John McDonnell calling on the government to make work-for-your-benefit schemes voluntary has attracted 36 signatures, 25 of which are from the Labour backbenches.

Yesterday's lobby went beyond this issue, however. Those present were also angry at the way in which, despite the collapse of confidence in the banking sector, the government remains attracted to private-sector solutions to welfare reform.

The bill advocates privatising elements of the public employment service and the social fund - both of which have received praise from the Department for Work and Pensions in recent months.

"This bill isn't about reforming welfare, it's about abolishing it," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

"Greed and market obsession have brought our economy to its knees, but rather than learn the lesson the government intends to treat what is left of our welfare state with the same deadly poison."

Speaking before the rally, Mr McDonnell added: "Just when you think New Labour has gone so far to the right that it can go no further, another New Labour minister brings forward a policy even Thatcher could not gain support for in her heyday.

"At today's lobby of parliament, MPs will become very aware of the significance of this bill and that we are not willing to allow the destruction of our welfare services or the demonisation of people out of work."

The government says the welfare reform bill will help "as many people as possible to share in the rewards of work".

The bill would see the abolition of income support, introduces a regime of benefit sanctions for non-attendance at Jobcentres and introduces work-focused interviews for over-60s.


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