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Posted on 14 December 2001 at 13:06 GMT

Tory Cuts But Better Packaging

NEW LABOUR wants an American-style welfare system in this country. In some ways although they are continuing the Tory cuts they are more astute at packaging the attacks than the Tories.

Katrine Williams, Cardiff

New Labour is laying the blame on the individual for not having a job or being unable to work, promoting the principle that everyone has an obligation to help themselves through work wherever possible.

Every new benefit claimant under 60 will have to attend a 'work-focused' interview in the new agency Jobcentre Plus. Their claim will not be looked at until they attend and participate in the interview. Then regularly throughout the claim they will be required to attend 'work-focused' interviews. If they don't attend and participate then their benefit will be cut.

All these interviews will take place in an open plan Jobcentre-style environment. That also raises privacy as an issue for claimants discussing the nature of their illness or disability.

According to government surveys seven out of ten single parents want to work as well as 1.4 million disabled people. The areas with the highest levels of claimants on sickness and disability benefits or lone parent benefits are also areas of high unemployment where manufacturing and industry have been decimated and well-paid jobs are rare or non-existent.

New Labour is concentrating its efforts on increasing in-work benefits and allowing out-of-work benefits to fall behind.

Rather than subsidising low pay with in-work benefits such as Working Family Tax Credit the minimum wage should be raised above the poverty threshold to 7.50 an hour so that people are actually able to escape the poverty trap.

Resources should be put into forcing employers to pay a living wage and bring them to book if they discriminate against single parents, the disabled or throw older workers onto the scrap-heap.

Rather than paying tax credits, resources should be put into public-sector good quality childcare, free to all. Benefits should be straightforward to claim without any compulsion - the real task is to create a system where all those who want to work have a real opportunity to do so without facing a future in poverty, trapped on means tested benefits.

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