Joe Murphy and Nicholas Cecil
4 Oct 2011
Unemployed people will be told to take job offers within a 90-minute commute from their homes or risk their benefits being docked, the Evening Standard can reveal.
Ministers want to end a culture where claimants have been allowed to ignore vacancies that are a train or bike ride from home, and to make them copy the example of the millions of workers who journey in and out of London each day.
David Cameron pledged to put strict conditions on welfare support, to force people into making more strenuous efforts to find a job.
In future claimants will have to spend “several hours a day” actively looking for work, or face sanctions. One recent study found that, on average, claimants of jobseeker’s allowance spend only eight minutes hunting for employment each day.
In an interview the Prime Minister said that he, and not Labour leader Ed Miliband, was cracking down on the “something for nothing society”.
“I have been talking about this for years,” he added, accusing Labour of leaving the system in a mess. “The fact that they haven’t tackled all these people who for years have been able to stay on welfare even though they could work – that was a something-for-nothing culture.”
Mr Cameron said people who worked hard should get more support: “You should be able to look back on a life and say, ‘I did the right thing and it was worth it.’
“The tragedy today is too many people who do the right thing think it’s not worth it because actually they get punished for that good behaviour, rather than rewarded.” Government research in 1999 found that jobless claimants spent seven hours a week seeking work. But a study by two Princeton economists reported that the time has fallen to eight minutes a day among British claimants, compared with 41 minutes in America and 27 minutes in France.
New rules will oblige people to look for longer, and their efforts will be monitored more closely, although it is not yet clear how. A new computer system at job centres will make it easier for those who try.
For those who refuse to take up “a reasonable job offer” sanctions will range from losing jobseeker’s allowance for a few weeks to losing it for a maximum of three years.
For the first time, a reasonable offer will specify jobs which take up to an hour and a half to travel to.
The rules are in addition to other measures, such as a trial scheme to make people sign on weekly rather than fortnightly, and compulsory work placements.
In a blizzard of interviews today, Mr Cameron promised a “better time ahead” and acknowledged the problems facing recession-battered Britons.
“We know things are difficult, we know families face difficult times right now, but we have got to show the leadership to make the right decisions and get us through this difficult time and get to a better time ahead.”
Meanwhile, a benefits “revolution” to allocate council homes in favour of workers is spreading across London.
Labour-controlled Southwark council has become the latest town hall to propose pushing people in jobs – or seeking work – higher up the housing waiting lists.
Westminster and Newham have already backed such a scheme, which would push the workshy down the list.
Ministers and Labour leader Ed Miliband have championed using the benefits system to reward people who have found or are looking for jobs.
Ian Wingfield, deputy leader of Southwark and the council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “While Southwark council agrees with the principle of rewarding people who put something back, protecting the most vulnerable who need more support than most will be a continuing statutory duty.
“Encouraging those who endeavour to support themselves and protecting the most vulnerable are not in conflict – both can be achieved.”
The town hall already gives priority to injured former servicemen and women.
Under its latest proposals, workers and those trying to find a job will advance up the housing waiting lists, but other criteria such as medical needs and overcrowded accommodation will be higher priorities.
Housing charities have criticised the reforms, saying they could unfairly penalise people struggling to find work.