bread and butter person | 10.06.2002 10:53
maybe one should remember the old pastor niemoller warning: First they came for the communists, but i wasn't a communist......
Blair plans welfare revamp
Blair to announce 'work-first' welfare shakeup
Nicholas Watt, political correspondent
Monday June 10, 2002
Tony Blair will today attempt to brush off a series of rows about spin which culminated in the resignation of the transport secretary, Stephen Byers, when he ventures into the highly contentious area of welfare reform.
Dismissing claims that the government has been blown off course by the rows, the prime minister will announce a big increase in the controversial Job Centre Plus system, where claimants are denied benefit if they refuse offers of work.
Staff at the centres, which combine the work of the old social security offices with job centres, recently staged a lengthy strike over their safety. The unions claimed it was highly irresponsible of management to remove protective windows to emphasise the positive side of seeking work.
But in a speech in London, Mr Blair will make clear that the government is determined to "roll out" the centres, which he will describe as an example of the government's "work-first approach" to benefits. The 56 existing centres are to be extended to a further 50 towns and cities, covering a quarter of the country, by next April.
Leftwing Labour MPs who have a strong track record on rebelling on welfare reform are likely to be alarmed by the move. But the government will hope that Mr Blair's high-profile announcement, on the day that MPs return to Westminster after the jubilee recess, will show that the government is determined to focus on key policy areas after the resignation of Mr Byers.
To illustrate the government's approach, Mr Blair will unveil a scheme designed to help lone parents and disabled people return to work. Such groups do not lose benefits if they refuse to work, but they are called back to the new centres on a much more regular basis for interviews if they remain unemployed.
The new scheme, "Ambition: Energy" is being run with the help of leading energy companies and aims to create 4,500 skilled jobs in the next three years. Big energy companies, including Centrica and the National Grid Group, have made clear to the government that they are particularly keen to hire single parents. They will help to fill 2,000 vacancies for gas central heating engineers, who can earn up to £25,000 a year, and 1,000 vacancies for gas fitters.
Mr Blair will host a reception in Downing Street tonight for four single mothers who have found jobs with British Gas as gas fitters after completing a training scheme at the North East London College, Hackney.
Andrew Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who will accompany the prime minister today, said: "In this government's first term we set down firm foundations for delivering a modern welfare state. Rights have been established, but responsibility, too. Now with the roll-out of the Job Centre Plus, we will introduce a work-first approach to benefits."
The chancellor, Gordon Brown, will underline the government's approach today when he announces a series of measures to improve Britain's productivity, regarded as one of the weakest areas of the economy.
In a speech to the Amicus trade union conference in Blackpool, Mr Brown will say that the main focus of his spending review next month will be to "sweep aside" barriers to increased productivity.
This will mean extra cash from the Treasury in July to improve the recruitment and retention of skilled scientists and engineers; to help schools teach about enterprise; and to improve the transport, hous ing and planning systems.
"Just as we have been winning the battle to increase employment and entrench stability, we must now win the productivity war," the chancellor will say.
The policy announcements follow a weekend "third way" seminar attended by the prime minister, the chancellor and the former US president, Bill Clinton.
Peter Mandelson, the former Northern Ireland secretary who organised the event at Hartwell House near Aylesbury, said the seminar showed that the centre left still dominated western politics.
"Events will challenge the government and the government will be tested by how it deals with them," he said. "But the main thing is that the government remains focused on its priorities."
bread and butter person