The UK announced "tougher sanctions" for people receiving welfare payments but not looking for work as part of a "Back to Work Plan", with a budget only days away. "We're serious about growing our economy and that means we must address the rise in people who aren't looking for work" despite one million vacancies in the job market, said finance minister Jeremy Hunt.
Mel Stride, also a minister in the Treasury, summarised: "Our message is clear: if you are fit, if you refuse to work, if you are taking taxpayers for a ride -- we will take your benefits away." The plan includes "£2.5 billion of investment over the next five years", mainly targeted at helping those who have health conditions back into the workplace. But it also could see benefits withdrawn from recipients who fail to comply with job search requirements, said the government.
The announcement follows the budget in March, when Hunt tightened job-seeking requirements for benefit recipients in the face of severe labour shortages and increased subsidised nursery hours for children aged over nine months to help parents back into work.
The country's unemployment rate has held steady at 4.2 percent over the three months to the end of September, according to the latest figures available. But the number of job vacancies, while falling slowly, remains historically high at around one million.
Thursday's announcements, which aim to get more than a million people back into work, also include the use of "digital tools" to monitor the attendance of job-seekers at fairs and interviews.
"No claimant should reach 18 months of unemployment in receipt of their full benefits if they have not taken every reasonable step to comply with Jobcentre support," said a statement. The announcements are part of "wider plans to grow the economy", which Hunt will present next week.