New welfare rules will strip unemployed claimants of state benefits for up to three years if they refuse the opportunity to work, it was announced today.
Unemployed people who turn down offers of work, refuse to apply for appropriate jobs or fail to turn up for mandatory community work will lose their £65-a-week Job Seekers Allowance, said Prime Minister David Cameron.
The measure, included in the Welfare Reform White Paper being published today by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, is intended to be in place before 2013 in an effort to cut the bill for JSA, which is claimed by 1.5 million people.
The allowance will be removed for three months on a first offence, six months the second time and three years on the third breach of the new rules. JobCentre advisers are expected to have the power to strip errant jobseekers of JSA and there will be no right of appeal, said officials.
Mr Cameron said the changes would create "clear responsibilities and clear incentives for those on benefit to take steps towards getting back to work wherever it's feasible for them to do so".
Job advisers already have the power to remove JSA for up to 26 weeks from people who fail to take up offers of employment, but the sanction is very rarely applied.
Government sources said it would be the presumption that the benefit will be forfeited in cases of breach in all but exceptional cases, where compelling reasons are provided for failing to take up work.
Those losing income from JSA will be able to apply for a hardship allowance, worth 60-70% of the benefit (around £39-£44 a week), but this is not expected to be available in many cases.
Mr Cameron, attending a G20 summit in Seoul, said: "We're doing more than any other Government to help people get back to work. That's our part of the deal. Now those on benefit need to do their bit.
"If people are asked to do community work, they'll be expected to turn up.
"If people are asked to apply for a job by an employment adviser, they'll be expected to put themselves forward.
"If people can work and they are offered work, they'll be expected to take it.
"This is the deal. Break that deal and they'll lose their unemployment benefit. Break it three times and they'll lose it for three years.
"The message is clear. If you can work, then a life of benefits will no longer be an option."
Today's announcement follows the unveiling by Mr Duncan Smith last week of new mandatory community work placements, in which claimants will be required to do 30 hours a week of work such as litter-picking or cleaning graffiti for four weeks.
That initiative sparked howls of protest, with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams warning it could drive vulnerable people into a "downward spiral of despair".
The new sanctions are likely to trigger further concern from unions and charities.
Today's White Paper will also include provisions to simplify the complex system of out-of-work benefits into a single Universal Credit, which Mr Cameron said would ensure that work pays for everyone.
"It simply has to pay to work," he said.
"You can't have a situation where if someone gets out of bed and goes a hard day's work, they end up worse off.
"That's not fair. And it sends entirely the wrong message - both to those on benefits and to the hard-working majority who are being asked to support them.
"Right from the outset, I've said we're going to get to grips with the indefensible anomalies in the current benefits system and create a much simpler, fairer approach."