Belfast Telegraph

Reforms 'may mean more unemployed'

An extra 20,000 people could be added to the unemployed total in Northern Ireland because of coalition reforms, it has been claimed.

Many of those forced back into seeking work will have few skills or experience and little prospect of finding a post, Alex Attwood said.

Plans to reassess incapacity benefit claimants means some will be switched to out of work allowances, the Social Development Minister told the Assembly. The region faces welfare cuts of up to £500 million.

"In any case, in the context of the Northern Ireland labour market, it is not very likely that suitable work will be available for a substantial number of claimants who may have limited skills or work experience," he said.

Under Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith`s plans for welfare reform, unemployed workers are to be barred from claiming benefits for up to three years if they repeatedly refuse job offers under the biggest shake-up of the welfare system in 60 years.

He hopes his measures will help cut the number of workless households. He plans to create a universal benefit to replace the complex regime of welfare payments.

Personalised help will be provided for everybody who finds themselves unemployed.

Mr Attwood added: "I support helping people capable of working getting into work.

"But a return to the politics of Thatcher and Tebbit 'out the door and on your bike' for four weeks programme is not the sustained, structured, personalised, long-term approach that is needed."

The minister does not want to threaten the principle of parity which means welfare costs are handled directly from London. He meets Welfare Minister Lord Freud on Monday to lobby for Northern Ireland to be treated as a special case.

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