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'We'll abolish youth unemployment'

The next Conservative government will "abolish" youth unemployment and stop young people slipping into a life of dependency when they leave school, David Cameron pledged today.

The Prime Minister outlined his new policies on welfare reform on the BBC One Andrew Marr programme ahead of the opening of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

Under the plans, three million new apprenticeships will be created, funded by slashing the benefits cap by £3,000 to £23,000 a year.

Mr Cameron said: "At heart, I want us to effectively abolish youth unemployment. I want us to end the idea that aged 18 you can leave school, go and leave home, claim unemployment benefit and claim housing benefit.

"We shouldn't be offering that choice to young people; we should be saying, 'you should be earning or learning'."

Mr Cameron said there would be provision for a benefits allowance for up to six months.

He added: "We are not talking about those people with children. This is about single people aged 18 to 21... you can start a life of dependency and that is no life at all, that is no future for your children when you do have them.

"We are saying, save that money, make sure after six months every one of those young people has to be in a job or in training and use the savings to provide three million apprentices."

Defending the reduction in the welfare cap, Mr Cameron said: "What we have found with the welfare cap is it has been a policy which has worked and worked very well.

"People said this would cause chaos, that people would have to move across the country, that it wouldn't work. What has happened is a lot of those families have gone into work, have found a job and it's been a policy which has helped them with their lives.

"All the evidence is the cap is too loose, particularly in some parts of the country, so bringing it down to £23,000 saves money, will mean more families getting into work and what I want to see, the plan we have for Britain, is to spend less on welfare and more on helping people into work."

Chancellor George Osborne detailed the plans in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.

"Our mission is not just to save the pounds here and there, we're trying to change the welfare system so it doesn't trap people in poverty and a culture of dependency. It is a tragedy for them and a waste for the country," he said.

"It is not acceptable for young people under the age of 21 to go straight from school on to benefits and into a home paid for through housing benefit - benefits funded by other people who are working.

"We are saying you will receive an allowance but if you can't find work after six months, you will have to work for the dole. They are difficult decisions, but the right ones."

The Tories believe benefit cuts are popular with voters - although they are likely to be strongly criticised by anti-poverty campaigners.

The party has already tried to reduce the benefits cap in government, but has been blocked by its Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

Mr Osborne said: "Before our reforms, some families were receiving £100,000 a year in housing benefit. How many working people can afford rent of £100,000? It was a gross injustice.

"Since we imposed a cap, large numbers have looked for work."

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said the cut in the benefit cap would increase numbers of children living below the breadline.

"This is likely to increase the headcount of children in poverty in working and non-working families, a move that would surely fail any credible family test," said Ms Garnham.

"It would also bypass the root causes of higher social security spending, which include soaring childcare and housing costs and low pay. Politicians from all parties need to tackle these root problems as a priority rather than ripping away money from families who are struggling every day to pay for absolute basics."

Chris Goulden, head of poverty research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation thinktank, said: "Providing routes to secure, well-paying work is the right approach to reducing poverty. But this should not come at the expense of people in receipt of out-of-work benefits.

"The household benefit cap may be popular but in fact it does little to cut the deficit. The existing cap affects just 40,000 families, cutting their incomes by £93 a week on average.

"If we want to reduce the welfare bill, we need to address the underlying drivers of poverty; the high cost of housing, low pay and barriers to work such as affordable childcare."

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: "We need a welfare system that's fair, but taking away the safety net that stands between some young people and homelessness would be a disaster.

"Some young people simply don't have the option of living with their parents - like those escaping an abusive household or thrown out because of their sexuality. This part of the safety net is often the only thing that stands between these young people and the streets".

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