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George Osborne: my dole plan is very compassionate

By James Tapsfield

Chancellor George Osborne has defended plans to make the long-term jobless "work for the dole", insisting that it is a "very compassionate" approach to people who have been abandoned by previous governments.

Under tough new conditions attached to welfare payments, hundreds of thousands of claimants will be required to carry out community work such as collecting litter, cooking meals for the elderly or cleaning graffiti.

Announcing the US-style Help to Work scheme in his keynote speech to the Tory Party conference in Manchester, Mr Osborne will said the change will end the "something-for-nothing culture".

Claimants who have been out of work for three years and fail to find a job through the Coalition's flagship Work Programme will be required either to do 30 hours a week of community work, report to a job centre daily, or undergo intensive treatment to tackle problems such as illiteracy or mental illness, he will say.

Those who break the rules, for example by failing to turn up for duties without a good reason, could lose their benefit for four weeks.

While Stormont is not obliged to adopt the Government's welfare reforms wholesale, there will be a significant cost if it doesn't. In July, Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury, warned that unless there is implementation of key aspects of the changes here by January the block grant will be "adjusted". That means that if Northern Ireland goes its own way – such as over penalties for benefit recipients in rented accommodation with spare bedrooms – the amount it receives from Westminster will be cut.

The Chancellor rejected critics' claims that the Government is exploiting or punishing the long-term unemployed, insisting that the new schemes will help them find paid employment.

"We are saying there is no option of doing nothing for your benefits, no something for nothing any more. People are going to have to do things to get their dole and that is going to help them into work," he said. "That's the crucial point. This is all activity that is going to help them get ready for the real world of work."

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