Labour tries to trump Tories with benefits crackdown plan

Jobless to take tests after six weeks under Labour, but are both parties just 'fiddling at the margins'?

LAST UPDATED AT 10:47 ON Mon 20 Jan 2014

LABOUR has been warned against entering a "bash-a-scrounger war" with the Tories after pledging to remove unemployment benefits from those who fail basic skills test and refuse training.

The opposition party has revealed plans to make the unemployed sit English, maths and computer skills tests within six weeks of first claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA).

It is aimed at tackling the so-called "Neets", the one million people aged between 16 and 24 who are not in education, employment or training. The test would also apply to newly jobless adults.

Speaking to The Independent, the shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves described it as a "tough love" strategy. Her interviewer, Andrew Grice, says she is "trying to match, or even outflank, the Tories on an issue they regard as a trump election card".

As Reeves prepares to outline the plan in a speech today at the Institute for Public Policy Research in London, a Tory spokesman told the Daily Mail that Labour is "copying" a Conservative policy that "already exists and that is superior".

The Daily Mirror's associate editor Kevin Maguire has warned that "Labour must not get into a bash-a-scrounger war with the Tories".

But Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph says Labour has been "comprehensively outdone by the Tories and Lib Dems on welfare" and needs "a counter-strike to show they aren't a bunch of softies happy to throw buckets of our money at undeserving scroungers".

He points out that the Tories have already launched a "thundering pre-emptive strike", announcing a pledge to ban jobless migrants from claiming housing benefit.

Welfare is an issue that both parties think is a vote-winner and a decisive one for the general election, he says. However, Brogan adds that the changes each side is proposing amount to "fiddling at the margins in monetary terms" and fail to address the big question facing Westminster: "how to reduce the overall social security bill in a way that can make a substantive dent in the deficit". · 

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