Long-Term unemployed could be forced to help charities

Voluntary organisations could benefit from government proposals to force long-term unemployed people to carry out full-time community work.

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell unveiled the green paper No One Written Off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility, which proposes that people who are unemployed for more than two years must take part in a "community work" programme to help get back into employment.

The green paper cites a "work for the dole" scheme in Australia as an example of how the scheme could work, in which unemployed people help charities deliver or expand their services.

The move is just one of a raft of proposals which include a radical overhaul of the benefits system for those of working age.

Anyone claiming Jobseekers Allowance for more than 12 months would be referred to a provider, which could come from the voluntary sector, to offer help with getting back to work, the paper says. If they are still unemployed a year later, they face the prospect of enforced community work.

Charities and voluntary organisations would be among organisations given a "right to bid" for funding from the Department for Work and Pensions to develop new proposals that could result in savings to the public purse.

The paper also reaffirms moves by the Government to allow unemployed people to carry out volunteering work without seeing their benefit entitlement affected by expenses payments.

Stephen Bubb, head of chief executives body Acevo, said the paper could herald a new era in third sector service provision.
"This is a huge opportunity for the third sector to vastly increase its scale of operations," he said.

"I predict a massive revolution in how employment and training are provided in this country with third sector organisations growing to meet the challenge of providing much more service."

Bubb likened the proposals to shifts in the social housing sector, where the bulk of services have moved from being provided by the state to independent housing associations. Acevo is playing a key role in the DWP's Third Sector Taskforce, which is examining the role that charities could play in welfare reform (Third Sector Online, 6 June).

"The only issue is how we can ensure that we build our capacity to grow and that the DWP ensures fair commissioning which encourages the third sector to provide client-focused services," added Bubb.

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