POLITICS
Rishi Sunak cracks the whip to get benefits claimants into work

Rishi Sunak is backing a drive to get more people on benefits into work, as data show more than one in five people in some parts of the country are claiming support.

The Chancellor and Thérèse Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, want to increase the number of people on Universal Credit who have meetings with a work coach.

Analysis of government data showed that in some parts of the UK, more than one in five people who are of working age are claiming out of work benefits.

In Blackpool, the figure is 25.5 per cent. In Middlesbrough, it is 23 per cent and in Hartlepool it is 22 per cent. In Liverpool and Birmingham, the figure is 20 per cent.

There has also been a marked increase since the Covid-19 pandemic struck two years ago in the number of people citing long-term sickness as the reason they are not working.

Under current benefit rules, anyone on Universal Credit can stop getting help from a taxpayer-funded “work coach” when they are employed for nine hours a week.

But Ms Coffey wants to increase that cut-off point to at least 12 hours, or possibly more.

She and Mr Sunak are leading the push within Cabinet to change the rules.

Rishi Sunak and Therese Coffey, pictured with Boris Johnson at a Cabinet meeting, are hoping to persuade fellow ministers to increase support for benefit claimants - Oli Scarff/Getty Images© Provided by The Telegraph Rishi Sunak and Therese Coffey, pictured with Boris Johnson at a Cabinet meeting, are hoping to persuade fellow ministers to increase support for benefit claimants – Oli Scarff/Getty Images

It is hoped the reform would help people who have moved into employment but are still claiming Universal Credit to get more work.

A so-called “work coach” holds regular meetings with claimants, often every other week, to give them support and advice for finding more work.

Claimants are also given access to a messaging service with coaches, allowing them to seek quick written advice about job interviews and other stages of the recruitment process.

Discussions between The Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions are ongoing, with no imminent policy announcements expected.

Even though there would be a cost to making work coaches available to a larger number of people, figures close to the discussions do not believe it would involve vast amounts of extra taxpayer money.

‘Plan for growth’

The push comes as Downing Street plans to put attempts to ease the cost of living and boost economic growth at the forefront in the coming weeks.

Boris Johnson and Mr Sunak are expected to make a joint speech later this month touting a “plan for growth”, after the Bank of England forecasted recession could hit later this year.

Allies of the Prime Minister believe that focussing on historically low unemployment figures and measures to increase growth can help to see off a growing Tory rebellion.

But there has been criticism of how the official unemployment figure is reached, since scores of people who are on benefits and say they are not seeking work are not included in the statistics.

Earlier this week, it emerged that Steve Heapy, the boss of low-cost airline Jet2, criticised the work ethic of some Britons during discussions with the Government about staff shortages.

Mr Heapy was said in a behind closed doors meeting to have complained that “lazy Brits who live off benefits and sit on their arses” were exacerbating the recent problems seen at airports.

The comment was first reported in The Sun. A source familiar with the meeting confirmed to the Daily Telegraph that the comments were said.

A Jet2 spokesman told The Sun that Mr Heapy had expressed his frustrations with the employment market but “other rumours being circulated are categorically not the views of him or our company”.

Cost of living is voters’ biggest concern

Political advisers have told Mr Johnson, the Cabinet and Tory MPs seeking re-election that the cost of living is expected to be the biggest issue of voters’ minds for the coming years.

The Prime Minister is pushing his ministers to be quicker in coming up with policy proposals that do not entail tax or spending changes to help with the financial squeeze.

Mr Johnson is said by one ally to have decided “the pain is worth the gain” when he backed Mr Sunak’s windfall tax on oil and gas companies to help fund a £21 billion spending package.

Much of the financial support – including £400 off the energy bills of every household in the UK that uses electricity – will only kick in this autumn, when the energy price cap rises.

Further tax and spend changes are not expected until the autumn Budget, although Treasury sources have been careful not to rule anything out given the volatility of the economic situation.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

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