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UK says jobless should vie with immigrants for work

The UK, which has accepted about 500,000 workers from Eastern Europe to fill job vacancies, will try to get more long-term British jobless people back to work.

„Economic migration from the EU has only served to highlight the issue,” Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton said in a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research in London today. „If workers from Poland can take advantage of vacancies in our major cities, why can't our own people do so as well?” Hutton today outlined proposals to crack down on what he described as a „can work but won't work” culture in the UK, where about 12% of all people claiming jobless allowances have spent six of the past seven years on benefits. The Welfare Reform Bill currently being considered by lawmakers seeks to reduce the £146 billion (€217.7 billion) a year Britain spends on benefits. It aims to move 1 million of the 2.7 million people receiving incapacity benefits back into work within the next 10 years. The proposals have the support of the Conservative opposition and trade unions. Hutton estimates the changes will save the Treasury between £4 billion and £7 billion.

The government's aim is to raise that labor participation rate to 80% in the coming years, a level unrivaled in other industrial nations. „We know there is a small group of benefits claimants without the major physical or health barriers to work who live in areas where there is no shortage of vacancies, particularly for low-skilled jobs but who nonetheless remain on benefits for long periods of time,” Hutton said. Immigration into the UK has surged since 10 countries including Poland and Hungary joined the European Union in 2004. There were 596,000 vacancies at government job centers in the three months through November, equivalent to 2.3 for every 100 people in work, the Office for National Statistics said December 17. „Clearly the message the Department for Work and Pensions wanted to get to the public was that of a hardcore crackdown,” Ruth Lister, Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University, said at today's speech. Blair was forced to focus on incentives to get people back to work instead of punishing people who remain on benefits after 65 ruling Labour Party lawmakers rebelled when legislation was first introduced in 1999. (Bloomberg)