Unemployed benefit claimants fit to work could face a shrink of their pensions
They will be stripped of key benefits like free NHS prescriptions after just six months if no effort is being made to find work, he said.
Full Universal Credit could be taken away and claimants will be made to do mandatory work placements if they refuse to get a job after 18 months.
The Chancellor revealed the tough new measures as he announced the biggest benefits shake-up in more than a decade.
The government hopes the changes will slash the number of economically inactive people in the UK which has reached a record high of 2.6 million.
Speaking to the Daily Express at a West London Jobcentre Mr Hunt said there would be “consequences” for those who refuse to get a job if they are able to work.
“We’re saying to people who don’t have a sickness or a disability, but have been out of work for more than a year 18 months, then if you don’t engage with the system for six months, your benefits will stop because that is not fair to taxpayers,” he said.
“And if you have been taking advantage of all the help and support that job centres like here are offering but you still haven’t got a job after 18 months that will require you to work as part of a mandatory work placement, that is a very big change in the social contract, rebalancing things in in favour of the taxpayers who are funding benefits and saying you know there is something that we expect in return if we’re giving out support.”
Legal aid will also be cut off for benefit claimants who are deemed fit to work and do not seek employment as part of the crackdown.
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Digital tools will also be used to “track” attendance at job fairs and interviews under the toughened sanctions regime.
The Chancellor said the measures were necessary to prevent “anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers” from receiving benefits.
The changes are part of the Government’s £2.5 billion back-to-work plan, which it hopes will help up to 1,100,000 people look for and stay in employment.
This includes people with long-term health conditions, disabilities and the long-term unemployed.
Ministers have said they will expand support for people with health conditions to stay in and find work, including increasing the number of people receiving NHS talking therapy by 384,000 over the next five years.
Plans to add another 100,000 people to the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) scheme, which aims to get those with severe mental illness quickly into paid employment and offer continued support to them once in post, are also in the package.
Help will also be offered through Universal Support in England and Wales, the DWP said, by matching 100,000 people per year with existing vacancies and supporting them in their new roles.
The reforms mean that no claimant should reach 18 months on unemployment in receipt of their full benefits if they have not taken “every reasonable step to comply with Jobcentre support”, the department said.
Reform of the “fit note” system – whereby doctors issue records to provide evidence of the advice they have given about people’s fitness to work – will also be explored under the plans.
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“Trailblazer trials” will be used to offer better triage, signposting and support to those who have received a fit note for a prolonged period of time, and to better provide individuals whose health affects their ability to work with easy and rapid access to specialised work, the DWP said.
Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said that while an expansion of certain schemes would be introduced, toughened sanctions would see people attempting to “(take) taxpayers for a ride” losing their benefits.
Mandatory work placement trials will be rolled out, meaning that claimants will be forced to accept a job or undertake work experience to improve their prospects, and those who fail to do so will be hit with “immediate sanction”.
A new “function” will be introduced to the Universal Credit service that enables work coaches to digitally track a claimant’s attendance at interviews and fairs to give them “better evidence” of an individual’s job search activities and leave those who do not attend open to sanctions.
People who are deemed to have disengaged will be targeted, with individuals on an open-ended sanction for more than six months and solely eligible for the Universal Credit standard allowance having their claims closed, the DWP said.
This would end their access to other benefits such as free prescriptions and legal aid.
Mr Hunt said: “We’re serious about growing our economy and that means we must address the rise in people who aren’t looking for work, especially because we know so many of them want to, and with almost a million vacancies in the jobs market the opportunities are there.
“These changes mean there’s help and support for everyone, but for those who refuse it, there are consequences too. Anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers will lose their benefits.”
Mr Stride said: “We are rolling out the next generation of welfare reforms to help more people start, stay and succeed in work.
We know the positive impact work can have, not just on our finances, but our health and wellbeing too.
“So we are expanding voluntary support for people with health conditions and disabilities, including our flagship Universal Support programme.
“But our message is clear: if you are fit, if you refuse to work, if you are taking taxpayers for a ride – we will take your benefits away.”
Newly appointed Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “We know that tailored work and health support initiatives can help break down the kinds of barriers that can make finding and staying in a job more difficult for those with mental health conditions.
“Backing them with further investment means they’re more widely available, enables personalised help and will get thousands back to work by overcoming any issues that may be preventing them from fulfilling their career potential.”
The announcement forms part of wider plans to grow the economy expected in the autumn statement next week.