UK Politics

Strip benefits from claimants lacking skills - Labour

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Media captionShadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said the plan would help people gain skills

Unemployed people who lack basic English, maths and computing skills should be stripped of benefits unless they take up training, Labour says.

Under the plans, all new claimants of Jobseeker's Allowance would have to sit a basic skills test within six weeks.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves also said people who have worked and then lose their jobs could get higher initial rates of JSA.

But the Conservatives accused her of copying their policies on skills.

In a speech to the IPPR think tank in London, Ms Reeves said: "We all know that basic skills are essential in today's jobs market, but the shocking levels of English and maths among too many jobseekers are holding them back from getting work.

"This traps too many jobseekers in a vicious cycle between low paid work and benefits.

"Government plans in this area just aren't enough. They're now asking jobseekers who exit the failed Work Programme to take up literacy and numeracy training, three whole years after those people first make a claim for benefits.

"A Labour government will introduce a basic skills test to assess all new claimants for Jobseeker's Allowance within six weeks of claiming benefits.

"Those who don't have the skills they need for a job will have to take up training alongside their job search or lose their benefits.

"Labour's basic skills test will give the long-term unemployed a better chance of finding a job and will help us to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis."

But a Conservative spokesman said: "Labour are copying a Conservative policy that already exists and that is superior to the one they are proposing.

"After 13 years of Labour running our education system, many young people looking for work do not have the English and Maths skills they need to get a job.

"That's why, starting in some areas at first, anyone aged 18 to 21 signing on without these basic skills will be required to undertake training from day one or lose their benefits."

In her speech, Ms Reeves also addressed the issue of long-term workers being laid off.

They felt "the social security system offers little for them when they need it", she argued, adding that the benefits system had to "better reflect records of contribution".

Ms Reeves promised to look at the IPPR's own policy of looking at offering higher initial rates of contributory JSA to those who have paid in the most.

This could be "done in a cost-neutral way by extending the period people need to be working and paying national insurance to qualify", she said.

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