THE UK Government has announced a crackdown on benefit claimants who are deemed fit to work and do not seek employment.

Free prescriptions and legal aid will be cut off, and digital tools will be used to “track” attendance at job fairs and interviews under the toughened sanctions regime, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced.

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (below) said the measures were necessary to prevent “anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers” from receiving benefits.

The National: Jeremy Hunt

The changes are part of the Government’s £2.5 billion back-to-work plan, which it hopes will help up to 1.1 million people look for and stay in employment.

This includes people with long-term health conditions, disabilities and the long-term unemployed.

The DWP said 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 it plans to introduce mandatory work placement trials, 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”.

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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 also end their access to other benefits such as free prescriptions and legal aid.

Hunt continued: “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.”