UK government tightens welfare rules for unemployed

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LONDON, Jan 27 (Reuters) – Britain’s government said on Thursday it would tighten rules for some people claiming unemployment benefits, at a time when many sectors are reporting record labour shortages.

Currently job seekers receiving state benefits can spend up to three months looking purely for work similar to their previous job, but this will soon be reduced to four weeks, the Department for Work and Pensions said.

After four weeks, job seekers will be required to apply for and accept offers for all types of work – including lower-paid, less-skilled roles than their last job – or face welfare payment cuts.

“Our new approach will help claimants get quickly back into the world of work while helping ensure employers get the people they and the economy needs,” Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said in a statement.

The opposition Labour Party criticised the plans, saying people should be supported into jobs which matched their skills, as these were more likely to be secure in the long run.

British employers had 1.247 million job vacancies in the three months to December, almost 60% more than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The headline unemployment rate of 4.1% is almost down to its pre-COVID level, although the overall employment rate is still some way below pre-COVID levels as older workers dropped out of the labour market.

The government said it hoped the new measure and other steps would reduce the number of benefit claimants by 500,000 by the end of June. Almost 1.9 million people in December received a welfare benefit which had a job search requirement.

A single unemployed adult aged 25 or over receives a monthly benefit payment of 325 pounds ($439). The OECD ranks Britain’s standard unemployment benefits as among the least generous across advanced economies, although this calculation does not include payments towards housing costs.

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