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Britain Plans Welfare Change

February 11, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ To the dismay of some of its own lawmakers, Tony Blair’s Labor government launched a plan Wednesday to force welfare claimants to attend interviews about their search for work _ or face losing their benefits.

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling said the plan was ``harsh but justifiable.″

``There is no unconditional right″ to welfare benefits, he told a news conference. ``People have a right to expect help to get into work, and security if they cannot. In turn they have a responsibility.″

If claimants don’t turn up to interviews with welfare officials, ``you don’t get the benefit,″ he said. ``It’s not an unreasonable requirement.″

Darling promised that single parents and the disabled would not be forced to get a job. Last year, the government launched a campaign to get lone parents back to work by offering them incentives and training, but there were few takers.

Labor lawmaker Frank Field, a former welfare reform official, said compulsory interviews could become a way of ``roughing up″ claimants unless the scheme received adequate resources.

Darling said the plan will cost $128 million, but will cut welfare payments in the long term.

The frequency of interviews would vary greatly depending on circumstances, with disabled people being called in perhaps every three years, he said. Young, able-bodied claimants with no obvious reason for not working would be called in ``much more often.″

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