The Treasury Secretary responsible for welfare changes wrote a paper stating that universal creditors should be forced to “work for the benefit” on tasks such as cleaning up graffiti or losing face of all their support.
Chris Philp, who as chief secretary of the Treasury is responsible for government spending, made the comments in a 2013 paper for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
This week, Philp declined to say whether benefits would increase in line with inflation, as previously promised, although some ministers are known to be nervous about the idea of further pressure on the poorest.
In his paper, Philp suggested that those who claim universal credit should work for benefits after a certain amount of time if they were employed less than 30 hours a week. He suggested that those who claim disability benefits should be given work that they are physically capable of.
Philp said they could be asked to do community work such as graffiti or park cleanup, charity work, assisted job search or accredited training to supplement their hours to 30 a week. He said a reference to the “work for benefits” scheme would be activated between three months and two years after the first claim, subject to previous national insurance premiums.
“If a person does not meet the employment requirements for the benefit activity, all their universal credit payments should be automatically suspended as long as the person does not work for the benefit,” he wrote at the time. “While the complete suspension of universal credit distribution benefits may seem like an extreme sanction, the evidence from the US suggests that it is necessary for the scheme to be fully effective.”
Work for benefit schemes has been attempted in places such as Australia and the US, but has been politically controversial. The paper was funded by a charity founded by Vote Leave executive, Matthew Elliott.
The Liberals said Philp’s idea was the “usual demonizing nonsense of a Conservative minister who has no idea what life is like for millions of people struggling in this country”.
Wendy Chamberlain, the party’s spokesperson for work and pensions, said: “It is clear that for many in this government the fantasy is to cut pensions and benefits to the bone. The Conservative message of cuts to support those in need is completely out of line with the priorities of the British public. It’s no wonder they’re getting support: their callous and chaotic approach to government is abhorrent to voters across the country.”
Government sources said the Liz Truss administration did not see workfare as policy. However, when the growth plan was published, ministers introduced a new policy that more people claiming benefits would have to spend 35 hours each week looking for a job or they would lose some of their benefits.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng raised the administrative income threshold from nine to 15 hours a week, meaning anyone who works less than those hours will have to search intensively for work or face sanctions.
On Monday, the Parliamentary Committee on Work and Pensions wrote to the government urging the government to honor former Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s commitment to increase benefits in April next year in line with September 2022 CPI inflation.
Philp has been one of the government’s arch defenders of the abolition of the 45p tax rate in recent days, and a leading Tory source said he was one of the architects of the policy. On Monday, he said, “I wouldn’t describe it as my idea, no.”
Philp also told Times Radio that he should be barred from “making decisions” on housing and planning policies because he still had significant stakes in real estate partnerships. However, it is unclear whether he is still involved in discussions on these topics, as his Treasury portfolio covers planning and property policy.
It comes after the Guardian reported that he was faced with questions about potential conflicts related to his business interests.