1. ITV Report

Long-term unemployed: do voluntary work or face benefits cut

Unemployed people gaining work experience at the Employability Trust in Peterlee. Photo: ITV Tyne Tees

The long term unemployed could be asked to work for free or face having their benefits cut under new government rules. The Help to Work scheme is aimed at people who have been jobless for more than two years.

Anyone who refuses the "voluntary work" - for up to six months for 30 hours a week - could face losing a month's worth of benefits. Employers in our region have given the scheme a cautious welcome.

Simply 'signing-on' for benefits will be a thing of the past under the government's new rules. Jobseekers will now be asked to do more to find work.

The government says the new scheme is not intended to punish jobless people. Instead those claiming job seekers allowance will be expected to take the first basic steps to make themselves employable such as creating a CV or taking on voluntary work to help them gain experience.

Although most people at the Employability Trust broadly welcome the measures, there are concerns that they will mean employers expect too much too soon. Bill Marley from the Employability Trust:

But John Dixon, the head of building firm Owen Pugh says that these new measures will help get people ready and willing to work.

Business leaders agree that ensuring that those looking for work are ready to go into a job is critical if the high unemployment numbers in the North East are to be tackled.