David Cameron: Young Should 'Earn Or Learn'

David Cameron has announced that under-25s could be banned from claiming benefits in his speech to close the Conservative conference.

The Prime Minister signalled that young people would have to "earn or learn" as he promised to "nag and push and guide" them away from a life on the dole.

The move could affect some 1.09 million so-called Neets - people "not in employment, education or training".

Mr Cameron said: "Today it is still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming housing benefit and opt for a life on benefits. It's time for bold action here."

He said the party would consider as it writes its 2015 election manifesto, "if that option should really exist at all".

He added: "Instead we should give young people a clear, positive choice. Go to school. Go to college. Do an apprenticeship. Get a job.

"But choose the dole? We've got to offer something better than that." 

The finer detail of how benefits would be withdrawn is expected to form part of a review of Britain's youth unemployment initiatives being carried out by cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood.

It is thought that people in care, disabled people and single parents would all be considered for exemptions from the crackdown.

The welfare announcement was the main policy hint in the Prime Minister's keynote address, in which he urged voters to hand him a majority so that the Tories could build a "land of opportunity".

It followed Chancellor George Osborne's pledge that a Conservative government would require the long-term unemployed to undertake community work if they want to continue receiving benefits.

The Prime Minister evoked Winston Churchill as he asked Britain to give the Conservatives the tools to "finish the job" of "clearing up the mess" left by Labour.

He said the economy was starting to turn the corner but warned that anyone who thought the struggle was over is "living in a fantasy land".

In a bid to adopt a more upbeat tone, his party conference speech talked of creating a better Britain and signalled he would slash taxes if he stays in power.

But he also warned of further austerity measures as the Conservatives aim to pay off the deficit and then build up a surplus for the future.

In a 49-minute speech, the Tory leader sought to draw clear dividing lines with Labour, accusing Ed Miliband of adopting a "crazy" anti-business agenda.

He dismissed Mr Miliband's promises to cut the cost of living as "all sticking plaster and quick fixes" - dubbing it "Red Ed and his Blue Peter economy".

Borrowing the slogan Mr Miliband repeated 17 times in his own speech, Mr Cameron declared: "I tell you what, Britain deserves better than that lot."

He insisted profit, wealth creation and enterprise were not "dirty, elitist words" but the driving force behind the recovery.

"It's businesses that get wages in people's pockets, food on their tables, hope for their families and success for our country," he said.

He branded Labour's plan to hike corporate tax rates for large businesses as "just about the most damaging, nonsensical, twisted economic policy you could possibly come up with".

Mr Cameron declared that he is "fighting heart and soul for a majority Conservative government because that is what our country needs".

But he warned Tory ambitions should not be limited to repairing the damage caused by Labour and eliminating the deficit.

"Finishing the job is about more than clearing up the mess we were left," he said. "It means building something better in its place. In place of the casino economy, one where people who work hard can actually get on.

"In place of the welfare society, one where no individual is written off. In place of the broken education system, one that gives every child the chance to rise up and succeed.

"Our economy, our society, welfare, schools, all reformed, all rebuilt - with one aim, one mission in mind: To make this country, at long last and for the first time ever, a land of opportunity for all."

His speech followed a raft of policy announcements aimed at countering Labour's claim that it is the only party that will tackle the rising cost of living.

Tory plans include bringing forward the Help-to-Buy scheme, the prospect of a fuel duty freeze until 2015 and a tax break for some married couples.

Mr Cameron accused Labour of failing Britain's young people and disadvantaged households by giving up and consigning them to a life on benefits.

"If you expect nothing of people, that does nothing for them. Yes, you must help people, but you help people by putting up ladders that they can climb through their own efforts," he said.

"It's this party that is fighting for all those who were written off by Labour. It's this party that's for the many, not the few. Yes - the land of despair was Labour, but the land of hope is Tory."

He also sought to position the Tories as the true defenders of the NHS, hailed the "noble" calling of social work and vowed to drive regeneration in the North of England.

"Make no mistake who's looking forward in British politics," Mr Cameron said. "We'll leave the 1970s-style socialism to others. We are the party of the future."

Activists gave the speech a standing ovation as Mr Cameron, joined by wife Samantha, left the hall to Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow), famously used by Bill Clinton as the soundtrack to his successful campaign for the US presidency in 1992.

Mr Miliband wrote on Twitter: "David Cameron's speech shows he does not know where to start in tackling the cost of living crisis facing Britain's hard-working families.

"The last thing families want is him to 'finish the job' when prices have risen faster than wages and average pay is down by almost £1,500."

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: "Businesses up and down the country will welcome the Prime Minister's recognition that they are the driving force behind the economy, creating jobs and putting money in people’s pockets.

"But they will be looking for him to match the sentiment with action. If tax cuts aren't dirty, let's have a few more of them. If profit isn't elitist, let's allow businesses to keep a little more of it."

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added: "David Cameron has set out a clear vision, but the harder task of making it happen still lies ahead.

"The Government cannot afford to become complacent, and must focus on creating an environment that supports enterprise, and puts economic growth at its heart."