Jobseeker's Allowance claimants will be forced to use the government's new Universal Jobmatch site from early in the new year or face losing their benefits.
Universal Jobmatch, which launched last month, is the government's online service linking employers and jobseekers together, providing searchable job vacancy lists, a facility to upload CVs, automatic alerts for matching jobs near the unemployed user, and search facilities for employers to help them find workers.
The most controversial feature, however, is the ability for jobseekers to share job search information with their Jobcentre Plus advisors, with some claiming they have been pressured to do this since the site's launch even though it is not mandatory.
The site was developed by online job specialist Monster, and will operate across England, Wales and Scotland. 370,000 companies and 690,000 jobseekers have signed up to date, with 425,000 unemployed users giving permission for their Jobcentre advisor to see the jobs they have applied for.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) work services director, Neil Couling, said: "This is the biggest game-changer in the labour market in 27 years. It changes jobseeking from a passive, slow process to one that is dynamic, fast and 24/7."
The site will support the other key change in job search planned by DWP in 2013, the move to mandatory 35 hours of weekly activity for all jobseekers. Currently it requires only that claimants look for jobs three times per week.
In its first month of operation, Universal Jobmatch has managed 160 million job searches, and is expected to support 10,500 jobs and one million job searches each day by August 2013.
Those jobseekers who do not have home computers will be given access in libraries and Jobcentres, although DWP has not released information on how it will support those who have low levels of IT skills to use the system.
Security has already been an issue with the site, with 6,000 jobs and 27 bogus employers removed in the first month.
Monster has had difficulties with online security in the past, suffering hacks and having personal details of its users stolen, including through its USAJobs.gov site which has similarities to Universal Jobmatch.
The site has a dropdown menu which enables jobseekers to provide a reason why they have not applied for a job including, "job does not match my interests; is not in my desired industry; does not match my skills; is below my salary requirements; is too far away from my home; have already applied for the job; does not interest me".
Duncan Smith said: "Jobseekers will be able to turn down jobs, but if the adviser thinks they are pretty specious reasons, he may call you in and say, 'We think you should be applying for these jobs'."
The move to ever higher levels of mandatory activity is unnecessary when the average length of unemployment in Britain is only 3 months. Contrary to the beliefs of some, the vast majority of jobseekers only want to work, and increasing the number and complexity of criteria a claimant has to fulfil to keep their benefits is likely to kill off the kind of go-getting spirit that helps an individual to get work, making most of these new criteria highly counter-productive.
The issue that prevents the vast majority of jobseekers from getting work is not the luxurious benefits lifestyle, laziness, a lack of engagement or fear of work. It is simply that there are too few jobs available due to the wider economic situation. Given this simple fact the DWP's new policies should be pointing away from unemployed people and towards businesses, doing everything possible to encourage growth in the number of available jobs at all levels and in all regions.
Mr Duncan Smith's outlining of a sample conversation an advisor may have with a jobseeker on Universal Jobmatch may strike some as unlikely; the increasing number of benefit sanctions being handed out have come as a result of a toughening of rules for claimants that see many having benefits cut for a first, relatively minor offence.
Universal Jobmatch shows some promise as a tool to improve the targeting of jobs for both employers and unemployed people. It would be hugely harmful if it were to become another tool for sanctioning unemployed people, at a time when too much policy - including the benefit cap, housing benefit cuts, the below-inflation increase in benefits - appears to be directed only at making unemployment untenable.
At a time when there are far fewer jobs than jobseekers this is entirely unwarranted and is likely to see a split between those unemployed who have high-level skills and live in areas with many opportunities and those who don't. The reason why the first group gets work more quickly than the second is not because they want it more, but because they have networks, transferrable skills, and most importantly live where the jobs are being created.
Universal Jobmatch's checkable job application function, working in tandem with 35 hours of mandatory job search each week, is likely to see a huge increase in the number of applications from jobseekers who are not appropriately skilled for a specific role, just to demonstrate to their advisor that they have fulfilled their agreements. For this avowedly pro-business government, the extra burden on companies at this time of economic hardship may provide the catalyst to ease the mandatory criteria for jobseekers.