James Purnell answers your questions on benefits reform

In our latest Yoosk collaboration, readers have been questioning Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell on the Government's proposed benefits reform - aimed at getting more people off benefits and into work.

Your questions ranged from just how the Government planned to reduce the number of workers' sick days, to what support there would be to help parents juggle work and childcare, to how the Government would budget to ensure benefits and pensions covered the ever-increasing cost of living.

Mr Purnell answered all the questions suggested by readers before the deadline date of August 11. To see all the questions - and read and rate Mr Purnell's answers - click on the icon below.

In addition to his answers, Mr Purnell gave us the following statement on the proposed reforms.

The cost of the welfare state has escalated out of all proportion as more people draw benefit for longer. So much so that we now have the unusual situation of a Labour administration about to enforce the most wide-ranging reforms proposed since 1942.

With the national debt at a record high and cumulative direct and indirect taxation stretching people to the limit, the Government had little option but to try to reduce the escalating amounts of money it pays in benefits.

The fact is Britain cannot afford to continue underwriting the living expenses of millions of people who do not work.

So the rights of all claimants will now be assessed and a raft of stringent new rules introduced to get a proportion of them back to work.

The reforms also mean that 2.7 million claiming incapacity benefit will be forced to undergo medical tests to assess their ability to work.

Of course Labour must get the proposals through Parliament, but with the backing of the Conservatives, who say the reforms were their idea anyway, it seems that life for many people may be about to markedly change.

A large proportion of people will hail this as a victory for commonsense. A sign that the hard-pressed taxpayers of the UK have finally been heard. An end to the benefits-for-life culture, which has become a tightening noose around the nation's neck.

The overhaul is necessary and long overdue. Getting tough with benefit cheats is an important step as the country attempts to extricate itself from a challenging economic position.

And weeding out those who would use spurious claims of incapacity to avoid an honest day's work will meet the approval of most.

At the same time, real help must be given to the long-term unemployed to re-educate them and find them work.

This exercise must be robust without becoming a witch-hunt. And ministers must not lose sight of what our welfare state was designed for.

There will be lots of people out there who will remain in desperate need of handouts.

When these reforms reach the statute book, they must not be allowed to slip through the net.