The Budget: Single parents targeted as New Deal is extended

Author: By Nigel Morris, Political Correspondent

A major extension of the New Deal programme will help get the hardcore of long-term jobless back to work by giving them extra job-winning skills.

But the attempt to push down unemployment totals will be backed by tougher penalties against people – including single parents – who either turn down jobs or training, or fail to demonstrate that they are seriously looking for work.

The Chancellor said there would be a new “employment first” principle, telling MPs: “In the past the unemployed signed on for benefit before they looked for work.

“Now, before receiving benefit the ’employment first’ principle means they will first have to be interviewed about job opportunities and the steps they are ready to take to get back into work.”

Under the New Deal, a centrepiece of Labour’s election-winning 1997 manifesto, people under the age of 25 who had been unemployed for six months or more face losing benefit if they reject jobs, training or full-time education.

Mr Brown said the scheme had cut numbers of young people on dole queues by 270,000 since Labour came to power – and youth unemployment was now at its lowest since 1975.

The Chancellor said a new £200m-a-year scheme, built around “more intensive coaching and stronger sanctions for the over-25s”, would now concentrate on finding work for the hardcore unemployed.

There are likely to be compulsory checks on the basic skills, employability, literacy and numeracy of the long-term unemployed, with each person receiving a development plan to ensure they get training tailored to their individual needs.

A separate £100m initiative will attempt to reduce unemployment among single parents by allowing them to become self-employed as well as opting for jobs and training. Help with childcare will be offered in all cases.

But the Chancellor announced: “In return the Government has decided that, from next year, all lone parents on income support, including parents with children under five, will be required to undertake interviews about work choices at regular intervals.”

A £40m scheme will target help – including “mentoring and training” – towards the estimated 30,000 former drug addicts living on benefits. But Mr Brown said: “To get on the programme they will have to get off drugs. We will fulfil our responsibility to help them; they must fulfil their responsibility to become drug-free.”

He said new initiatives would be announced next week to help the unemployed learn new skills and improve workplace training. Schemes to fill vacancies in the information technology industry, construction, hotels, retail and financial services will also be unveiled

The number of Modern Apprenticeships – vocational training set up mostly for young people – will increase from the present 220,000 to 320,000.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment,said the new measures for helping the unemployed were the “next step in supporting the Government’s welfare-to-work success story”. He added: “We have started to turn the welfare state into the work state.”

John Monks, the TUC general secretary, said: “The Government deserves congrat-ulations for exceeding the New Deal target. The announcement that there is to be a phase two is good news for unemployed people everywhere.”

The jobs measures come with the jobless rate at just above one million – the lowest since 1975 – and ministers optimistic that the headline figure will fall below the psychologically important mark before the election. Mr Brown told the Commons that 1,100,000 more people were in work than four years ago, that more women were in the workforce than at any time and there were a million vacancies across the UK.

But he said: “There is still more to do. The demands of the new economy mean we’re likely to need two and a half million more employees of degree or higher degree level and overall more workers requiring higher skills and qualifications to fill new and higher-paying jobs.”

“At the heart of our approach is that Government must meet its responsibilities, providing incentives for work and training. Companies must meet their responsibilities to upgrade skills in the workplace. And people must take up their responsibilities to work and prepare for the jobs of the future.”

The Chancellor also hailed the Working Families Tax Credit and the 10p income tax rate for helping to reward work.

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