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Benefits rules forcing traineeships to be cut back, learning providers warn

Youth unemployment is clearly an issue the government has struggled to get to grips with. New figures out today reveal that, between April and June, number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds actually rose by 15,000 to hit 973,000.

The worrying development comes as one of the Coalition’s flagship policies for tackling youth unemployment, traineeships, has come under fresh scrutiny.

The new qualifications include work experience, basic maths and English tuition and training on how to get a job, and are designed to help learners go on to become apprentices. But the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, which represents hundreds of learning providers who will be delivering traineeships, has claimed that the training programmes could have to be cut to ensure that learners taking them don’t end up losing out on their benefits.

At present, rules set by the Department for Work and Pensions stress that Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who undertake more than 16 hours’ training a week will have their benefits cut.

Of course, as alluring as the prospect of acquiring new skills may be to an unemployed person, the threat of having their allowances cut as a result would act as a massive disincentive. With training providers needing to entice learners in order to balance the books, many are understandably tweaking their traineeship programmes accordingly.

“AELP believes that the cumulative effect of all this will mean that the short-term impact on a learner's welfare benefits may in some cases be more important to the design of a traineeship than its potential effect on their future job prospects,” a spokesman said.

This, AELP reckons, “undermines the principle of delivering a flexible programme based on learner needs”. The association, not surprisingly, is calling for traineeships to be exempt from the 16-hour rule.

A joint response from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Skills Funding Agency suggests there is little sympathy in the corridors of power.

“We believe that existing flexibilities will support benefit claimants to access traineeships, and Jobcentre Plus partnership managers will shortly be discussing with providers and employers how best traineeships can deliver on content while enabling unemployed participants to meet their benefit conditions,” it said.

The statement argues that the benefits system allows for JSA claimants to undertake up to 30 hours a-week work experience for a maximum of eight weeks; the implication is that the 30 hours cap, including up to 16 hours of off-the-job training, should be plenty for delivering a traineeship.

It seems inevitable that providers will find ways of complying with the rules. But what impact this will have on the success of the traineeships programme in preparing young people for the world of work remains to be seen.

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