Stephen Byers set out a series of measures to ease claimants' efforts to gain skills, but stopped short of any move to do more than "relax" the 16-hour rule - the restriction which comes into force next month to limit the time the unemployed can study each week without forfeiting benefits.
Labour says claimants studying under the rule should not be forced to drop courses to take part in Employment Service programmes such as Training for Work. The party also promises to soften benefit rules which mean trainees on European-funded programmes must always be immediately available for full-time work, thus barring them from full-time training.
A further change set out by Mr Byers, speaking at a careers guidance conference in Edinburgh this week after hitting headlines with a leak on Labour's thinking on trade unions, would see part-time students given an early assessment of their likely benefit entitlement before embarking on a course.
He said many students were forced to leave courses almost immediately because their benefits were cut off pending adjudication.