College refuseniks may lose benefits

Thousands of long-term unemployed people with reading and writing problems could lose their benefits unless they agree to enter further education, under radical new proposals about to be presented to the Government.

A plan to extend the Welfare to Work programme emerges as a new report from the Basic Skills Agency reveals the damage long-term unemployment has had on already poor numeracy and literacy skills.

Long periods of joblessness cause people to lose often already weak skills, leaving thousands - mostly men - "past the point of employability",the report says.

There is concern that Welfare-to-Work measures which tie benefits to education, training and work placements for many jobless may therefore not go far enough.

The plan to link benefits to better basics is expected to form part of a "carrots-and-sticks" package designed to improve adult literacy and numeracy.

The proposals are expected to be made by a Government taskforce chaired by Sir Claus Moser which is devising a national strategy.

"It is a total shame and disgrace that this rich nation has something in the order of 15 to 20 per cent of adults who have serious difficulties in reading, writing and doing simple calculations," said Sir Claus.

At the Basic Skills Agency annual conference in London this week, Sir Claus promised the group's recommendations, which will be presented to Government in January 1999, will be "radical and new era". "I am not interested in fiddling around making changes on the existing margins," he said.

The task force also wants what it sees the "totally unsatisfactory" FE system reformed, with employers being forced to take greater responsibility for training employees. Sir Claus expressed disgust at the failure of many companies to do so.

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