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Full-time benefits to entice learners

Ministers are being urged to allow unemployed people to go into full-time learning without having their state benefits reduced.

The loss of income support and jobseekers' allowance for students over 19 acts as a block against Government plans to increase the number of adults qualified to level 2 (GCSE-equivalent), says the Learning and Skills Development Agency. Its report, The Welfare System and Post-16 Training, recommends there should be "parity of financial support" for young people, "whether they are on training programmes, in education or on welfare benefits".

The report also calls for child benefit to be extended to parents studying part-time and education maintenance allowances to be made available to young people studying part-time.

The report by Deirdre Macleod said: "If we are to stimulate demand for learning among those who have not participated in the past, it would seem sensible to create measures that enable unemployed people to learn full-time."

Reform would require close collaboration between the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Work and Pensions.

Mick Fletcher, the LSDA's research manager, said: "There is tension between the DWP and the DfES. Both departments and the Treasury are working on it.

There is a team at the Treasury working on the mixture between benefits and learner support."

Tom Bewick, a former government policy adviser, supports the principle but says ministers would be concerned about the way it would play in the press.

He agrees the issues highlight a failure of joined-up government, because a low-skilled unemployed person taking a job "flipping burgers", instead of training for a skilled job, is a success for the DWP and a failure for the DfES.

He said: "From a tabloid perspective, if the Government were to grant such an across-the-board policy recommendation, you would have people believing, however wrongly, that you are paying benefit to perpetual students.

"There is a clash between the DWP, which is judged by how many people it gets off welfare, and the DfES, which wants to deal with the level 2 or 3 skills deficit."

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