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Jobless threat: no course, no benefit;News amp; Opinion

THE UNEMPLOYED could lose benefits if they refuse to take up education and training courses.

David Blunkett, Education and Employment Secretary, told an audience at the London School of Economics that, when New Deal 25-plus is expanded, the Government should consider offering cash benefits only to those who take up training to increase their chances of finding and keeping a job.

In his speech - Social Exclusion and the Politics of Opportunity: a midterm progress check - Mr Blunkett said: "Where we seek to extend cash benefits, we should debate the idea of adding some conditions - such as a commitment to training or self-employment."

He said ministers believed new rights should be matched by responsibilities, so that people who refuse training opportunities will be subject to benefit sanctions.

His approach was viewed with caution by Paul Coverey, director of the lobby group The Unemployment Unit: "I'm not sure the sledgehammer approach is the best one. There are already powers to deal with those who deliberately avoid getting work.

"The Government is in danger of losing the confidence of people who could benefit some of the very good schemes within Ne w Deal, if it takes a too heavy-handed approach, " he said.

Mr Blunkett also used the speech to announce the extension of Sure Start, which offers support to vulnerable families with young children aged under four. "Sure Start Plus" will cover primary-aged children and will offer the same range of health services and family support and advice.

Mr Blunkett said: "This will tackle head-on lack of parenting skills, financial and social behaviour management, work on health care and drugs misuse."

His department and the Department of Health will work together with voluntary and community organisations, to provide family-friendly packages, including improved play facilities and health and advice centres for new parents.

He said in the 20 years before Labour came to power, the gap between the haves and the have-nots grew at an unprecedented rate. But this Government has introduced a raft of initiatives, such as family learning programmes, education and health action zones, Excellence in the Cities, the minimum wage, and working family tax credit, to address social exclusion.

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