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Jobs last longer but underclass remains

SINCE the first New Deal was introduced in Wales in 1998, more than 50,000 long-term unemployed people have found jobs lasting at least 13 weeks.

That's the good news, described by Welsh Office minister Don Touhig as "a milestone in the success of the Government's initiative". But, in the view of experts, an underclass remains excluded.

New Deal, one of Labour's crusades, was introduced at a cost of pound;3 billion in great haste. Howard Williamson, of Cardiff University, who has served on the New Deal advisory group and the Social Exclusion Unit, fears some political momentum has now been lost.

He said: "People in management in New Deal Wales have shown very creative imaginations in making things happen in different contexts. But there has been a failure to reach the most marginal people."

Initially, many personal advisers who were recruited to manage the young unemployed lacked expertise. "Kids were suspicious of them; of the idea of being regarded as cheap labour," he said.

Most experts agree things have progressed from 1998 when FE colleges bore the brunt of rushed implementation and were ill-equipped to deal with many sent to them under New Deal arrangements.

Jane Salisbury, lecturer in education and social policy at Cardiff, has conducted research into provision during the early days of New Deal.

"Because of funding arrangements, people were put into classes very much at the expense of mainstream students," she said. "Personal advisers didn't have any idea of the courses and menus being offered by FE colleges.

Several were out of their depth.

"There was a 16-week Gateway to work out each option people should take, yet people were being presented to college who were illiterate and innumerate. There was a mismatch of courses - you can't go into plumbing if you can't measure."

Proscriptive measures to withdraw young people who failed to turn up for courses were, felt Dr Salisbury, ill-advised, especially when many "lead lives with huge problems".

But things have vastly improved, she said. Personal mentors, the use of administrators to police attendance and the fact that some colleges now run Gateway themselves, allowing people to be more accurately "diagnosed" and slotted into suitable courses, have helped.

Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, said: "Welsh employers who have supported the New Deal should be congratulated. Their commitment has played a significant part."

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