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Labour backtracks on jobless pledge

MPs warned that Welfare-to-Work choices not open to all. Ngaio Crequer reports.

Government ministers have admitted they cannot meet their Welfare to Work guarantees which are at the heart of Labour's plans for its first term in office. Some jobless young people will be given just one alternative to destitution, not the four that have been been promised.

Under its "new deal" for the young unemployed, the Government has said that 18 to 24-year-olds must take up a job, a six-month placement with the environment task force or in the voluntary sector, or go into full-time education. Otherwise they lose their benefits.

But The TES has learned that education ministers have privately briefed MPs that not all the options will be available in all parts of the country. Young adults will only get a place "on at least one" scheme. Until now it was believed that all four options would be open to everyone.

The move has been condemned by opposition politicians and employment welfare groups who say the lack of choice will critically undermine the scheme.

Angela Browning, Conservative spokesperson on further education, said: "It calls into question whether they thought through all the practicalities of putting this in place."

Helga Pile, senior researcher at the Low Pay Unit, an employment research group, said: "This scheme has the potential to be a lot better than previous ones. But if young people do not have the range of choice and there is compulsion, then we must all be concerned.

"The element of choice is one reason why this scheme could be so much better than the rest."

Paul Convery, director of the Unemployment Unit, another research body, described the news as a "recipe for aggravation".

The Government is working on the assumption that 40 per cent of people will be given jobs, 25 per cent will go into full-time education or training, 25 per cent will join the environmental task force, and 10 per cent will work with a voluntary organisation.

Employment minister Alan Howarth this week described the new deal as "a chance to break out of the vicious circle of 'no job, no home, no home, no job. '" Last week David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, said that: "Guaranteed high- quality provision will be matched by a guarantee of education and training for those in job options, while full-time education and training will be available to those taking up this option for up to 12 months."

Many of the details have still to be worked out. The Government is working on its proposal to relax the 16-hour limit on studying.

The new deal will be funded by a windfall tax. Jeremy Long, chief executive of the Focus Central London training and enterprise council, said: "Though well intentioned, the windfall tax risks raising money only to be thrown into a black hole.

"The programme needs to be about more than just achieving the lowest common denominator of getting employers to take on trainees to reduce short-term unemployment statistics."

The new deal for young people will begin in January in 10 to 15 "pathfinder areas" and will go nationwide in April. A White Paper will be published in the autumn.

News, page 10

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