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'New Deal' help now available nationwide

Cratefuls of alarm clocks, 4,000 employers and a forest of cheap travel passes heralded the full launch of Labour's New Deal programme to get the country's young unemployed back to work.

The centrepiece of the Government's welfare-to-work programme has been extended across the country after trials in 12 areas which ministers said have proved a resounding success.

Funded by pound;3.5 billion from the windfall tax on privatised utilities, the New Deal will offer up to four months of personalised help to the 118,000 18 to 24-year-olds who have been out of work for six months. It will include basic literacy and numeracy and help in job-seeking skills.

That is followed by four options: employment with at least one day a week spent on training; six months with an environmental task force or the voluntary sector to develop employability; or 12 months' full-time training and education.

Employers receive a pound;60-a-week subsidy per person for six months plus a pound;750 training grant - the Government says 4,000 firms have already signed up. Environmental and voluntary workers get benefits plus pound;15.38 per week. Students get benefits plus a pound;200 supplement.

Candidates will be given free alarm clocks to help them get up and will be able to borrow interview clothes. Deals have also been brokered with train companies for half-price travel passes.

But anyone refusing a place will have his or her benefits stopped for two weeks - four weeks after a second refusal. Ministers say there is to be "no fifth option" of staying in bed.

Eleven prisons and young offenders' institutions are also taking part to improve the employability of up to 2,000 prisoners on release.

Some 1,690 of the 16,000 youngsters in the 12 pilot areas have gone onto one of the four options - of those, 70 per cent have found work, almost half of them in non-subsidised jobs.

Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett urged both employers and unemployed to "put aside the British disease of cynicism" and work together to create jobs.

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