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Social needs;Leading Article;Opinion

A SUCCESSION of bold Government policy statements, from the post-16 White Paper to the report from No 10's social exclusion unit, have stressed the need to improve employability.

The CBI this week went a step further, demanding from David Blunkett, who is in charge of employment as well as education, a drive to help people survive in the new "knowledge-driven" economy by becoming more employable.

But the latest report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (page 39) cautions against narrow notions of employability. This six-country study of successful measures to fight exclusion through adult learning stresses the need to invest in "social capital".

Unemployed people are doubly jeopardised, lacking not only jobs but access to clubs, social support networks, civic engagements and associations that most economically active people enjoy. Small-scale, sustained investment in community-based adult learning schemes was found to to bolster such contacts, building self-esteem and cutting the risk of social exclusion.

As the OECD study shows, such initiatives also encourage self-employment and community enterprise - just what the knowledge-driven economy needs. If too much emphasis is given to employers' needs, we could end up with the sort of short-term, make-work programmes that dogged job creation schemes in the 1980s.

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