THE GOVERNMENT'S new basic skills drive will attempt to lift the UK from its position as the country with the third-worst literacy levels in Europe.
Under the scheme all jobseekers will be given an extra pound;10-a-week allowance if they agree to sign up for a basic skills course (TES, February 23). "MOT-style" centres will be set up where adult learners can take national literacy and numeracy tests.
In the UK, 23 per cent of the population has poor literacy skills, compared with 24 per cent in the Republic of Ireland and 44 per cent in Poland.
The country's position on numeracy is harder to compare, says the Basic Skills Agency, but is believed to be just as embarrassing.
"We very much welcome this initiative, especially bearing in mind that we have been campaigning to get governments to put in resources and take this problem more seriously for more than 20 years," said Jaz Bangar, head of the agency's stategy unit.
"But we need to make sure that we reach people who not only lack basic skills but also haven't faced up to the fact that they need help."
An estimated seven million adults have poor literacy or numeracy levels in the UK. While limiting their employability, the Government acknowledges the country's poor record has also left a skills gap which significantly affects the competitiveness of British industry.
Launching the initiative, David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, said: "Those on benefits should realise that improving their skills is the key to finding a good job and increasing their learning potential."
The strategy will be tested in nine pilot areas, expected to be Liverpool, Tyne and Wear, Leeds, Nottinghamshire, Birmingham, Cambridgeshire, the Isle of Thanet, Gloucestershire and east London.
A new curriculum and standardised tests will be introduced.