Australian success story that caught Blair's eye

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The Independent Online
Rupert Murdoch seems to have been the unwitting channel for some of new Labour's social policy ideas - including its adoption yesterday of the principles behind Jet, Australia's jobs, education and training programme for lone parents.

It was during last year's News Corporation conference at the Pacific resort of Hayman Island, that Labour's leader Tony Blair, a keynote speaker, discussed new directions in work programmes and pension policy with Paul Keating, then Australia's Labor prime minister.

The two spoke the same language. One Nation was a slogan both had adopted. Pragmatism was a shared watch-word in how their parties should evolve their approach to welfare towards one of weaning people away from dependency on the state. Jet caught Mr Blair's eye. Its aim is to encourage single parents who have relied on welfare to enter the workforce.

Nine years ago, a review of welfare policy identified a growing pool of single parents, predominantly women, emerging as one of Australia's biggest underprivileged groups.

Introduced in 1989, Jet provides individual advisers to help sole parents find training courses.The scheme claims a high success rate. More than 53,000 Jet participants have undertaken further education and more than 63,000 have found jobs in areas such as computing, hospitality, office and shop work. Around 60 per cent of Australia's 275,000 lone parents have joined the scheme.

Critics have questioned its cost and the fact that it favours single parents. Some say it does little more than push women into low-paid jobs. But its intensive, personalised help has worked to the point where the Australian Department of Social Security calculated that savings exceeded the scheme's costs.

A study traced 200 women who had been through the scheme and concluded that its use of welfare for "active" ends was working.