Blair plans to call lone parents to the Jobcentre

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The Independent Online
Lone parents with children of school age will be called to interviews at their local Jobcentre to be urged to find work under plans to be announced today by Tony Blair. The aim of the policy will be to get single parents into jobs and off welfare.

Labour sources said there would be no compulsion. "They will not be summoned," said one leadership source. The aim is to find ways of encouraging more lone parents to take work, by offering a range of help, including after- school clubs for their children.

The lone parents' back-to-work plan, which Mr Blair will unveil in a speech in Amsterdam on Labour's welfare strategy, has been borrowed from Australia, where the Jobs Education and Training (Jet) programme proved successful. The Benefits Agency will be asked to draw up employment and child-care plans for lone parents with children over five, rather than allowing them to settle on state benefits.

The Australian plan saved money, and Labour leaders believe it will avoid becoming a "tax and spending" issue.

Behind Mr Blair's speech is a determination to show to doubting traditional supporters that a Labour government would make a difference, in spite of two-year freeze on public spending promised by Gordon Brown, the shadow chancellor.

Emphasising the break with Labour's past, Mr Blair will reject the left's strategy for raising taxes to increase spending on the welfare state.

He will say that the money has to be well spent. The cost of lone parents has risen to pounds 10bn, an increase of 250 per cent under the Conservatives. Only four out of ten lone parents in Britain are in work, compared to seven out of ten in Sweden and eight out of ten in France.

"They are trapped on benefit because there is a passive welfare state, no national child-care strategy, an inflexible benefits system, lack of education and skills," Mr Blair will say.

"The people who bear the brunt are children. One in three children in poverty are in lone-parent households."

With one-third of children in poverty in lone-parent households, the Labour leader believes social security should do more than send out Giro cheques, and check on the addresses. As part of a wider "welfare to work" package, Mr Blair will commit a Labour government to doing more to help them actively to seek work.

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