Brown extends Welfare to Work to the over-25s

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The Independent Online
Welfare to Work is to be extended to the over-25s at an extra cost of pounds 250m, Gordon Brown disclosed yesterday. Some sceptics suggested there were not enough unemployed youngsters to fill up the schemes. Fran Abrams, Political Correspondent, looks at the latest move.

A million employers will receive an appeal from the Government this month to take part in its pounds 3.5bn programme designed to help the unemployed off welfare and into work.

Launching pilot schemes for the under-25s in a dozen areas, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said that companies should commit themselves to a national crusade to clear the social divisions caused by unemployment.

Under the "pathfinder" schemes which began yesterday, 18- to 24-year- olds who have been out of work for at least six months will be offered four options to get them into work. They will choose between a job, a six-month spell with the Environment Taskforce, six months' voluntary work and full-time education. All those who opt to work will also spend some time studying.

Employers will be offered pounds 60 per week for six months to contribute to the costs of recruiting and employing each young person. Anyone who fails to find a place will have one allocated to them by the Employment Service, and will have their benefit cut if they do not take it.

The extra pounds 250m for over-25s will fund a development of this New Deal scheme - which focuses primarily on the young jobless - designed to encourage the more mature unemployed back into work. Employers will be offered a pounds 75 subsidy to take on the long-term unemployed, lone parents will be offered help to find work and disabled men and women will also be given opportunities to work.

Although the under-25 scheme, funded by a windfall tax on the privatised utilities, may be amended on the basis of the pilots, 10,000 places are expected to be available by June. However, Mr Brown faced questions yesterday on how the Government could fulfil its promise to get 250,000 long-term unemployed youngsters back to work when only 122,000 had been out of work for more than six months. More were coming up to the six-month mark, he said, and in fact the total numbers of young unemployed were much higher.

"There is a huge problem. There are nearly 400,000 young people who are out of work. We said over the course of a Parliament we would help a quarter of a million young people," he said in an interview on BBC radio.

Launching the scheme in Scotland, he said rights would go hand in hand with responsibilities. There would no longer be an option for young people to stay on benefit. "The old deal, of paying people a few pounds in benefit and then forgetting about them, failed the unemployed and failed Britain. Today begins the long haul towards full employment," he said.

However, David Willetts, the Tory spokesman on employment, said the number of young unemployed had actually halved between the time of Labour's pre- election pledge and the launch of the scheme. "Of course, anything that helps people into work we support. But what we doubt is this programme's imbalance between putting pounds 3.5bn - 90 per cent of the money - towards the young people when already we have great success and they are only putting a relatively small amount to the middle-aged and long-term unemployed, where the problem lies," he said.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, attacked the scheme for its lack of permanence. Any programme funded by a one-off levy could not succeed in the long term, their social security spokesman, David Rendel, said.

"If they rush into nationwide implementation before assessing the project, they may find they have wasted the one-off proceeds of the windfall tax on an expensive flop, leaving the problem of youth unemployment unsolved and unfunded," he said.

Two Labour backbenchers, Lynne Jones and David Hinchliffe, also expressed doubts about the scheme. "If they feel that it is a compulsive scheme, then it might become devalued in their eyes," Ms Jones said.

Mr Hinchliffe warned that the Government needed to be sensitive to individuals' concerns, such as the lack of availability of public transport and the "genuine difficulties of some of the unemployed".