Budget aftermath: Housing comes before job guidance for young homeless

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THE first signs of dissension from voluntary agencies delivering the Government's New Deal programme emerged yesterday over a plan to provide "mentors" and other extra help to the most disadvantaged young people.

The Centrepoint charity, which provides housing for people at risk, commended the mentoring system, but said the most urgent need was for reform of the benefits system to help provide housing.

The "foyer" movement which provides accommodation and help for the homeless, yesterday said that while the pounds 50m in additional funds was welcome, an insufficient percentage was coming its way.

Carolyn Hayman, chief executive of the Foyers' Federation, said that it should be given full responsibility for helping its own residents to take advantage of New Deal.

Ms Hayman said members of her organisation were best placed to help the people they knew. In some areas, however, foyers were only given about pounds 180 for each individual on New Deal out of an average pounds 400 or more spent on preparing young people for the scheme through the so-called Gateway process.

"For heaven's sake we invented the Gateway. We have been helping to get homeless people into work for years," said Ms Hayman, who added that too much money was channelled by local partnerships through Training and Enterprise Councils.

Part of the extra pounds 50m, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Tuesday's Budget, will be spent on a "mentoring" service for the 18- to 24 year-olds on New Deal. Under the system volunteers from businesses, charities, churches and ethnic minority organisations will act as personal advisers or "buddies" to the most needy participants on the programme.

Under the plan up to 100,000 young people will be offered the support of trained mentors over the life of this Parliament, according to David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

Victor Adebowale, chief executive of Centrepoint, said his organisation already provided residents with mentors where they were needed.

"Homeless young people tell us that it's very difficult to get and maintain full-time work without a place to iron clothes or get a good night's sleep. For many homeless young people a mentoring scheme is not a priority. A safe place to live and help to maintain accommodation is the first step," he said.

Other elements of the extra pounds 50m will help to provide basic skills courses and there will be increased access to specialist help to tackle such problems as alcohol and drug dependency, homelessness and debt.

Employment Service managers report that one of the biggest problems encountered by young people hoping to take jobs is the mountain of debt they have built up.