Election '97: Brown to head 'crusade' for jobs

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Labour plans to set up a Cabinet-level taskforce to push through its ambitious pounds 3bn plan to get young people back to work. In preparation for government, it is putting the finishing touches to a move to instil the "work ethic" in a generation often ignorant of it.

The Welfare to Work Committee would be chaired by Gordon Brown as Chancellor and a new Minister for Employment created with a seat in the Cabinet. Planning for "a national crusade against unemployment, poverty and social division" is at an advanced stage, say aides to the Shadow Chancellor.

Yesterday Labour stepped up its offensive by naming 105 companies that back its policy of a national minimum wage, aiming to counter Conservative claims that a minimum wage would destroy jobs.

Plans to bring in Labour's proposed windfall tax on the privatised utilities to pay for the jobs and training initiative would be submitted as soon as Mr Brown took over at the Treasury. The new Employment Minister would be part of David Blunkett's Education and Employment Department but, in a departure from previous practice, he or she would be a full member of the Cabinet.

The Welfare to Work Committee would comprise Treasury, Employment and Social Security ministers, and a high-profile businessman overseeing the day-to-day operation of finding employers, placing young people in education or training, or in work in the voluntary sector or Labour's environmental task force.

Young people or those who had been out of work for a long time who refused work or training would lose 40 per cent of their unemployment benefit.