LABOUR IN BRIGHTON: Free child care helps lone parents return to work

Welfare reform: A successful Australian scheme is seen as a model
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The Independent Online
The Jet programme - Jobs, Education and Training - was launched more than five years ago, targeted at lone parents with the aim of helping them back into work.

According to Labour's Social Justice Commission, which advocated the idea, it has reached nearly half of Australia's lone parents, significantly raising their levels of training, employment and earnings. "Savings have consistently out-stripped targets and are now close to the overall programme costs," according to the commission. "Indeed, the programme has been so successful that the Australian government is now considering extending it to the registered long-term unemployed."

A key reason for the scheme's success was the help it offers with child care. Lone parents who are training or unemployed receive priority in publicly funded child-care services but the programme can finance temporary child care for its clients if they have trouble finding suitable help.

Under the Social Justice Commission's proposals, a UK Jet programme would provide a comprehensive re-employment service, providing a "one-stop re- employment shop" advising on education and training services, career possibilities, job openings and child-care facilities, as well as help in moving from out-of-work to in-work benefits.

The service should concentrate initially on those out-of-work for more than a year, allowing people newly unemployed to simply sign on for the first 26 weeks - largely because many newly unemployed people find jobs quickly. It should then concentrate on those out of work for more than six months to ensure they do not remain so after a year.

Its role would include sponsoring "micro-entrepreneurs'' who have the talent to move from unemployment to self-employment". According to British Labour sources, the Australian government has saved pounds 60m since introducing the scheme five years ago because it does not have to pay single parents' benefit to women in the scheme.

Although in the long term single parents who are provided with child- care facilities and suitable job opportunities could be required to accept work, there is no question of introducing compulsion at this stage.