Labour planning special jobs help for lone parents

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The Independent Online
Labour is developing a jobs, education and training package aimed at getting many more of Britain's 1 million lone parents back into work.

The scheme, a prime candidate to be the centrepiece of a new "welfare to work" package which Labour wants to introduce, is modelled on the Australian JET programme which has produced "amazing results", according to Chris Smith, Labour's social security spokesman.

The package involves appointing an individual adviser to individual lone parents and co-ordinating the work of government departments to provide confidence building techniques, basic numeracy skills, training and education to help lone mothers back to work.

The scheme, which is voluntary, has put 50,000 lone parents back into work and 60,000 into formal education, Mr Smith said in an interview following a fact-finding mission to Australia. The proportion of lone parents with no other income than benefit has fallen from two-thirds to one-third, he said. The average time spent on benefit has fallen and the Australians "are now confident that it pays for itself".

It is now being extended to carers and others who have been out of the workforce for five years or more.

The idea is a candidate "high the list" for adoption, Mr Smith told the Independent. He saidLabour's plans for a "welfare to work" strategy for under-25s, funded by a one-off windfall tax on the utilities were "not going to be the last word on the subject from Labour".

The Australian success stemmed from a "philosophical difference" in the way that they approached welfare, Mr Smith said.

Individual case management of long-term unemployed claimants, advances on benefit where the cash is spent on improving the individual's chance of finding a job, and experiments in assessing benefit on an individual rather than couple basis - so that a partner is not effectively forced to give up work when the main breadwinner loses a job - were all ideas adopted in Australia which Mr Smith said he was examining. The problem of couples being forced into dependency when one loses work was "a serious one in the British system", Mr Smith said.

It had produced a growing gap between two income and no-income households, to the point where one in five below retirement age now relied entirely on benefit.