But the demand foundered as the author of the research on which the Tories had based their figures dismantled their argument.
Only 200 people had found jobs as a result of the programme, according to the Conservative social security spokesman, Iain Duncan Smith. He said that with a total cost of pounds 6.1m, that meant pounds 30,000 per job.
The Government's latest figures showed 1,678 of the 22,400 people so far invited to join had found jobs. About half of those had come off benefit because of the scheme, it argued yesterday.
Meanwhile the author of an independent evaluation of the programme's first nine months said the Conservatives' estimate, based on his figures, was "meaningless".
The opposition had simply got it wrong, according to John Hales, of Social and Community Planning Research, which was commissioned by the Government to evaluate the scheme and which produced its interim report last month.
The Tories had taken the 1.4 per cent difference between the number of lone parents coming off benefits in New Deal areas and in six "control areas" and had then taken away all those who did not go straight into work, reducing the figure to 0.8 per cent.
The difference was actually 1.9 per cent and, once all the 30,000 eligible lone parents had been invited, it could be higher, Mr Hales said. He did not argue with the Government's estimate that around 800 people had come off benefit as a result of the scheme.
The Department of Social Security added that the Conservatives had failed to take note of benefit savings when they calculated the cost of the scheme. In fact a cost of pounds 7,600 for each parent who came off benefit would be reduced by a further pounds 2,100 in the first year by the saving, taking it to pounds 5,441.
Mr Hales said it was too early to evaluate the scheme properly. No one knew how long each person would stay in work, how many would find work later as a result of the scheme or how much they would continue to claim in top-up benefits such as Family Credit. But the research also showed parents on the programme were very positive about it.
However, the Social Market Foundation pointed out that those finding jobs were the most employable and it would be more difficult to find people jobs in an economic downturn.Reuse content