Mystery of disappearing trainees

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The Independent Online
NEARLY one in eight of the young people leaving the government's flagship New Deal scheme have simply disappeared, according to official figures released yesterday.

Some may have gone to prison, others switched to alternative benefits, become pregnant, dropped out or finally acknowledged they had been working in the black economy. Andrew Smith, employment minister, also acknowledged that an unknown number may have become destitute.

Publishing the first government figures since pilots of the programme began in January, Mr Smith pledged to find out where the "disappeared" had ended up.

He conceded that the scheme so far had involved more carrot than stick. Just 35 of the 16,400 participants had been the subject of a "benefit penalty" for falling foul of the system. A further 135 cases have been referred to an independent adjudicator to decide whether the young people concerned should have 40 per cent of their state payments removed.

More than four out of 10 of the 18- to 24-year-olds on the scheme have secured jobs without any subsidy from the taxpayer, the figures revealed.

Just over one in 10 have gone into jobs which carry a pounds 60 a week subvention to the employer from the state.

Since those figures were compiled for 12 "pathfinder" areas between January and March, the scheme has gone nationwide and another 18,000 young people who have been out of work six months or more, have joined the scheme.

Mr Smith said the initial figures should be treated with caution, but there were early indications that the programme was "popular with young people and employers," and that it had enjoyed an encouraging start.

He pointed out that one in six of the young people on the scheme had volunteered to join early before they had been out of work for six months. He said 10,000 employers had signed up to provide subsidised jobs and the initiative had exceeded expectations.

Figures from the pilot stage of the programme showed 12,600 participants were still on the "Gateway" induction scheme which was designed to prepare the young people for one of four options: subsidised employment, full time education or training, a place on the government's environment task force or a job with a voluntary organisation.

The Employment Minister conceded however that the "ultimate test" would be how the programme compared with previous schemes and that would not become clear until the full results were available at the end of the year.

Angela Browning, Employment Spokeswoman, said she had reservations about the figures and said that many of the "hard cases" were still at the Gateway stage and would constitute the real test.

Conservatives would welcome the scheme if it provided real long term jobs for ex-offenders, the disabled and ethnic minorities she said.

The figures released yesterday showed that 2,000 jobs had been created from a programme worth pounds 12m - pounds 6,000 for each job, she said.

Her colleague David Willetts said the statistics seemed to show that young people had done no better under New Deal than they had done before.