New Deal scheme to get lone parents back to work goes nationwide

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The Independent Online
THE Government said yesterday that it had already earmarked almost pounds 500m to help lone parents return to work. Next week's Budget is expected to provide an additional pounds 1bn in help for all low-paid families.

The New Deal for single parents will next month be extended, earlier than first planned, from eight pilot schemes to all those across the country making a new claim for income support. From October, it will apply to all those whose youngest child is over five.

There will be an additional pounds 6m from April and pounds 25m from October, which will eventually pay for about 1,330 more personal advisers on top of the 80 involved in pilot schemes. The expansion will take government spending on this element of its New Deal to pounds 181m, on top of pounds 300m extra for childcare.

Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Services, told a conference in London that the Government was delighted with the success of the pilot schemes, which had seen 1,200 parents move off benefit. "It is inconceivable that we could go back to what we had before," she said.

While there was huge enthusiasm for the new scheme among the advisers attending the conference, childcare was only one of the obstacles mentioned. One concern was the new fear among parents that they would lose their entitlement to the higher single parent benefit if a new job did not work out.

Michelle Charlesworth, an adviser in Cambridge, said: "This has become quite commonplace in the past few weeks." The result was less willingness to think about hopping from one job to another, she said.

Robert Humphrey, a colleague working in Cambridge-shire, said the lack of available jobs and transport outside the city were additional problems. But some women had opted for self-employment or homeworking after their interviews.

The advisers were unanimous that the biggest improvement in their ability to help clients find work was the fact that they could spend more than an hour in an interview. Previously a Benefits Agency or Employment Service interview lasted no more than two or three minutes.

Experts such as Richard Layard, a Labour guru at the London School of Economics, have long emphasised extended interviews and personal attention as an effective way of reducing the number of people claiming benefit.

The personal advisers from the eight pilot schemes said that between one-third and one-half of the women they interviewed were getting job placements. Some involved deals with local employers, such as negotiations with Sainsbury's in north Surrey to try to get shift patterns that suit parents.

A full academic evaluation of the New Deal for lone parents is due to be published in the summer.