Politics: Young choose life as New Deal offers escape from the dole

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The Independent Online
The New Deal will create a "get-up-and-go society", David Blunkett told Labour activists last night. Barrie Clement went to Wales to see how it may work on the ground.

Alun Evans began to "re-evaluate" his life when hunger forced him to pick up a chicken burger off the pavement.

He was in Swansea at the time, or was it Bristol? Or perhaps Manchester? He can't really remember. Alun, 22, had dropped out of his degree course in French, German and Business Studies at the University of Wales in Swansea with alcohol and drug problems, made worse by a mountain of debt.

At first he lived with friends, but then lived on the streets. After months of wandering around western Britain, he went back to Swansea and entered a "foyer" - a place of refuge for the homeless which attempts to rehabilitate them.

Now Alun is offering advice to other people who have hit hard times. He is one of the first participants in the Government's New Deal for jobless 18- to 24-year-olds. He has taken up one of the four options offered to young people who have been unemployed for six months.

He has opted to take up a job with a voluntary organisation - in this case the Citizens Advice Bureaux - where he will also receive training.

The former student is critical of the lack of preparation among bureaucrats in Swansea for their role in piloting the New Deal. No one knows precisely what kind of day- release training he will receive as part of his employment - a stipulation of the programme.

Yet Alun is grateful for the chance and believes that other young people in his position will benefit from it.

Far to the west in Pembroke Dock, Dale Sinclair-Jones, 18, has been whisked off the dole to work as a trainee car mechanic. He left school with a handful of GCSEs and went on to gain qualifications in technology, but his ability to secure employment has been severely undermined by his profound dyslexia. Having endured months of boredom at home while drawing benefit, he entered the "Gateway" to the New Deal which evaluates each young person's needs, his or her attributes and the kind of job they might want.

Dale was taken on by West End Motors, a small firm of car repairers for six months. For that period the company will receive pounds 60 a week. Dale has recently been told that when the subsidy comes to an end the firm will continue to employ him and he now hopes to become a fully trained mechanic.

As part of the Gateway to the programme those with literacy and numeracy difficulties - and those with more serious problems - are given specialist counselling by people of a similar age to themselves. After up to four months participants will be expected to take up one of four options: subsidised employment; full-time training or education; a placement with the Government's Environment Task Force, or a job with a voluntary organisation.

As Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, there is no "fifth" option. Those who refuse to indicate their preference among the options, are compulsorily directed to one of them. If they refuse they can lose up to 40 per cent of their state benefit.