Single parents given new deal

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The first step towards getting half a million lone parents back to work was taken yesterday as the Government launched its first New Deal pilot schemes.

Computer systems as well as personal advisers are at the centre of the scheme which will ensure that all single parents will be invited to JobCentres for advice on getting work or further training once their children reach school age.

The first phase of the scheme began yesterday in Cambridge, Sheffield, Cardiff, Warwick, Warrington and Halesowen. Further schemes will be launched today in Hamilton and next month in Croydon. More than 40,000 lone parents and 80 personal advisers will be involved.

Each adviser will help parents seek out job and training opportunities in their area, together with childcare facilities, and they will be shown how much better off they would be financially with a job.

A series of computer points will be located in JobCentres and other public places such as libraries which the parents can operate themselves simply by touching the screens to discover what opportunities might be available locally.

Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, said at the Cambridge launch that there were presently more than 1million lone parents bringing up nearly 2 million children on income support. "Two million children being brought up on the breadline is simply not acceptable," she said.

But Alan Howarth, the education and employment minister, said that there would be no compulsion to take up work. "There will be many single parents for whom it is not appropriate at the moment to go to work. We are not in any way seeking to pressurise people into doing what isn't right for them or their children," he said.