TEC chiefs attack benefits system

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The social security system acts as a deterrent to training and "rewards passivity", ministers have been told by leaders of the government-sponsored Training and Enterprise Councils.

Stephen Byers, Labour's employment spokesman, said yesterday that he had received a leaked copy of a TEC briefing paper for a meeting between their national council and James Paice, the Employment minister, earlier this month.

The paper said: "Whilst there have been improvements in the performance of programmes such as Training for Work, TECs are aware that there remain a number of barriers to tackling the problems of particularly the long-term unemployed."

It said that those barriers included: "The operation of the benefits system which acts as a disincentive to individuals to undertake training and rewards passivity."

The TEC national council told the minister that there was "insufficient opportunity for meaningful work experience, which unemployed people say they want".

It also claimed there was a lack of effective guidance and advice; no integration of resources; and a "lack of a strategic approach at national and local level which means that resources are dissipated and efforts duplicated."

Presenting an analysis of government training programmes that could have been written by Labour or the Liberal Democrats, the TEC leaders said: "A system of high quality support which links long-term unemployed people with employers and provides opportunities to develop skills on the job is needed."

Among the TECs' concrete proposals was a call for an integration of different budgets, a review of social security rules that inhibited people who wanted to train, and the possible transfer of benefits to help finance a range of training measures for the unemployed.

The council wanted a more effective and innovative use of existing resources, and a "contract" between employers, the Government and the unemployed.

"The contract must be one based on entitlement through a clear and deliverable guarantee of a job with skills, in return for active engagement on the part of the unemployed," the council said.

Mr Byers said yesterday: "This represents a damning indictment of the Government's whole approach to the unemployed.

It is clear that the benefits system presently acts as a disincentive for individuals to undertake training.

"What is needed is a comprehensive strategy under which the benefits system actively encourages the unemployed to take up training opportunities and update their skills."

The TEC paper also carries a warning about the social consequences of doing nothing about the problem, saying: "TECs recognise that however well the economy performs in the years to come, there are likely to be persistent high levels of long-term unemployment for the foreseeable future.

"Associated with this is the risk of the development of an underclass that will be unable to benefit from economic growth and improving employment prospects when they occur."