Blair accuses ministers over 'rising jobless'

UNDER internationally recognised definitions, up to 200,000 teenagers aged 16 and 17 are unemployed in Britain, according to the Labour Party, which yesterday accused ministers of a 'dereliction of duty'.

On the eve of unemployment figures which are expected to show a rise in the number of jobless for the 26th consecutive month, opposition leaders said that, over the last two years, unemployment has risen faster among the young than the rest of the population in every region.

Officially there are no 16 and 17- year-olds out of work because they are all guaranteed places on the Youth Training Scheme. Labour's figures are based on Department of Employment statistics which showed that 140,000 youngsters were out of work two years ago under the definition set out by the UN-sponsored International Labour Organisation.

For the growing number of adults without work, the Employment Action community work programme, which provides little or no training, missed its 30,000 target of placements this spring by 10,000, official figures showed.

Tony Blair, Labour's employment spokesman, said that the number of long-term unemployed had grown three times as fast as the rest of the population. In the South-east, their numbers had doubled in 12 months.

'Without urgent action to turn the tide of unemployment, we are in great danger of creating an entire group of people without work, hope or opportunity,' he said.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Employment, did not concede that the 200,000 figure was accurate, but there was a need to examine how the YT budget was spent and the mechanism of delivery. As far as Employment Action was concerned, it was a question of ensuring the programmes got off the ground.

The Government is to insist that the careers service which advises school-leavers on jobs be put out to tender. An employment Bill to be introduced in the autumn will pave the way for the local authority-controlled service to face competition from employer-led Training and Enterprise Councils and private-sector organisations.

Mrs Shephard envisages that some services could be run by consortia involving local councils, but believes that the present quality of assessment and advice given to school-leavers is inadequate and the system needs a shake-up.

Letters, page 26