Out of work parents to be offered cash incentive

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Jobless parents are to be offered £200 handouts in return for improving the health and education of their children.

Following criticism of the Government's failure to hit targets to tackle child poverty, Gordon Brown will today promise action to prevent a "lost generation" of youngsters growing up in Britain.

The Prime Minister will set out plans to adopt an American scheme under which the worst-off households are offered "contracts out of poverty" to boost their quality of life.

The money will be given to families which take up places in children's centres, where youngsters are given medical checks and help with basic education and where parents are given advice on bringing up a family.

The initiative will begin on a trial basis in 10 deprived areas next year with an eventual view to going nationwide. The money could also be offered to parents who find work or begin training or education.

It could be made a condition of the benefit that children behave themselves in the classroom or parents follow medical advice about a youngster, such as tackling obesity.

The British version will not be as prescriptive as the American one, where parents can lose money if they refuse to lose weight or give up smoking.