Chancellor sees skills as the key to work for long-term unemployed

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Indy Politics

A skills drive targeted at workers without qualifications and the long-term unemployed was announced by the Chancellor.

The double initiative follows an admission by the Government that investment in workforce training is at an historic low with more than one-third of employees lacking any skills, and that it is struggling to get some of the long-term jobless into work.

As a result, the focus of its flagship New Deal scheme will shift from creating jobs to increasing training and skills. Gordon Brown said £190 million would be provided over the next year to allow 90,000 employees to take paid time off to obtain new qualifications. Under the New Deal for Skills, employees will get help with literacy, numeracy and information technology. They will also be given help to receive a National Vocational Qualification.

Every jobseeker's allowance claimant will have a skills assessment and have to attend a skills course. Compulsory courses for people out of work for longer than six months will piloted.

Lone parents with children over 14 will have to attend more interviews to asses their options; help for over-60s wanting to return to work will be extended and benefits claimants hoping to become self employed will receive extra incentives.

Mr Brown said the plans represented "a second chance for adults in or out of work without basic skills to learn, whether through further education, work-based learning, distance learning or trade union learning".

Andrew Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said 2.7 million people were excluded from the labour market, at "huge economic and human cost". He told MPs: "A large number of them want to work and could work if given the right help."

Welcoming the increased investment in skills, Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said: "This is a real agenda for the workplace."

Mr Brown said the Government was "closer than ever" to its goal of full employment. Among measures to achieve this were 100 per cent grants to renovate vacant business premises in areas of high unemployment.