Help for jobseekers offers hope to single mothers and long-term jobless

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People who have been out of work for more than three months will have to sign on every week and extend their job searches to places within 90 minutes of home.

People who have been out of work for more than three months will have to sign on every week and extend their job searches to places within 90 minutes of home.

The Chancellor announced tougher measures to force the unemployed to look for work, including the requirement to fill out more job applications in return for benefit cash.

In 40 high-unemployment areas of Britain, partners of benefit claimants will also be required to attend "work-focused interviews and help to support the search for a job".

Measures to help more lone parents find work were also heralded. Single mother who voluntarily attend employment interviews get an extra £20 a week. They will gain £40 extra a week when they find a job, and the extra cash will top up their wages for a year after that. Jobcentres will have extra money to contact lone parents in cities with a proportionately high number of single mothers.

Housing benefit is also to be reformed to stop it being seen as a disincentive to work. From next April, people who find jobs will no longer have to submit a new claim but will continue to receive the benefit at the out-of-work rate until their benefits are recalculated.

"Often, unemployed men and women say that when they lose housing benefit it is not worthwhile working," Mr Brown said. He also said partners of benefit claimants should attend interviews for jobs. But the New Deal for partners will be "enhanced" from next April, with greater help for unemployed partners of benefit claimants. They will get the same package of support as that available to lone parents, including a training allowance and help with childcare.

The Chancellor said the Government had helped 200,000 more lone parents into work since 1997, with an aim to help find jobs for 70 per cent of lone parent by 2010.

From next April, single mothers on the new deal for lone parents will be offered "childcare taster sessions", a week of childcare to see if they want to take it up before they start work. Groups supporting single parents said the Budget measures would help more lone parents to find and keep a paid job.

"We applaud the childcare taster pilots, which mean lone parents can try out child care before starting work," said Kate Green, director of One-Parent Families. "This is a change we have long campaigned for and should be rolled out nationally." Foster carers will get an extra tax exemption if they receive less than £10,000 a year per residence.

There will be more cash too to help unemployed black and Asian people into work. A new ethnic minorities fund will give jobcentre staff more cash to 'tackle the particular barriers facing those who too often miss out on jobs".

Jobcentres will have greater flexibility to respond to local conditions, with less Whitehall control. They will have a new discretionary fund "to address specific employment barriers affecting local communities" such as long term unemployment in run-down industrial areas.

Successful managers of jobcentres will get cash bonuses, but the Chancellor said he would remove managers of the "worst-performing" job centres. "Some parts of our country still have twice the unemployment of others and often national rules in employment policy do not encourage local initiative and innovation," Mr Brown said. "In place of Whitehall-controlled ring fencing, the Secretary for Work is announcing local discretion to award grants for training, travel to interviews, and direct cash support to bridge the transition to work."

He also announced plans to help flexible working, with tax relief for employers who allow their staff to work at home. From April this year, the tax businesses have had to pay if they helped their employees with their expenses of working at home will be abolished.

Case study

Pregnant single mother

Amie Njie

Hairdresser

Home: One-bedroom council flat in Hackney, London. Originally from Gambia, settled in Britain 10 years ago

Family: Separated, has three children and is seven months pregnant

Ages: Amie is 33, Mazie five, Wade three and Jake 14 months

Income: £600 monthly salary, about £200 from estranged husband, £100 child benefit, £71 rent paid by social services

Savings: None

Company benefits: None

Outgoings: Overdraft of £300 and council debt of £5,000, some of which she is trying to pay with monthly sums

Politics: Votes Labour but has abstained for two years as she felt she was getting no help as a single parent

Hopes from Budget: Anxious to begin saving for children after birth of fourth child. Eager to plan ahead. "I just do not want my children to be in the same position I am in now," she said.

Effect of Budget: Greatest benefit will be a £2,053 improvement in allowances due to children's tax credit.

Reaction: Delighted at incentive for saving for her unborn child and welcomed the extra children's allowance. "This money will let me at least buy basics."

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