Housing help 'essential' for skills search

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MEASURES to encourage unemployed people to go to college - widely expected in the Budget - will fail unless they are given help with housing, according to Jeff Rooker, Labour spokesman on further and higher education.

In January, John Major gave a cautious welcome in the Commons to Mr Rooker's plea to ease the restrictions on the unemployed taking up training and education. There is now wide speculation that the Chancellor will today announce the scrapping of the '21-hour rule'. To qualify for benefit, an unemployed person must demonstrate that he or she is available for work and not studying for more than 21 hours a week. Many further education colleges now advertise 21-hour courses.

Removing that rule would help to reduce crime levels among young unemployed people by getting them on to a college course and giving them a sense of direction, Mr Rooker said. But the unemployed were also caught by housing rules.

If they become students they lose entitlement to income support, housing benefit and mortgage help, making it impossible for people with homes or family responsibilities to gain new qualifications. Mr Rooker said in a letter to Mr Major that help could be targeted towards mature students with families to allow them access to housing benefit or mortgage assistance.