Gordon Brown's flagship New Deal scheme to help young unemployed people is a "woeful" failure and not adapting to fit the needs of participants or the current labour market, according to former Labour welfare reform minister Frank Field in a report for the think tank Reform.
What he says is, of course, not new. Other reports, such as last month's by The Prince's Trust, have noted that twice as many 16 to 24-year-olds are classified as not in education, employment or training (NEET) as are unemployed.
What is new is that a former Labour minister, albeit one who has been a long-standing critic of the Chancellor, now accepts that this is the case. Noting that, despite £3.5bn in funding, there are now 70,000 more 18 to 24-year-olds out of work than when the New Deal scheme began in 1998, Mr Field says, "The results show that even if the money was available, which it isn't, more of the same won't work and will be a betrayal of young unemployed people." Just last week the National Association of Head Teachers criticised the Government's obsession with targets and testing, saying that schools are producing an "army of the unemployable" with tens of thousands of teenagers quitting education without any qualifications.
Mr Field echoes criticism made by the Conservatives, who have long claimed that many of the young people helped into employment by the New Deal would have found jobs anyway. He also adopts the suggestion made by Conservatives that time limits should be set for recipients of benefits a policy that has proved successful in encouraging people back into work in America. In 1994, a record 5.1 million families were on American welfare. However, as a result of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act introduced by President Clinton in 1996, today just 1.9 million families get cash benefitsand in a third of those only the children qualify for aid. Overall, child poverty has been reduced by over 1.6 million, with unprecedented declines in poverty occurring among children of single mothers and the greatest decrease happening among black children. Whereas in Britain people on benefit frequently discover they will lose out financially if they seek employment, in America people who return to work are the ones who get help with child care, job training, and transportation.
The new American system has not been without its problems, but there is clearly a lot we could learn if we are to transform our own bloated state dependency and answer fundamental questions about how to guarantee the stability and security upon which the economy and well-being depend, such as:
- How can we best help poor families without fostering unintended consequences such as economic dependency and broken families that simply perpetuate rather than end poverty?
- How can we help children in poor families without rewarding the decisions of parents that may have contributed to their children's disadvantaged circumstances?
- How can we redress racial or ethnic inequality without adversely affecting the opportunities of others?