Call to bring back 1980s welfare-to-work programme

Call to bring back 1980s welfare-to-work programme
Financial Times, by Nicholas Timmins and Alex Barker


One of the welfare-to-work successes of the 1980s recession – the community programme – needs to be reinvented and updated to cope with the rapid rise in unemployment, the providers of government funded training and skills programmes said yesterday.


Their call came as they warned that the so-called "flexible new deal" – the flagship £1bn-plus programme to get the long-term unemployed back to work – needs "radical revision" with some of its elements simply "placed on the back burner" until the economy improves.


The new deal "was designed for an entirely different economic climate", Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers, said.


Its 470-strong membership includes private, voluntary and not-for-profit training providers, including further education colleges and nine of the big private contractors who are bidding for the flexible new deal.


The FND was designed to move large numbers of the long-term unemployed into work in a strongly growing economy, Mr Hoyle said. But surging unemployment means it stands little chance of doing that.


Instead the government needs to "resurrect a revamped community programme" through which tens of thousands of the unemployed were given real jobs lasting up to a year in the 1980s. They were paid a small amount extra on top of their benefit. In return they undertook environmental work from clearing ditches and waste land to installing security for the elderly, or working for the National Trust and other voluntary sector bodies. One of its beneficiaries was Paddy Ashdown, who went on to become the Liberal Democrat leader.


A modernised community programme would concentrate on "green" investments from simple home insulation to other energy-saving measures, Mr Hoyle said. It should be tied into modern apprenticeships – giving the unemployed work experience but also pump-priming an industry of the future, added the ALP.


The alternative, through the flexible new deal, is "simply paying out an increasing amount of deadweight benefits to an ever more demoralised and growing army of unemployed, while trying to find them non-existent jobs," Mr Hoyle said.


The idea was backed yesterday by Ian Mulheirn, director of the Social Market Foundation. In benign economic conditions, he said, such training and subsidised work trials were seen as costly because they kept people away from mainstream unemployment.


"But they become much more cost-effective in a deteriorating labour market," he said.