Labour: improve basic skills or lose your benefits

Published on Monday, 20 January 2014 11:35
Written by Daniel Mason

Jobseekers who do not meet basic standards in English, maths and IT should have to take training while they look for work – or risk losing their benefits, Labour said today.

The plans were set out by Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, in a speech hosted by the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research think tank.

Reeves said one in 10 people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance did not have basic English skills, more than one in 10 failed to meet the required standard in maths, and nearly half did not have essential IT knowledge such as using email.

She argued that the "shocking" lack of skills among jobseekers was "holding them back from getting work, and trapping them in a vicious cycle between low paid work and benefits".

"When people who lack these skills do get jobs, they too often find themselves in short term or temporary work, with a swift return t benefits," she said.

Those claimants requiring the training would have to take a Basic Skills Test within weeks of signing on – with Labour estimating that 300,000 people a year could be affected.

"The Tories are now proposing that basic skills training should be mandatory for people who leave their failing work programme without finding a job," Reeves said, in her first major speech as shadow work and pensions secretary.

"But that is three years after people first start claiming benefits. Nearly three years that could have been spent in work if the right requirements and support had been in place at the start of their benefits claim.

"So we will ensure that people's skills needs are assessed and basic skills gaps addressed, from the start of a Jobseeker's Allowance claim, not after months and years of neglect."

She added: "If you need extra training to help you get a job, then it's our responsibility to make sure the training is there – but it is your responsibility to do the training you need to get off Jobseeker's Allowance and into work. If you don't, then there will be sanctions."

Meanwhile Reeves also suggested Labour could increase the rate of Jobseeker's Allowance in the first six weeks of unemployment for those claimants who have lost a job after four or five years in work – thereby "cushioning the immediate financial impact of redundancy".

But a Conservative party spokesman said Labour was "copying" a "superior" government policy that already existed.

"After 13 years of Labour running our education system, many young people looking for work do not have the English and maths skills they need to get a job.

"That's why, starting in some areas at first, anyone aged 18 to 21 signing on without these basic skills will be required to undertake training from day one or lose their benefits."

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