|Seventh Report: Pathways into Work for Lone Parents (HC 646)
Published: 28 July 1998
|Government Reply: Seventh Special Report,
Session 1997-98 (HC 1122)
Published: 27 October
Further Government Action
The key facts on which our considerations are based are:
· women, particularly women with dependent children aged under five, are increasingly active in the UK economy;
· the majority of lone parents and mothers with partners who do not work are economically inactive, and both groups appear to be largely unaffected by the trend towards increased economic activity amongst women;
· women make up the large majority of the part-time workforce;
· 78 per cent of lone parents would like to work (if they do not do so already) or would like to work more than they actually do;
· most women working part-time do not want to work full-time, even if their youngest dependent child is above compulsory school age;
· the proportion of lone parents in employment in the UK has fallen to 41 per cent;
· 40 per cent of lone mothers aged 20 to 39 have no educational qualifications; and
· 79 per cent of lone mothers with degrees are in employment whereas only 21 per cent of lone mothers with no educational qualifications are in employment (paragraph 20).
Recommendations 1 and 2 provide a summary of the key facts and problems for women on which the Committee's considerations are based. We agree that they are the key facts that should inform future development of policy. However, the Committee may wish to note that the finding that 78 per cent of lone parents would like to work or would like to work more than they actually do is drawn from a survey which achieved a relatively low response rate. A better indication of lone parents' inclination to work comes from the Policy Studies Institute's Programme of Research into Low Income Families, undertaken on behalf of the DSS. This shows that 9 out of 10 lone parents either work, want to work now or would be willing to work in the future (Lone Parents on the Margins of Work, DSS Research Report No 80, TSO, 1998) This of course makes an even stronger case for the Government helping lone parents into work. We also believe that the rate of employment of lone mothers aged 20 to 29 has been more or less constant at 41 per cent since 1984.
Recommendations 1&2 provides a summary of a summary of key facts and problems. These facts continue to inform our policy development.
The problems for womenand lone motherswho wish to move into paid employment include the following:
· low levels of educational or vocational attainment, particularly in areas traditionally seen as male preserves;
· difficulties in gaining access to opportunities for post-compulsory education, training and employment;
· the cost and availability of good quality childcare;
· difficulties in finding family-friendly employment;
· financial risks and disincentives, including low rates of pay, a perception that entry into work will not result in financial gain and fear of the risk of disruptions and even decreases in income;
· social isolation and lack of confidence;
· poor health; and
· problems in travelling to areas where work is available.
We believe that the New Deal for Lone Parents has a valuable role in helping to make lone parents aware of the full range of existing training provision, some of which is specially designed for lone parents.
We agree that the NDLP has a valuable role in alerting lone parents to the full range of existing training provision. Personal Advisers are encouraged to keep their knowledge of existing training provision up to date and to maintain effective contacts with local providers. They are well placed to advise lone parents on the range of training opportunities available to them as well as advising on other barriers to employment such as access to childcare and in-work benefits.
New Deal for Lone Parents has continued to play a valuable role in making lone parents aware of full range of existing provisions. Up to August 2000, 66,281 lone parents have found employment and 18,194 have taken up education or training opportunities through New Deal for Lone Parents (These figures includes all earlier phases July 1997-August 2000).
Some TECs provide little or no support for lone parents who wish to participate in Governmentfunded training programmes. We believe that the low level of support by TECs in some areas is highly unsatisfactory. We recommend that all TECs be required to specify in their strategic plans the levels of financial support which they offer to cover the costs of child care, travel, costs of equipment, and examination fees. All participants in Governmentfunded training programmes should be eligible for support of this kind.
As the Committee may know, Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) are required to provide adequate support to local people to enable them to take up and continue training under both work based training for young people and work based training for adults. Such support includes, but is not limited to, assistance with travelling expenses, accommodation expenses and relevant assistance to people with disabilities. The support available under Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) training programmes is based on need and varies according to individual circumstances. Whilst we would wish to maintain this flexibility for TECs we will through guidance issued ask them to set out publicly their policy towards support costs. We will also look at ways to encourage sharing of best practice, including identifying and publishing examples of the ways in which support might be tailored to assist particular groups of people including lone parents.
The Local Delivery Strategy (LDS) element of Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) and Chambers of Commerce, Training and Enterprises (CCTEs) Business Plans gives details of the TEC's/CCTE's Funding Strategy which includes their approach to dealing with clients with different training needs. TEC/CCTE Business Plans are also required to set out how the TEC's/CCTE's targets link in with other local activity such as New Deal, ES and local colleges. The LDS element of the Business Plan is intended to highlight the TEC's/CCTE's commitment to providing a high quality service, which is continuously improving.
From April 2001, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) will assume responsibility for the planning and funding of post-16 education outside higher education, and will continue the TEC funding roles in areas of learner support. The Government is currently exploring alternative ways of supporting learners through their time in post-16 education and training.
We recommend that a thorough study be undertaken of the knockon effects of treating student loans and other comparable awards as income to be taken into account when assessing benefit levels.
Work is underway jointly by the Department for Social Security and the Department for Education and Employment to look at the interface between the student support system for full-time higher education students and social security benefits. This includes the treatment of student income in income-related benefits as it effects lone parents as well others.
The cost of disregarding income from student loans will have to be taken into account, given that the existing £10 weekly disregard on loan income would have to be increased by up to £40 a week (£2,000 plus per year) to achieve a full disregard. The position of groups such as those who are disabled, student couples with dependent children and possibly those who are not eligible to claim benefitscannot be overlooked when factoring in costs.
In the light of this further work, we will consider what, if any, changes may be necessary to either the rules governing the student support system or to social security benefits legislation. We will wish to consider the evidence carefully before making decisions on the way forward.
The Department for Social Security and the Department for Education and Employment meet regularly to consider the interface between the student support system for full-time higher education students and social security benefits. This includes the treatment of student income in income-related benefits. As a result of these meetings we have agreed a number of improvements which will benefit lone parents. In the academic year 2000/01, a new grant for school meals for students with dependent children has been introduced of £245 a year for students with children aged 3-10, and £265 a year for those with children aged 11-16. This helps students who have lost entitlement to free school meals for their children when they are no longer eligible for Income Support. From the 2001/02 academic year DfEE will introduce a new grant to help students who are lone parents or have partners who are themselves students or are disabled and unable to work, meet the costs of childcare through registered providers. The amounts awarded for childcare will be disregarded in DSS assessments for income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit.
We would expect the DfEE to track the impact of the introduction of student fees and the abolition of maintenance grants on participation in higher education. In doing so, the DfEE should ensure that the impact on lone parents should be analysed and that the results of that analysis should be published.
In 1996/97, there were 15,860 mandatory award holders in full time higher education (out of over 765,00) who were in receipt of the lone parents' allowance at a cost of £14.5 million. We gave assurances during the passage of the Teaching and Higher Education Act that the impact of the new funding and student support regime in higher education would be monitored. Work already in development includes:
STUDENTS' INCOME AND EXPENDITURE SURVEYS
The DfEE is to undertake a survey of students' incomes and expenditure in the 1998/99 academic year. It is intended that the survey will provide valuable insights into the initial effects of the new funding policies on student finances. The 1998/99 survey will be comparable with the earlier survey undertaken in 1995/96 and will enable us to see how the characteristics of students have changed over time. One of its key aims will be to identify the characteristics of students who face hardship. It will also provide early indicators of the impact of the new student support system on student finances. Moreover, lone parents under both the old and new regimes will be identifiable. The project will be carried out by independent researchers. It is due to be completed in October 1999, with the report published towards the end of 1999.
OTHER RESEARCH AND EVALUATION
The DfEE has already undertaken research and evaluation in this area and further projects are planned.
A comprehensive policy review of widening participation in higher education(HE) has already been undertaken. The review involved a wide range of analysis and research evidence including:
· academic research on historic trends in participation by different socio-economic groups;· research commissioned by Dearing on the link between achievement of level 3 qualifications by students from different socio-economic groups and decisions to participate in HE;
· analysis carried out on the factors driving current participation by different socio-economic groups, ethnic groups and individuals with disabilities (not published).
Using data available from University and Colleges Admissions Service and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), DfEE will continue to monitor participation in HE generally, and particularly amongst under-represented groups. The DfEE are also modifying data sources in order to provide some of the underlying data required for this monitoring. The assessment will involve a time series comparison of applications and entrant data, looking at the gender, ethnicity, socio-economic group and disability status of students.
Several studies which will examine the impact of the new funding regime are being planned or under way:
· external research modelling the size and nature of demand for higher education has been commissioned. This is due to report in 1998;
· a survey being undertaken by Institute of Employment Studies for HESA will interview prospective students and the factors that affect their decision to enter HE. This report should be completed by March 1999;
· further internal research is planned to extend the measure of HE participation to cover all age groups and modes of study.
The result of the DfEE survey of students' income and expenditure in the 1998/99 academic year will be published later this year.
The external research modelling the size and nature of demand for higher education ('Occupations in the Future : Tomorrow's Graduates', Business Strategies Limited) was published in 1998. A more recent report, 'Projections of Occupations and Qualifications, 1999/2000' by the Institute for Employment Research updated some aspects of the earlier work. These showed that employers' demand for graduate recruits is expected to grow strongly in the future, as a result both of an increase in the number of managerial, professional and associate professional jobs in the economy, and as a result of an increase in the share of these jobs held by graduates. They found also that graduates in the future are likely to be employed in a wider range of jobs beyond the traditional 'fast track' graduate jobs than in the past.
A survey has been undertaken by Institute of Employment Studies for HESA/UCAS/CVCP. Over 20,000 applicants to HE were interviewed in 1998 concerning the factors that affect their decision to enter HE. The report, entitled 'Making the right choice: how students choose universities and colleges' was published in 1999. Findings from the research show that students decisions to enter HE are taken before the ages of 17/18. The student market is diverse, and applicants have many different priorities which are influenced by a range of factors such as gender, ethnicity, social class and income group, with age of particular importance. The cost of study is a factor which is likely to encourage applicants to choose a university or college closer to home, or a course which has good employment prospects, although there is evidence that applicants' knowledge of the actual costs of HE study is variable. Some applicants are better informed than others, and many criticised the quality of the information available regarding HE study.
External research examining the factors affecting the decision to enter HE for mature students and students from lower social classes has been commissioned. This will report in late 2000.
We welcome the development of pilot programmes under the New Deal to encourage the provision of inwork training for lone parents. We believe that inwork training, by developing skill levels, can improve earnings potential and improve career opportunities for lone parents.
The improvement of earning potential and career opportunities is one of the reasons we are piloting in-work training for lone parents. The Department of Education and Employment and Department of Social Security are developing proposals for the in-work training pilots which are planned to begin around January 1999. The in-work training pilots will test whether training payments (similar to those available in the New Deal for Young People) would be of value to lone parents. We are keen to assess what sort of difference the in-work training makes to the skills, pay and career paths of lone parents.
In-work training grants were introduced on 30/05/2000. The grant is being piloted in 40 ES districts and is available to NDLP eligible participants who have gained a job of 16 hours per week or more. The grant is an up front payment of up to £750 including VAT paid to the employer. It will enable employers to help eligible selected employees to improve or upgrade their skills, gain a qualification and improve their longer term employment prospects. Random allocation has been chosen to evaluate the pilot over a period of three years. Clients allocated to the action group will be able to receive the grant. Clients allocated to the control group will not be eligible for the grant, however both groups will be monitored to compare their sustainability in work. ES Research and Development will use a data base for the selection process. The IWTG Pilot will last for a period of 12 months.
We believe that for many lone parents, education and training will be the best route into sustainable, quality employment. We strongly recommend that the New Deal for Lone Parents offer a fulltime education and training option flagged up to potential clients from the start. We recommend that the letter from Personal Advisers inviting lone parents to interview should be amended to make specific mention of the assistance offered by the New Deal for Lone Parents in securing education and training opportunities which could serve as a route into work. We believe that, unless stress is laid upon improving lone parents' skills, they will not increase their chances of finding work with decent rates of pay and prospects of career progression. We also believe that for many lone parents, particularly for those who have grown up in workless households, participation in education or training will seem less of a leap than entry into employment.
We fully agree with the Committee that for many lone parents training and education will be the best way into sustainable employment. That is why resources have been provided for supporting external training in NDLP where existing courses available to lone parents are not suitable. However, the Committee's recommendation for a full time education and training option may be based on a misunderstanding of the position of lone parents on Income Support. The rules on Income Support allow recipients, including lone parents, freedom over how to spend their time and many over the years have taken up education and training courses that are available to them free at Further Education colleges. Data from the Autumn 1997 Labour Force Survey (LFS) suggests that about 170,000 lone parents were studying at university or college. Of these about 130,000 are described by LFS as studying full-time.
The position differs for recipients of Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) who are required to be available for and actively seeking work as a condition of their benefit and so can only study part-time where its fits in with the benefit requirements. Because of the Jobseeker's Allowance rules, we had to make special arrangements to allow JSA recipients to study full-time in one of the options in the New Deal for Young People (18-24). In the New Deal for those aged 25 and over and unemployed for 2 years or more, we amended regulations to enable participants to study full-time for up to a year while on JSA. There is no need to make such special arrangements for lone parents. They can already study full-time on Income Support.
However, we do need to ensure that lone parents are aware of the opportunities and that we can pay for courses that are more suitable for their needs. The Committee recommended that the invitation letter to lone parents should specifically mention assistance in securing training opportunities. This letter has been revised in time for the full national roll-out of the New Deal later this month. The new version takes account of this and other lessons learned in the prototype areas. It refers to the availability of training offering lone parents advice on training should they wish to pursue this. A copy of this letter is attached for information.
The invitation letter to New Deal for Lone Parents continues to refer to the availability of training under the programme. In order to encourage more lone parents to take up training we will introduce nationally in April 2001 a £15 training premium for lone parents taking up approved training courses. This is in addition to the financial help lone parents already receive and is intended as an incentive to take up training and to meet any incidental costs they may incur.
We welcome the fact that the Childcare Tax Credit will provide considerably more financial help with childcare costs for lowincome families than is currently available. We hope this will make it financially worthwhile for more parents to go out to work.
The Working Families Tax Credit which includes the childcare tax credit will be available from October 1999 and replaces the Family Credit (FC) childcare disregard, so the lowest earning families can now benefit. Unlike FC, in WFTC childcare help will be available to those earning less than £79 a week and could also go well up the income distribution; for example, a couple with two children earning £23,000 could receive £45 a week. The maximum amount of help towards childcare costs will be increased to £100 a week for families with one child and £150 for families with two or more children (currently £60 and £100 respectively). This will made an important contribution to our programme of helping parents to have access to affordable, good quality childcare if they are to balance work and family life successfully.
Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC) includes a Childcare Tax Credit (CTC) which gives parents help towards childcare costs. CTC is worth 70 per cent of eligible childcare costs of up to £100 a week for families with one child and £150 a week for families with two or more children. The Government has tackled the structural problem of the previous Family Credit childcare disregard which restricted the help towards childcare given to lower earners. Some low earners received no help whatsoever under FC.
The childcare component of the WFTC has been particularly successful with over 111,000 families receiving help towards childcare costs by the end of May 2000. This is more than double the number who claimed childcare help through Family Credit at its peak (47,000). Nearly 90 per cent of CTC awards go to lone parent families. The average gain in WFTC as a result of CTC is £31 per week. The average help under FC disregard £22.
We welcome the recognition by the Government that a coordinated strategy to improve the supply and affordability of good quality childcare was needed. We reiterate our support for the steps which are being taken to improve provision of childcare in further education colleges, and we encourage the Government to consider how childcare provision in other centres of education might be expanded. Although we have not taken evidence on the Childcare Framework and Consultation Document, we welcome the plans to increase the supply of childcare and the establishment of childcare partnerships.
We welcome the Committee's support of the National Childcare Strategy. The strategy will be taken forward at local level by 150 Early years Development and Childcare Partnerships (EYDCPs), which are currently being formed. They will build on and expand the current Early Years Development Partnerships, bringing together representatives from a wider range of local bodies and interests to ensure that the childcare needs of the local community are fully addressed. The partnerships' first remit is to undertake an audit of existing local childcare services and, based on the audit's findings, to draw up plans for starting to meet outstanding needs in 1999-2000 and beyond. The Government has allocated a total of £12m in 1998-99 to fund the costs of setting up the new partnerships, running the audits and developing plans for the future.
The expansion of out of school childcare places in Further Education colleges also includes external institutions and Sixth Form Colleges. It forms part of the £54 million package of childcare initiatives taking the strategy forward in 1998-99, which will deliver 60,000 additional childcare places.
The strategy is being taken forward at local level by 150 Early years Development and Childcare Partnerships (EYDCPs), which were established in April 1999. The Partnerships' aim is to bring together representatives from a wide range of local bodies and interests to ensure that the childcare needs of the local community are fully addressed. The Partnerships' Early Years Development and Childcare Plans are based on an audit of existing local childcare services and based on the audit's findings, On 9 October 2000 we announced a threefold increase in the annual investment in childcare from £66million in 2000-2001 to over £200 million by 2003-2004. A large part of the new childcare funding will help low income families and lone parents. It will create 45,000 new places in group base nurseries, and NOF money will create 10,000 extra places in breakfast clubs and after-school clubs in deprived areas. Alongside the Working Families Tax Credit, this will ensure that thousands more of the poorest families will have access to affordable good quality childcare.
In 1999-2000, 140,000 new places have provided childcare for more than 244,000 (almost a quarter of a million) children and, taking into account turnover, have added more than 74,000 to the stock of childcare places across England.
We draw to the Government's attention problems arising from the timetable for implementing the National Childcare Strategy, which may slow down takeup of the New Deal for Lone Parents.
We note the Committee's concerns about the timetable for implementing the National Childcare Strategy. The scope and scale of the National Childcare Strategy is extremely ambitious; it is the first national, comprehensive and long term strategy of its kind. Given the range and complexity of the tasks to be tackled in implementing the strategy at both national and local levels, and the importance of working in partnership, we believe it is important to allow time for Partnerships to carry out these substantial areas of work properly if they are to be effective. Indeed, concern has been expressed in the responses to the Green Paper, that deadlines for producing plans are very challenging. Partnership plans will be in place from April 1999.
The implementation of the Working Families Tax Credit, from October 1999 and the introduction of lottery funding for out of school provision through the New Opportunities Fund, from April next year, are both substantial pieces of work. They will take time to implement properly.
Working in partnership at national level is also important, so we have taken time to consult fully and consider the detailed responses to "Meeting the Childcare Challenge".
The implementation of the Working Families Tax Credit, from October 1999, and the introduction of lottery funding for out of school provision through the New Opportunities Fund, from April 1999 have already begun to have a huge impact. Some 80,000 out of school childcare places have been created [as at June 2000] and more than 1 million families are receiving Working Families Tax Credit.
We believe that the approach to family friendly employment adopted at the Department for Social Security should serve as the model for other Government departments and agencies. The Cabinet Office, in conjunction with the Ministers for Women, should require Government departments to implement employment practices which allow parents to combine paid employment and childcare.
We welcome the Committee's recommendation and will continue to work to promote the adoption of family friendly employment policies. This work involves officials from the DfEE, the Women's Units, now located within the Cabinet Office, the DTI, DSS, Department of Health and the Home Office.
The Ministerial Group on the Family chaired by Jack Straw is currently looking at ways of promoting family friendly policies within Whitehall and more widely in the context of the Government's manifesto commitment to promote measures which enable parents to balance paid work with the needs of their children.
An informal survey of Government Departments previously carried out confirmed that family friendly policies are being widely adopted within Departments. Responses indicated:All Departments offered flexible hours along with alternative working arrangementsmost commonly part-time work, jobsharing, term-time working, career breaks and flexible hours; Maternity provisions generally go beyond the statutory minimal and all respondents offered paid paternity leave; The provision of time off to meet family emergencies was fairly evenly split between discretionary and paid (up to 5 days a year)provision; All Departments offered help with childcare, whether directly (through holiday play schemes and work place nurseries) or indirectly (through subsidies and vouchers); and All had arrangements to help adoptive parents. The Framework and Consultation document "Meeting the Childcare Challenge" emphasised the Government's recognition of the importance in its own role as an employer in seeking to promote family friendly working practices. The document featured examples of the family friendly policies in operation in the Benefits Agency and in the Department for Education and Employment. In addition the White Paper "Fairness at Work" makes clear that helping employees to combine work and family life satisfactorily is good not only for parents but also for businesses.
Since the initial Government response in 1998 the Cabinet Office has been working to promote work life balance policies throughout the whole Civil Service. This is as a result of commitments outlined in the Modernising Government White Paper, the Civil Service Reform Programme and the DfEE consultation paper Changing Patterns in a Changing World.
The Cabinet Office is working closely with all the policy leads in this areaDfEE, Home Office, DTI, Department of Health and the Womens Unit, all of which rightly emphasise the need for the Civil Service to be an exemplar in this field. They are looking specifically at policies and practices which will help develop women, promoting alternative working practices and other development measures to bring on women.
Cabinet Office is working closely with all government departments as employers and is focusing on two fronts: better practical access to flexible employment for all and a more coherent and transparent policy on childcare provision (both of which will help recruit and retain staff who are lone parents). The data in this area indicates our policies are having some success.
We welcome all efforts to increase familyfriendly employment practices. We are therefore much encouraged by the acknowledgment across Government departments of the need for concerted action. We welcome the rationalisation of the Statutory Maternity Pay framework, as well as the proposal for a statutory right to a "reasonable" amount of time off for parents to deal with family crises, announced in the Fairness at Work White Paper. We also believe that the approach outlined in Meeting the Childcare Challengethat of securing good working practices for employees without placing undue burdens on businessis the correct one. We believe that employers across the country should do more to provide familyfriendly employment.
We believe that business performance benefits from a family friendly culture at work. Sensible family friendly policies, already evident in many successful modern companies, improve staff morale and productivity and ensure that competitive businesses benefit from the skills and experience of all their employees. We will shortly undertake consultation about detailed plans for promoting the benefits, including the business benefits of family friendly employment policies.
The chapter on Family Friendly Policies in the fairness to Work white Paper describes: the Government's plans for implementing the Working Time and Young Workers directives; sets out the Governments proposals for introducing parental leave as part of a cohesive package of parental rights including simplified and improved maternity rights; and welcomes the Part-Time Work directive which was adopted at the earliest opportunity.
Implementation of the Working Time Directive will provide rights to: minimum daily and weekly rest periods; rest breaks; annual paid holidays; a limit of 48 hours a week on average time which employees can be required to work (except by voluntary agreement); and restrictions on hours worked at night.
Consultation responses are under consideration and implementing regulations are expected to come into force later this month.
The Part-Time Work Directive will remove discrimination against part-time workers and increases access to part-time work. It will be implemented by April 2000, following consultation.
Our proposals for a cohesive package of parental rights cover new rights to parental leave and time off for urgent family reasons, and simpler maternity leave rights. The package includes measure which will implement the Parental Leave directive. Employees will be protected from dismissal or other detrimental action if they exercise any of their rights in the package.
The Framework and Consultation Document "Meeting the Childcare Challenge" included a specific consultation question on the barriers which employers face in developing family friendly employment practices and asked how employers could be helped to recognise the benefits. A large number of respondents have welcomed our intentions to promote family friendly employment policies. We will consider their suggestions carefully and, with the ministerial group on the Family, look to raise awareness of the benefits on family friendly employment practices for the economy and society as a whole.
The Government's work-life balance campaign launched by the Prime Minister on 9 March 2000 aims to increase awareness and take up of employment policies and practices which benefit business and help employees enjoy a better balance between work and the other demands on their lives. We are encouraging employers to adopt practices which suit their business and their employees, recognising that employees have different needs at different stages of their life cycle but will work best if they can achieve an appropriate balance between work and all other aspects of their lives.
The Government has:
· agreed to co-sponsor with Lloyds/TSB the Parents at Work 'Employer of the Year' awards;
· set up a website on work-life balance; www.dfee.gov.uk/work-life balance;
· held national and regional conferences, to gather views on our proposals in Changing Patterns in a Changing World;
Worked in partnership with Employers for Work Life Balance a group of 22 leading employers who are helping to spread the word about the business benefits of work-life balance; set up a Ministerial Advisory Committee on work-life balance to complement the work of Employers for Work-Life Balance. The role of the committee is to advise Ministers on what should be done to promote awareness and take up of sensible practices that help employees to balance their work and the rest of their lives; announced a new Work-Life Balance Challenge Fund for employers, successful applicants will receive consultancy advice and support from recognised experts in business efficiency tailored to the needs and circumstances of their business. On 2 October 2000, the Sixty-nine winners of the First round of the Challenge fund were announced together with the doubling of the Fund to £3.2m over three years.
Funded a major new baseline study to be published later in the year showing how far employers are adopting the principles in the statement of good practice and how far employees feel that they have the balance they seek between work and the rest of their lives. The sample consisted of 2500 employers and 7500 employees, 13 per cent of the employees are carers.
Published a good practice guide for employersCreating a Work-life Balancewhich gives an insight into practical ways of establishing work-life balance policies and practices in their organisations.
We strongly welcome the principle of using the tax system to make work financially worthwhile. We note that the Working Families Tax Credit is considerably more generous than Family Credit and we believe it could make an important difference to lone parents who are only able to work limited hours or find lowpaid work.
Every working family will be guaranteed a family income for full time work of at least £180 per week. WFTC will help 400,000 more working families than Family Credit and the numbers with marginal rates over 70 per cent will be cut by two-thirds.
Working Families Tax Credit was introduced in October 1999. This provides an income guarantee of £145 a week for lone parents working at least 16 hours (£155 from April 2001) and every working family with someone in full time work (35 hours a week or more) will receive income of at least £207 a week (£214 from April 2001). It also includes a childcare tax credit which provides help of up to 70 per cent of eligible childcare costs up to a limit of £100 for families with one child and £150 for families with two or more children. The qualifying age has been increased to cover all children up to age 14. And in the case of children who are disabled, until the school leaving age of 16.
We recommend that the level of benefits for lone parents who spend a short period in employment should be safeguarded for sixteen weeks rather than twelve weeks.
A 12 week linking period is in line with the recommendation of the Social Security Advisory Committee which recommended a linking period of "at least eight weeks". We believe that 12 weeks is a reasonable period for linking. It provides the lone parents with enough time, once they have started work, to decide whether any problems which arise, for example with childcare, can be resolved. This addresses the concerns of the majority of lone parents when considering work. The New Deal for Lone Parents will provide in-work support to help lone parents address these problems. If they cannot resolve their problems within 12 weeks, lone parents will be able to return to benefit at the same rate as before.
The 12 week linking period remain in force, but see update to Recommendation 17 for additional help for home-owners.
We question the need for training allowances and Jobseeker's Allowance to be paid by post rather than by honouring cheques in order books. We recognise that such a move could require a major change in administrative practice, but we do not see that this should obstruct a reform which would have significant consequences for lone parents' sense of security.
The Department for Education and Employment has already taken steps to make the transition process to training allowance via the Jobseeker's Allowance Payment System easier. Guidance has been produced to ensure that Personal Advisers, Payment Specialists and Training providers work together to make sure that arrangements for the payment of training allowance are set up before the lone parent begins their training placement. This along with changes to the Jobseeker's Allowance Payment System to make sure training allowance payments can be made promptly and on a weekly basis to lone parents should ensure that lone parents do not experience a delay in payment.
For the longer term, officials of the Department of Social Security and the Department for Education and Employment are examining the complex issues connected with allowing lone parents in receipt of Income Support through order books to retain their order books while going onto work based training for adults. We recognise lone parents' concerns about payment through order book. However, there are practical issues to consider such as how to pay lone parents the £10 training premium to help with the additional costs of attending training if they are not paid through the Jobseeker's Allowance Payment System.
Lone parents in England can now retain their Income Support order books when undertaking Work-Based Learning for Adults if they so wish and can receive the £10.00 Training Premium which is available to other clients on Work-Based Learning for Adults. This policy will be introduced in Scotland and Wales from the end of October 2000.
We welcome the assurances given by the Secretary of State for Social Security that she was "strongly aware" of the problem [of the loss of financial assistance with mortgage interest payments for people who move off Income Support] and that efforts were being made to deal with it. We recommend that this issue should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The Government's policy is to encourage sustainable home ownership, (i.e. the ability of home owners to sustain liability of a long term mortgage commitment). Very careful consideration is needed of the case for providing further help to home owners. We would not wish to encourage into home ownership families who otherwise would not be able to sustain the costs and we are conscious that taxpayers would be funding families to buy a capital asset. Consideration has to be given to how to tailor the support for home owners in temporary difficulties.
New help to support homeowners moving into full-time work was announced by the Chancellor in his Budget Statement. Homeowners who have been receiving Income Support or income based Job Seekers Allowance continuously for 26 weeks and who have help with their mortgage interest payments will continue to receive help with their mortgage interest for a further four weeks after starting full-time work. This measure will provide more equal treatment between home-owners and those who rent, helping to ease the transition into work by offering a financial cushion for the first few weeks in employment when people may have to wait for their first earnings. 60,000 homeowners are expected to benefit from this help each year with average gains of between £30 and £35 per week. In addition, the Government wants to encourage homeowners to try work. From April 2001 benefit-linking arrangements will be extended from the current 12 weeks to 52 weeks for homeowners taking up full-time employment. Homeowners will be able to take up short-term or seasonal work secure in the knowledge that if they need to reclaim Income Support or income based Jobseeker's Allowance within a year, they will not have to wait a further 39 weeks before help is provided towards their mortgage interest payments.
The Government should ensure that Personal Advisers receive training to enable them to advise all lone parents on the characteristics of Family Credit (in particular the fact that it is fixed for six months and that this could be to claimants' disadvantage), the effect of receiving Family Credit regarding eligibility for other benefits, the likely gap between the final Income Support payment and the first inwork payment, and the loss of assistance with mortgage interest payments once an Income Support claim ceases. Personal Advisers should take into account all known expenses on childcare, travel and other workrelated costs when estimating lone parents' potential income from moving into work. Simple comparisons of levels of Income Support payments to income from work (or work plus inwork benefits) should be avoided, as should any assumptions about income from maintenance payments from absent parents.
Personal Adviser training covering Family Credit matters has now been improved and extended. The course based training covers Family Credit, in-work benefit assessments and case studies. The matters raised in this recommendation, including that Family Credit is fixed for 6 months and issues regarding maintenance payments, are covered in detail in Personal Adviser Training.
Personal advisers have also been trained on the effects of Working Families Tax Credit.
The information and guidance service offered by the New Deal for Lone Parents can help to fill the gap [in national policy on advisory services for women returners to the labour market]. This may in fact be one of the most important elements of the New Deal for Lone Parents.
We agree that the New Deal for Lone Parents is an important tool to help fill the gap in national policy on advisory service for women returners to the labour market. Personal Advisers are encouraged and trained to build and maintain their knowledge of local opportunities for work, training and education, and to provide the best advice to lone parents. An important part of the Personal Advisers job is to establish links with organisations, for example, voluntary sector groups and to complement the existing support structure already available to lone parents in the local community.
New Deal for Lone Parents advisers continue to play key role in advising and guiding lone parents who wish to return to the labour market. Evaluation of the main New Deal for Lone Parents programme shows that 88 per cent of lone parents surveyed, participating in the programme, were satisfied with the advice they received.
It is important that Personal Advisers retain this degree of flexibility [i.e. in making home visits to lone parents] in responding to particular lone parents' circumstances.
We agree that the flexibility of home visits should be retained. Home visits will continue to be available although most interviews are held in the local jobcentre. Interviews can also take place at outreach sites, such as community centres, where it is more convenient for a lone parents than travelling to the nearest jobcentre. In exceptional circumstances, for example where an urgent in-work benefit assessment is needed, or if the lone parent prefers, an interview can be conducted over the telephone.
The Employment Service still carry out home visits to lone parents where necessary although majority of New Deal for Lone Parents interviews are still conducted in the Jobcentre.
We wish to draw the attention of the Department of Health to evidence of high levels of poor health amongst lone parents and their children. We recommend that the Social Exclusion Unit coordinate a study of the extent of poor health amongst lone parents and their children, with a view to measuring the effect upon entry into employment.
We share the Committee's concern about the effects of low income on health. That is why the Department of Health has commissioned Sir Donald Acheson, the former Chief medical officer, to conduct an enquiry into inequalities in health across the whole population. The report of the enquiry will be published before the end of the year.
The Jobs Action Team carrying forward work on the SEU report on neighbourhood renewal will examine the employment implications.
Action Teams for Jobs are carrying forward some of the SEU's Policy Action Team on Jobs recommendations. They are sited in 40 of the most deprived areas of Great Britain and offer help to jobless people whatever benefit, if any, they are claiming. Three pathfinder teams started work in June 2000, the remaining 37 started on 16 October 2000. The Teams will tackle barriers to employment on an individual basis and have the flexibility to develop innovative solutions. They are working closely with existing organisations within the communities they are targeting and also with local employers to encourage them to take on local people which may include persuading them to adopt family-friendly practices.
We believe strongly that education and training opportunities can offer a route out of social exclusion.
In all the New Deals, including the New Deal for Lone Parents and prototype Employment Zones, opportunities and support for participants to take up education and training have been provided. We aim to tackle social exclusion from the earliest stage it can start and therefore have introduced programmes to cover young children right through to adults.
The Government's Sure Start programme will help to break with cycle of poverty and social exclusion. By intervening early and providing help and support for very young children and their parents, Sure Start will enable children to reach school ready to learn and so improve their life chances. Following the Spending review, Sure Start programmes will increase their emphasis on helping parents into training and work and they will work closely with the Employment Service and other partners to do this.
The Government has increased funding for Sure Start from £184m a year in 2001-2002 to £499m a year in 2003-2004. We will also double the number of programmes from 250 to 500.
We recommend that the New Deal for Lone Parents offer an initial travel subsidy for lone parents entering lowpaid work.
The Jobfinder's Grant of £200 aims to encourage long term unemployed people and others at a disadvantage, including those covered by the New Deal for Lone Parents, to take up employment or self employment. While recipients can use the non-taxable grant for a variety of purposes, its objective is to help with the initial costs of taking up a job. Typically this would include travel expenses. In April this year the government announced changes to the eligibility of Jobfinder's Grant and all other ES programmes to ensure lone parents on Income Support could access this assistance. The work involved must be continuing (at least 6 months), over 30 hours a week and pay under £150 gross per week.
From October 1999, lone parents who have been in receipt of IS for 26 weeks before starting work will continue to receive Income Support payments for their first two weeks in a job. This provision is in addition to the four-week run-on of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. This is to ease the transition period from benefit to the first payment of wages which can be a difficult time for lone parents.
We find much that is encouraging in the New Deal for Lone Parents. We welcome the identification of lone parents as a group which merits special assistance in moving into the labour market. We welcome [the Government's] assurance [that the New Deal for Lone Parents is "entirely voluntary". We believe that lone parents would be less likely to gain confidence and enthusiasm for work if participation in the programme were to be made compulsory.
We note the Committee's welcome for the voluntary nature of participation in the New Deal for Lone Parents programme.
New Deal for Lone Parents continues to be a voluntary programme. However to ensure that all lone parents are aware of the options available to them, compulsory Personal Adviser meetings are being introduced from April 2001 for lone parents claiming Income Support who have a youngest child of five or over. This will be piloted in three Pathfinder areas, Shropshire, South Tyneside and Fife from 30 October 2000 and nationally for lone parents making new and repeat claims from April 2001. Personal Adviser meetings for those already claiming Income Support will be phased in gradually from April 2001 to March 2004. We will be evaluating the impact of the Personal Adviser meetings on New Deal for Lone Parents.
We admire the efforts of Personal Advisers working on the New Deal for Lone Parents and we believe that their approach bodes well for the evolution of the Employment Service into a more clientfriendly organisation.
We welcome the Committee's praise of the efforts of the Personal Advisers working on the New Deal for Lone Parents. The Employment Service and the Benefits Agency place emphasis on customer service and a welcoming approach.
Evaluation of New Deal for Lone Parents shows that the efforts of Personal Advisers continue to be valued by lone parents.
We strongly welcome the overall purpose of the New Deal for Lone Parents in helping lone parents who wish to find paid employment do so. We agree that lone parents should be seen as full players in the labour market: they deserve dedicated assistance in seeking and finding work. We recognise that many lone parents may wish to stay at home to care for children, and the Committee would not wish to prescribe individual decisions. We stress however that lone parents are a very diverse group whose level of educational attainment, jobreadiness and confidence vary widely. Some may be ready for immediate entry into employment, but there will be many for whom this is not the case. In our opinion, the New Deal for Lone Parents appears too strongly focused upon immediate entry into employment. We recommend that much greater emphasis be placed on increasing the numbers of lone parents entering education and training. We would caution, however, against setting targets for actual numbers entering either employment or education and training, as the programme must be focused around people's individual needs and choices. At a wider level we welcome the Secretary of State's commitment to set "broad" targets, although this must be done sensitively in order to avoid placing undue pressure on Personal Advisers to achieve inappropriate results. The programme risks losing credibility if it is designed to simply reduce the numbers of lone parents claiming benefits, or even if this is perceived to be the aim.
We strongly agree with the Committee's views on the diversity of lone parents and the need to focus on individual needs and choices. While the main aim of the New Deal for Lone Parents is to help lone parents into work where they choose to participate, the Government recognises that many may wish to take training and education opportunities offered through the New Deal for Lone Parents because they are not work ready or need to update or acquire new skills. Personal Advisers will encourage them to take up these opportunities. As stated in the response to recommendation 8, we are taking further steps to ensure that lone parents are fully aware that the New Deal for Lone Parents can offer them training.
We note the Committee's views on the dangers of setting targets that disregard the individual needs of lone parents and lead to inappropriate results. A target for the Employment Service was published last April in the Annual performance agreement for 1998/99. It states " From October 1998: The number of lone parents who accept an invitation to attend an adviser interview and the percentage of those attending who agree to participate in the new Deal for Lone Parents programme (target levels to be set nearer the time)". We aim through this target to encourage Advisers to do their best to contact lone parents and encourage them to participate on the programme. Target levels will be set in time for the national roll-out in October. A new target will be considered for inclusion in the 1999-2000 ES Annual Performance Agreement.
New Deal for Lone Parents continues to recognise the diversity of lone parents and the need to focus on individual needs and choices. While the main aim of the New Deal for Lone Parents is to help lone parents into work where they chose to participate in this voluntary programme, the Government recognises that many may wish to take training and education opportunities offered through the New Deal for Lone Parents because they are not work ready or need to update or acquire new skills. Personal Advisers encourage them to take up these opportunities. Up to August 2000, 18,194 lone parents have taken up education or training opportunities through New Deal for Lone Parents.
We note the Committee's views on the dangers of setting targets that disregard the individual needs of lone parents which may lead to inappropriate results. New Deal for Lone Parent advisers focus on the persons individual needs and choices and encourage lone parents to participate in the voluntary programme by explaining the benefit of joining, including in work incentives and the ability to update skills through education and training. The total numbers of New Deal for Lone Parents participants that enter employment, either with the assistance of an Employment Service adviser or by their own efforts, or education and training are published monthly.
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment has given the Select Committee an undertaking to set "broad" targets for the Employment Service's advisers. Each year the Secretary of State publishes a set of stretching targets for the Employment Service as part of the Annual Performance Agreement. As part of that agreement, the Employment Service is required to provide help to the most disadvantaged clients, including lone parents, to find work.
In order to encourage the largest possible number of lone parents to take advantage of the New Deal for Lone Parents, every effort should be made to publicise the programme at schools, nurseries, playgroups and through residents' associations. We believe that a repeat invitation to interview for those who do not respond to the initial invitation, possibly highlighting some successes for participants in the New Deal for Lone Parents, would be worthwhile. We would however caution that what might be intended as positive and proactive measures, such as contact by telephone, could be perceived as being coercive.
We agree that every suitable route for marketing the New Deal for Lone Parents should be considered and that schools, nurseries and residents associations may be useful venues, as well as supermarkets and some of the larger chain stores. We are already considering how this might be done. The Employment Service already has a policy of marketing these types of organisations on a regional basis and the integrated media and marketing agency appointed to undertake the New Deal for Lone Parents publicity campaign for the national launch in October will build on existing arrangements. It is planned that all lone parents in the New Deal for Lone Parents target group (i.e those whose youngest child is over 5) will receive a magazine called "SOLO" which proved very successful when used in the eight prototype areas, with their letter of invitation. A new edition of "SOLO" is currently being produced and will include case studies of lone parents who have successfully used the New Deal for Lone Parents. Further letters will be issued if necessary, for example to rearrange interviews and a review letter will be sent out after six months if the lone parents has not responded to earlier approaches. The style of letters and contact arrangements seeks to be friendly, not coercive, encouraging lone parents to take part in the New Deal for Lone Parents.
From the end of May 2000, invitations were extended to include lone parents on Income Support whose youngest child is aged 3 years. Lone parents on Income Support with younger children are also welcome to participate. The introduction of Personal Adviser meetings for lone parents claiming Income Support who have a youngest child of five or over will lead to more lone parents being aware of New Deal for Lone Parents and its benefits. Employment service continues to publicise New Deal for Lone Parents through a variety of appropriate channels.
All lone parents who are invited to an initial New Deal for Lone Parents interview (i.e those lone parents whose youngest child is aged over three) receive a copy of SOLO magazine with their invitation. This magazine includes case studies of lone parents who have successfully used the New Deal for Lone Parents programme, informative articles about the help available to lone parents and the top ten most frequently asked questions. This magazine has come out well in market research and continues to be used as a tool to attract lone parents to join the programme.
We believe that if entry into education and training were to be made a more prominent feature of the New Deal for Lone Parents, this could lead to higher levels of participation in the programme.
As explained in the our response to recommendations 3 and 8, we have taken and are taking a number of steps to ensure lone parents are aware that the New Deal for Lone Parents offers training and education opportunities. This is carried through into the marketing and publicity plans being developed by the integrated media and Marketing agency.
We have continued to highlight the availability of training and education opportunities in New Deal for Lone Parents. The introduction of the Training Premiums referred to in Recommendation 8 will help to encourage more lone parents to take up training opportunities.
We recommend that a preliminary assessment of the New Deal for Lone Parents, based upon the data to be used for the full assessment, be conducted urgently. Clearly, such an early assessment cannot offer a meaningful analysis of the continuing employment histories of participants, but we believe it should include an examination of participants' priorities once they decide to enter the labour market, as well as an analysis of the types of jobs which participants take up, including their working hours, wage levels and inwork training opportunities. We recommend that the evaluation should also include estimates of deadweight, so as to give a clearer idea of the net value of the programme.
An extensive evaluation programme has been developed for the New Deal for Lone Parents programme. The independent evaluation of the Phase 1 prototype areas, conducted by researcher from Social and Community Planning Research, Bath University and the institute for Employment Studies at Warwick University will draw on a range of data. Full assessment will be based on: analysis of labour market data in the prototype and 'control' areas; qualitative interviews with lone parents; Administrative data (tracking numbers on Income Support over time); survey data; and cost benefit measures. An important element of the evaluation is longitudinal surveys of lone parents, some of whom will have participated in NDLP, some who will not. These surveys will explore the experiences of lone parents over time, including movements in and out of jobs and training. The first round of interviews was carried out in the prototype areas in late 1997 and early 1998. The follow up interviews will be conducted towards the end of 1998. Assessments of local labour markets are similarly, being carried out in two waves. Cost benefit analysis (which will include assessment of deadweight) will be carried out in Spring 1999, when we have data from the longitudinal elements of the study. An interim evaluation report was published in May. Findings from the early stage of the evaluation (in particular qualitative work with lone parents and evaluation of innovative schemes) is initial part of the evaluation (in particular the qualitative work with lone parents and evaluation of innovative scheme) have informed policy for the national roll-out. There will be scope for modifying the national scheme in the light of findings from the prototypes. The full evaluation report of Phase 1 will be published in Autumn 1999.
The evaluation strategy of the national programme from October 1998 will address key questions arising from the policy objectives and will include:
· macro evaluation to assess the impact of the New Deal for Lone Parents on the number of lone parents on Income Support and on the labour market at the aggregate level;
· micro evaluation to assess the New Deal for Lone Parents at individual level, looking at its effects; and
· programme level to address key questions on satisfaction with the service, impact in resource terms, effect on ES and BA business and other providers and the effect on employers.
An extensive evaluation programme has been developed for the New Deal for Lone Parents.
The evaluation of the NDLP Prototype programme compared the experiences of lone parents in the eight prototype areas with those in six comparison areas, where the programme was not operating. The evaluation was carried out by a consortium of independent researchers at the National Centre for Social Research, The Centre for Analysis of Social Policy at the University of Bath and the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick. A range of research activities were undertaken to evaluate NDLP, including site visits to NDLP offices, labour market studies, in-depth interviews with large-scale surveys of lone parents, analysis of DSS administrative data and a cost-benefit assessment. The evaluation evidence from the Prototype showed that:
Two out of three (64 per cent) lone parents who participated in the NDLP prototype said that they had benefited from the programme. Almost half of those who participated were successful in finding jobs during the time-scale of the prototype; others moved into education or training and more could be expected to do in the periods thereafter.
The NDLP prototype had a small reduction on the number of lone parents on Income Support. After 18 months the number of lone parents on Income Support was 3.3 per cent lower than it would have been in the absence of the programme. This estimate is similar to that found by evaluations of comparable programmes for lone parents in the US and Australia.
The evaluation estimates that about 20 per cent of jobs gained following participation in NDLP were additional to those that would have occurred without the programme, just short of the level required for the prototype to have broken even. This does not take into account those jobs attributable to the programme, which will have started after the end of the prototype. About 80 per cent of those who participated in NDLP and moved into work would have found work anywaygenerally the programme was geared towards lone parents who were work-ready rather than the 'harder to help'.
The occupational profile of jobs was similar between prototype and comparison areas, although more lone parents went into managerial and senior administrative positions in the prototype areas and more lone parents went into routine, unskilled occupations.
Most lone parents with a job worked 16 hours or more but less than 30 hours per week. In the prototype areas 56 per cent did so compared with 49 per cent in the comparison areas. The average hourly pay was £4.23 in prototype areas and £4.22 in comparison areas. More than half of those who left Income Support for work reasons in both NDLP and comparison areas felt that they were better off.
The cost-benefit analysis showed that the prototype produced public finance returns, which covered not only operational costs, but produced significant wider economic gains. The fact that participating lone parents who found a full-time job received hourly wages which were 6 per cent higher than for non-participating lone parents who found full-time jobs indicates that the programme may well produce further long-term financial benefits.
Evaluation of Phase Three is currently underway. Reports on customer satisfaction and qualitative survey work were published in spring 2000. Final reports are expected in 2002 on the rest of the evaluation.
The New Deal for Lone Parents (NDLP) has so far helped over 66,000 lone parents into work and over 18,000 into education or training (over the period July 1997 to August 2000).
Personal Advisers drawn from any one agency need to gain experience in fields covered by other agencies. Proper training will therefore be essential: as long as it is offered, we are confident in the ability of Personal Advisers to gain the necessary breadth of knowledge.
All Personal Advisers who are new to the Employment Service receive training as a part of their induction. Personal Adviser training includes 3 weeks training on Benefits Agency procedures. The Child Support Agency provide a one day session and an open learning book. Guidance on building and maintaining contacts in other agencies and contact lists are also provided.
Training for advisers continue to offer a breadth of knowledge and is now available in a variety of formats to suit adviser needs.
We believe that it is important for the team delivering the New Deal for Lone Parents at any one Jobcentre to be able to draw upon the expertise of people from each of the three agencies contributing staff to serve as Personal Advisers. The Government should ensure that by the time that the New Deal for Lone Parents comes into operation nationwide in October 1998, the mix of recruits reflects this range of backgrounds.
We agree with the Committee's recommendation. Recruitment of Personal Advisers for the New Deal for Lone Parents has been based on a strategy agreed between the Employment Service, Benefits Agency and Child Support Agency which aims to encourage applicants from all three agencies. The Employment Service is making has made every effort to encourage applications from other agencies although it has not thought it appropriate to set quotas for recruitment from each.
The Committee's recommendation was followed through. Applications were received and staff appointed from all three agencies (though those appointed would be recorded now as Employment Service staff).
Information on education and training opportunities, childcare provision and transport links should be collated by the Employment Service and made widely available. It should also be disseminated to those responsible for delivery of other elements of the New Deal, such as the New Deal for the Longterm Unemployed, and the New Deal for Lone Parents.
We agree with the Committee's recommendation. Personal Advisers do collate information on education and training opportunities, childcare provision and transport links. The New Deal for Lone Parents is developing electronic systems to store this national and local information. The information will be equally accessible to other New Deal and Welfare to Work Personal Advisers. All New Deal Advisers in jobcentres network with their colleagues and make use of information that is relevant to their duties.
Advisers continue to network and share information needed to help their clients.
We believe that the agencies delivering the New Deal for Lone Parents should make maximum use of information gathered by TECs. Ministers have expressed a desire to improve the quality of service of "lagging" TECs. One way of raising TEC standards would be to require them to maintain and share directories of information covering training opportunities (with details of courses suitably structured for lone parents, women returners and other disadvantaged groups), and childcare provision (not just services provided under the Out of School Childcare Initiative).
We agree that information will need to be available to a wide range of people in addition to New Deal Advisers, including parents not on the New Deals, employers and childcare providers. In developing information services, partnerships will need to build on existing services and draw in all local sources of information. As well as TECs, and the ES, local authorities are key sources of information. Under the Children Act they have the responsibility for regulation of childcare provision for under 8's and statutory responsibilities to provide information on childcare. We recognise the potential for linking Childcare Information Services to other local information services, for example those providing information on adult education and training. We are also considering what can be learnt from the Lone Parents Information System pilots under the New Deal for Lone Parents in the context of the National Childcare Strategy. Information on childcare is a key element of the National Childcare Strategy. Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships, which include representatives from both TECs and the Employment Service, will have responsibility for overseeing the development of childcare information services. Childcare plans will set out how local information services, which meet national minimum standards, will be developed. A new national childcare information line will signpost parents to their local information service. A considerable amount of information is already available from local sources. TECs collate this and have developed databases that can provide information on training opportunities within the local area. The DfEE is compiling a national database of learning opportunities for Learning Direct.
It is intended that this national database should integrate other existing learning databases and include all relevant data collected by TECs and other local data providers. Information on Guidance Providers and a new Childcare Directory will also be included. Initially the data base will be available through the data providers including TECs and the Department is considering the licence implications of placing the data on the Internet.
Lone parents can now access a national website which provides general information on childcare and early education options and allows users to search for childcare in selected geographical areas.
The Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs) Individual Learner Record (ILR) can hold information relating to disadvantaged groups eg Women Returners. Within the ILR, Childcare provision could be identified down to Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code. This information will be available to ES and the other partners of the LSC such as ALI online (Adults Learning Inspectorate) in the steady state system which will be available from July 2002.
Programmes to help unemployed people find workhowever carefully they might be designed will in the final analysis fail to deliver if there are no jobs available. Such programmes must therefore be implemented within a wider policy of encouraging growth in employment by all possible means.
As the Committee recognises, training lone parents where they need skills will increase their employment prospects. The same benefits occur when lone parents are helped with their search for jobs. This is because employers will become more aware of what this supply of prospective employees can offer. Unemployment is not simply a demand issue, it also depends on supply. If we assist lone parents in looking for work, then companies who wish to expand will know there are suitable employees available and will be encouraged to invest. We believe that labour market policies combining flexibility with security encourage the creation of jobs through out the U.K. By way of illustration in the year to April 1998, about 300,000 vacancies were notified to the Employment Service offices in Scotland and 200,000 in Yorkshire and Humberside and these were only some of the new vacancies occurring in these areas. Regional disparities are much less today that they were 10 years ago. The New Deal for Lone Parents will help lone parents to get a fair chance to compete for vacancies as they come up. The Government's central economic objective is to achieve high and stable levels of growth and employment. Policies to improve growth performance have already been put in place.
A stable macroeconomic framework will create the right environment for sustained economic growth. The National Minimum Wage, and the Working Families Tax Credit, including the childcare tax credit, will help to make work pay and will enable lone parents to move from welfare dependency into work. In addition, Welfare to Work has been extended and a number of other initiatives such as Employment Zones, Education Action Zones, Health Action Zones, and the New Deal for Communities are being put in place.
The latest Labour Market Statistics of August show that Employment is up 354,000 over the year and by 1,071,000 since the election. The number of people in work continues to grow strongly, and now stands at its highest ever level of 27.97 million. The employment rate has also risen to 74.7 per cent, its highest point since spring 1990.
Since the spring of 1997, employment is up in every region, and the latest figures show the largest increases in employment rates for the North East and Scotland. There are now more and more opportunities for people to get back into work, as well as for those who have never worked to enter the labour market. To ensure that employment growth is sustained, we need to continue to improve the help we give unemployed people, particularly in developing the skills needed by employers in growing industries.
New vacancies continue at high levels217,900 new vacancies were notified to Jobcentres in August 2000. These vacancies represent only a third that are being advertised at any one time.