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LEADER - FREE PEOPLE FROM THE BENEFITS TRAP

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Central money and local knowledge hold the key...
Central money and local knowledge hold the key

Worklessness is one of the more depressing bits of jargon to emanate from civil servants' brains in recent years. But for those that are workless, that is, chronically or permanently unemployed, life is bleak.

But there are no easy answers, as the causes of worklessness differ depending on region. In Easington in the north-east, for example, 48% of the population is deemed 'economically inactive' and 181 per 1,000 at working age are claiming incapacity benefit (the average being 65.4)- key indicators for high levels of worklessness.

But compare its industrial history and largely rural environment to inner London, which also has pockets of chronic unemployment. Here, the problems are high levels of lone parents -

often unable to afford childcare - and low-skilled populations.

Which is why the British Urban Regeneration Association's call for more financial incentives to help the long-term unemployed return to work will help, although it will certainly be no panacea.

Councils will recognise this, however. They know that flexibility and local autonomy, partnerships with the voluntary and private sector, and a strong knowledge of local factors are at the heart of the solution. But this makes the need for the devolution of powers that affect employment, such as skills and transport, to the sub-regional level even more important.

Although financial incentives will help, it is innovation and leadership at the local level that will really make the difference.

How this devolution of powers will boost regeneration in and around city regions is a source of almost continuous debate in Whitehall, and looks likely to make a significant appearance in the local government white paper.

What is less clear is what the plan is for those areas which include no city in their region, and where public transport amounts to one bus a day. The future must include our more far flung areas supporting staff working remotely perhaps in the knowledge economy. But how to get there?

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