The government and the Conservative party are embroiled in a row over the success of the New Deal scheme for Lone Parents.
The Tories expressed their intention to scrap the New Deal for Lone Parents (NDLP) scheme altogether yesterday after publishing figures which they say show the scheme would take 26 years to find jobs for the 410,000 single mothers.
Research carried out by the Centre for Policy Studies cited by the Conservatives claims that the number of lone parents on Income Support stopped falling at almost exactly the time when the New Deal was launched, and that lone parents are no more successful at finding work now than they were before the New Deal came along.
Furthermore, an independent evaluation for the government suggests that 80 per cent of lone parents getting jobs would have done so anyway, therefore only 3,674 of the single parents in the target group who had found jobs would not have found them anyway. On this basis the cost per job found is over £22,500. In January, only 0.3 per cent of the 410,000 single parents in the target group found work.
David Willetts, shadow social security secretary accused the government of "fiddling the figures" by counting as successes for the New Deal those parents who voluntarily approach job centres and are not in the target group for the scheme. The government has admitted that almost half of the 35,000 single parents who have found work since the scheme was rolled out in October 1998 were not invited to take part in the scheme because their children were too young. They were included only because they asked for new deal help and were not turned away.
The Conservatives say they would impose tougher rules on those who are eligible for the scheme by introducing a rule forcing lone parents of teenage children to start looking for work while claiming benefit. Under the rules of the current scheme, participation is voluntary. After being invited to a meeting with a personal adviser, parents can then ask for help in finding a job if they are interested.
Willetts said that "the evidence is that once children are of secondary school age, they positively benefit if their lone parent is working".
The government response has been to point to new figures that show 50,911 single parents had used the scheme to find work and that another 15,000 had moved into training or education. Both the Secretary of State for Social Security and the Education and Employment Secretary came out in support of the scheme.
Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Social Security said: "So far, the NDLP has helped over 46,751 lone parents into work. This is a success and is proof that the programme is already making a difference".
Education & Employment Secretary David Blunkett said:
"Let the facts speak for themselves. Nearly 40% of lone parents who choose the NDLP route go into work, or education and training. In hard figures this means that since NDLP began in October 1997, over 46,751 lone parents have found work through the NDLP scheme".
The only problem is, in a sea of conflicting figures, whose facts to believe!