Dole out, training in for unemployed youthBy COLIN ESPINER - The Press
The Government plans to scrap the dole for 16 to 18-year-olds as part of a $150 million plan to wipe out youth unemployment.
Prime Minister John Key yesterday unveiled an ambitious bid to put 16,900 people, aged 16 to 24, in jobs, training and study over the next 18 months.
He also confirmed National would introduce legislation before the end of the year ending the unemployment benefit for school-leavers under 18.
The initiative was the centrepiece of National's annual conference in Christchurch at the weekend.
It comes as the dole queues lengthen by 1300 people a week costing the taxpayer an additional $1 billion a year in benefits.
About 17,000 young people are now registered for the dole up from 4000 a year ago. Almost half are Maori and Pacific Islanders.
Key told delegates yesterday the sharp rise in youth unemployment could be extremely damaging, both for youth and the community.
"Some may be tempted to fill unoccupied hours with petty crime, drinking and drug use, or other activities that sell them way short of their potential.
"We simply can't afford to leave our young languishing on a benefit."
Under the Youth Opportunities package, the Government will subsidise a mixture of private job placements, community taskforce initiatives, in-work training, and military-style training programmes.
There will also be extra study places funded at polytechnics and summer scholarships at universities.
In total, 4000 positions will be offered for low-skilled young people in conjunction with businesses and another 3000 in community work.
Another 4000 positions will be offered under National's Youth Guarantee scheme, which provides fees-free places for 16 and 17-year-olds not in school.
The package will run for the next 18 months, and places will be funded for a maximum of six months.
The Government will subsidise the schemes at the rate of the minimum wage for 30 hours a week essentially offering those on the dole a pay packet of $375 a week rather than the average of $174 they would receive on a benefit.
Another 2500 places will be funded on the Burnham Military Camp Limited Service Volunteer programme, which will be expanded to include two in the North Island.
Key's cycleway also gets a mention, with $5.3m earmarked to provide 500 jobs for young people to work on the series of "great rides" around New Zealand.
The Government is pledging to fund another 700 positions at polytechnics for under 24 year-olds and 1600 summer scholarship placements in universities.
Employers will receive a lump sum of $3000 when they hire a new worker, with another $2000 paid at the end of six months.
About $120m is from the Government's Budget contingency fund. The remainder is being found through savings from not paying the dole. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said under the community work scheme, local councils, the voluntary sector, and government departments like the Department of Conservation would receive payments for employing young people in projects such as cleaning up graffiti and tagging, tidying parks, or renovating marae.
Labour said the package was a step in the right direction but not ambitious enough.
"It only scratches the surface of the growing youth unemployment problem," the party's tertiary education spokeswoman, Maryan Street, said.
"The number of places to be provided falls well short of what is required."
Key said the Government could not force young people on the dole to join one of the schemes, but that would soon change.
"The (Government) is bringing legislation to the House which will make it compulsory that people are either in work training or employment, as per our policy in 2008," Key said.