News that young people in London on benefits will have to undertake unpaid work experience in order to carry on claiming has received a mixed reception from business leaders and unions. Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, and London Mayor, Boris Johnson, launched the new project on Tuesday to help young Londoners improve their career prospects through vital work experience and jobs advice.

Under the pilot scheme, young people who have not previously completed six months of paid employment must undertake work experience so they can claim benefits, enabling them to contribute to their communities in line with the Government’s aim to ensure a wider social contribution. Referral to the trial will take place as soon as someone signs on for Jobseeker’s Allowance. If they do not participate without good reason, that claim will be discontinued and they will not receive benefits.

The initiative is a joint pilot between the Mayor and the Department for Work and Pensions and ties in directly with the Mayor’s pledge to help create 200,000 jobs over the next four years and the Department for Work and Pensions’ focus on back to work schemes.

The pilot will start by helping around 6,000 Londoners who make a new Jobseeker’s Allowance claim with little or no work history with 30 hours of work experience a week for a 13-week period. Placements will be carried out in a wide range of sectors including charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations. All placements are expressly required to deliver clear benefits to the communities in which people taking part in the project live.

Placements, contracted out to providers, will include a targeted package of support, such as CV writing and interview skills, to help people boost their employability in an increasingly competitive jobs market. The trial will be contracted in the next few weeks and will start later this year.

Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, said:

“Many other countries don’t allow young people to claim any benefits at all until they have made contributions through a job. This trial will give a clear idea of the impact of an approach that says, effectively, you can’t get something back until you have put something in.”

He has pre-empted critics by saying:

“Of course the usual suspects will cry “slave labour”. They always do. But they are the people who believe that young claimants have the right to sit at home playing computer games. We simply disagree.”

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:

“It’s no secret that work experience can be the key that opens the door to a successful career and more young Londoners need to be given the opportunity to do it. Right now it’s a tough labour market out there and we have to ensure that all young people get the skills they need to succeed and for which employers are crying out.

“Early intervention will reduce the risks of benefit dependency and increase the chances of long-term employment that is good for young people and good for the economic growth of this great city. As we continue to grapple with tough economic times there has never been a more pressing need to help young Londoners into work, which is exactly what this project is designed to achieve.”

TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, said:

“Students looking to start their careers or continue in their education are facing the toughest climate for nearly 20 years. It’s particularly worrying that long-term joblessness for young people is still rising, even as overall unemployment falls. If this continues we could lose a generation of talented and highly qualified youngsters to blighted careers, debt and under-achievement.”