Britain to step up its help for jobless teen-agers

Britain's Conservative government is extending its Young Workers' Scheme to subsidize employers hiring unemployed teen-agers during the country's serious economic crisis.

With unemployment hovering around 3 million (just over 12 percent of the working population) and many thousands of jobless people on short training courses, the Thatcher administration is giving increasing attention to youngsters under 18 without any career prospects. A new subsidy program scheduled to start next January will give state grants of (STR)7.50 ($13.60) weekly to employers if teen-agers are earning between (STR)40 and (STR)45 weekly ($72 and $81), or roughly half the average adult rate).

A plan started in July grants employers (STR)15 a week for a year for each jobless youngster they have employed within a salary scale of less than (STR)40 a week. But the 12 million-strong Trades Union Congress (TUC) has strongly condemned the subsidies, charging that the Young Workers' Scheme is ''misguided and harmful'' and an attempt to hold down wages.

But the government argues it could help employ thousands of youngsters who would otherwise remain idle without having to send some form of financial aid go to hard-pressed companies. Treasury officials have already allocated (STR)700 million to some two-year package projects to help unemployed youth find places in industry.

Teen-age unemployment is one of the biggest problems facing Britain, It was anxiously discussed at the TUC's annual conference at Blackpool in early September.

There is also deep public concern about the growing number of idle youngsters. The riots in London, Bristol, and Liverpool have highlighted the problems facing workless teen-agers - ''a lost generation,'' declared a Scottish church leader some months ago - but the recent reported suicides of two jobless young men and similar tragedies throughout the country have deeply shocked many people.

Government ministers say they are trying their to ''cushion'' the worst effects of unemployment on idle teen-agers, and there is obviously much ministerial concern for the plight of school dropouts seeking jobs. The Thatcher administration has been guaranteeing some kind of training for all school dropouts within a limited time after they left school.

What bothers the TUC and some employers is that ''temporary'' government employment subsidies may become a permanent part of a low-gear British economy.

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