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School Leavers

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 3 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what new measures he is proposing to introduce to improve the employment prospects of school leavers.

As I informed the House on 3rd March, more funds have been allocated for the extension and expansion of the special measures introduced by the Government during the past 18 months for alleviating unemployment. A considerable proportion of this extra money will be devoted to providing additional assistance for young people currently unemployed and those school leavers who will be seeking unemployment—I am sorry; seeking employment—this summer.

I have just received the report of a working party of the Manpower Services Commission on the feasibility of ensuring that all unemployed young people between the ages of 16 and 18 are given the opportunity of training or part-time further education, of participation in a job creation programme, or of work experience. This will be given careful consideration, and I will make a statement about it in due course.

Apart from the Minister's Freudian slip, does he agree that, of all forms of unemployment, unemployment among school leavers is the most shameful? Does he realise that his proposals for the inner city areas barely scratch the surface?

Of all forms of unemployment, unemployment among young people is the worst. I hope the hon. Member will acknowledge that we have already made considerable progress with that problem. In his constituency in particular there has been a significant fall in such unemployment over the last two years. I hope that a wide-ranging, constructive debate in the House and throughout the country will arise as a result of the report. I hope that we shall be able to debate how far it is possible to expand and develop and find a solution to the problem of unemployment among those who are between 16 and 18 years of age. I hope that we shall be able to co-ordinate existing methods to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that young people want work and not work experience? Does he recognise that there are likely to be many thousands of young people on Merseyside this summer who will gain no work experience? What further measures are being taken to provide employment opportunities in that area? Does he not agree that we need an emergency crash programme?

I agree that many young people want work first of all rather than work experience, additional education or specific training. I would be misleading the House if I did not indicate the judgment that there are many thousands of young people who will not obtain jobs after the school leaving day on 28th May this year unless they can be helped by additional training such as that provided under the work experience scheme. We have found that those who undertake such training find jobs more readily than they did before. I agree that a crash programme is necessary, but it must contain elements that will assist people to get work.

Does the Minister agree that the number of unemployed school leavers would still be at 200,000 if he had not spent £500 million on artificial job creation?

I accept that the 200,000 figure that we reached last year would not have fallen by anything like the amount that it did but for a number of measures, including job creation, work experience and so on. That is not an argument against using special measures to help young people in a period of recession and demographic increases in unemployment. Rather, I think that it is a reason for examining such measures as we are running, seeing how effective they are and deciding whether we want to pursue them, to develop them or to replace them by other measures. If we fail to do that, we shall be failing these young people.

Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that there is a feeling of almost total hopelessness and disillusion among school leavers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".]—at a time when their hopes should be highest? Will he also accept that the crocodile tears of the Conservative Party, which failed to invest in British industry in order to ensure jobs for school leavers, are noted on the Labour Benches? Will he also guarantee that more steps will be taken at least partially to reflate the economy—something that the Conservative Party would never dream of helping to do—in order to ensure that these young people are given jobs?

One of the things that worry me enormously is that I find in certain areas—not uniformly across the country, but in certain areas only—a sense of disillusionment among young people, and a sense of hopelessness—[An HON. MEMBER: "And among old people."]—but it is not general. I still take some comfort from the fact that the majority of youngsters leaving school still believe that they should be able to find not only some sort of a job but a job that will be satisfying to them and one in which they can deploy their own particular talents. I think that they are right to expect that, and I think that because, inevitably, youngsters cannot control all the factors that will determine whether or not they get jobs, it is up to those of us who can do something about it to respond to their particular needs.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that perhaps the worst aspect of the present unemployment situation is the growing inability to provide jobs for younger people? Will he give the figures not only for school leavers but for the number of people under, say, the age of 18 or under 25 who are today unemployed? Will he also give the House an assurance that the report of the Manpower Services Commission will be published soon and that there will be a full-scale debate on this problem very soon in the House?

Perhaps I may deal with those questions in reverse order. Certainly I shall approach my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with a view to having an early debate. I have already been in touch with the Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission regarding publication. I am expecting the report to be published this month. As regards the number of unemployed young people, including school leavers under the age of 18, the figure peaked at 268,000 in July 1976 and then declined steadily until January, when the figure was 122,000. At the next count on the age basis, I shall provide a more up-to-date figure than that.

I do not accept that we are incapable of dealing with this problem. We have attacked the problem at the point of the school leaver with a very considerable measure of success. In succeeding years we have developed more effective measures in that area. What we now need to do is to go on to deal with the problem measured against the wider basis, and first of all on the 16–18 age group, which is a matter of primary importance to us now, although that would not preclude our looking at the problem again on the basis of a longer time scale later.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that any action indicated in this sphere must be initiated within the next two weeks in view of the large number of youngsters coming on to the labour market at the end of the month and the very low level of juvenile vacancies advertised in local offices? In that context, will the Government consider the possibility of allocating grants or subsidies to all those companies that are willing to employ a larger number of apprentices than is needed by their organisations, thereby guaranteeing a skilled work force when the economic miracle comes?

I am already examining as much evidence as we can find about the position of the Easter school leavers, who are the main immediate issue. It appears that about three-quarters of them have obtained jobs. We shall be dealing with a little over one-quarter—about 19,000 school leavers registered in career offices. That is one of the reasons why we have carried forward the existing measures to assist them into August this year, in advance of determining what we are to do about the Holland Report.

I very much appreciate that Scottish school leaving dates are different and that there are Christmas school leavers and May school leavers in Scotland. However, I am giving the House an indication, which is the best and latest indication I have, of what happens to young people leaving school now. The best indication comes from the English and Welsh school leavers. Of course, in England we shall also have young people leaving school on 28th May. I very much agree that we must continue, through the industrial training boards and through the Training Opportunities Scheme, to support and maintain the level of intake into vocational training.