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Youth Unemployment (Rother Valley)

Volume 116: debated on Tuesday 12 May 1987

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

7.31 pm

I am pleased that Members on both Front Benches have got through the business and reached the important matter of my Adjournment debate.

As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, well know, the Rother Valley constituency is in the heartland of south Yorkshire—a once thriving industrial region which helped to create the wealth of this nation but which has not reaped the benefits of that wealth, as is plain to see when one looks around the area today. Most of the constituency is in the Rotherham and Mexborough travel-to-work area, which has one of the highest levels of unemployment in Britain and where more than 45 per cent. of those out of work have been jobless for more than a year.

Of the three parliamentary constituencies in the Rotherham metropolitan borough, Rother Valley has the lowest percentage recorded unemployment, but when one considers the percentage share of youth unemployment in each of the seven wards a grim picture is painted of the lives of many young people. In Thurcroft and Whiston ward, 33·1 per cent. of the unemployed are under the age of 25. In St. John's ward, the figure is 33·4 per cent., in Anston and Woodsetts and in Brinsworth, Catcliffe and Treeton it is 33·6 per cent., in Maltby 33·8 per cent., in Kiveton Park 35·3 per cent. and in Aston, Orgreave and Ulley 35·6 per cent. There is a total of 2,149 registered unemployed under the age of 25. In January this year, the total number of unemployed in the constituency was 6,297, of whom 43·5 per cent. were long-term unemployed, so 2,756 people had not had a job for more than 12 months. As youth unemployment accounts for a good 30 per cent. of the total, it is clear that many hundreds of young people have not had a job for a considerable time.

Those figures include only registered unemployed. They do not include the many hundreds of young people on youth training schemes and community programmes within the borough.

The main reason for the high levels of unemployment is the rundown in the regional and local economies. The 1981 census listed the Rother Valley constituency in the top 50 with the highest level of manufacturing industry, but many small manufacturers have been hit by the worsening state of the economy in the past eight years. Compared with 1978–79, manufacturing investment in the region is down by £190 million. It is clear that the local economy has suffered greatly when this is combined with high interest rates, the fall in manufacturing output and increased manufactured imports, and companies have not been able to take on young people as trainees or apprentices in what was regarded as the normal way in the 1960s and 1970s.

Two of the region's largest industries—steel and coal—which were once a major source of job opportunities for young people, have also suffered catastrophic reductions. Since 1979, two coal mines in the constituency have closed and thousands of jobs have been lost in neighbouring mines as a direct result of Government policy towards the coal industry.

Sad to say, only yesterday a further 200 job losses were announced at Treeton colliery in my constituency which is to be reduced to a single face colliery. That means not just the loss of 200 jobs but the loss of 200 future job opportunities for young people. There has also been a massive reduction in the Sheffield and Rotherham steel making and engineering works in the past 10 years. That has greatly affected the job opportunities for young people. I remember that when I came out of secondary modern school in 1962 I was offered a craft apprenticeship with the National Coal Board or a job in the steel works. There are no such opportunities for any of the young people now.

The Government's response has not been to seek to arrest the decline. Instead, regional aid has been cut so that there was £37·4 million less in 1985–86 than in 1978–79. With that amount of money being taken away from the region, we have not been able to create or hold job opportunities for young people.

There has. however, been some investment in the constituency. There has been massive investment in Maltby colliery as a result of the Labour Government's "Plan for Coal" which was agreed in 1976, but there are fewer people working there now than when I was employed there before the 1983 general election. It is all very well to say that millions, or even billions, of pounds have been pumped into the coal industry in capital investment, but in terms of job creation the result may be negative rather than positive.

Nearly half the people working at Maltby colliery have transferred from neighbouring collieries which have closed. In the past four years, not one young person has been taken on at the mine, although at one time it played a major role in employing young people in the area and one went there only if there were no other jobs in the local economy. Indeed, it was the lack of opportunities for young people that created the 1984–85 miners' strike, but the Government failed to listen, and by shutting their ears to what the mining communities were saying they allowed the situation to get worse.

The Government's answer to the high level of unemployment among young people has been the introduction of training schemes—initially the youth opportunities programme, then the youth training scheme and now the job training scheme—but the majority of young people remain unemployed after going through these schemes. The latest available Manpower Services Commission figures show that of those finishing or leaving youth training schemes in the Rotherham area between April 1985 and April 1986, only 17·9 per cent. found jobs with the employer with whom they had trained, despite the Government's initial assurances that the proportion would be far higher, 14 per cent. found jobs with other employers and 3·8 per cent. found part-time jobs. A further 7·8 per cent. went on to other youth training schemes, 2·7 per cent. went on to full-time education courses and 47·5 per cent. became unemployed. The Government have failed to face the fact that jobs once held by permanent employees are being carried out by a succession of young people on Government training schemes while permanent jobs for young people disappear.

Training schemes are not the answer to the problems of young people in Rother Valley in finding work. Schemes may be the answer for some young people, but they are an obstruction for others. In many parts of my constituency jobs being done by young people on Government training schemes were done five years ago by 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. People should not say that training schemes are there for work experience. They are stopping people getting jobs in my constituency.

While some young people in the constituency are taking part in good youth training courses run by charities like Community Industry and by the local authorities, there is no way in which they can compete with the skilled people who are being made redundant. It is often forgotten that when there are redundancies many experienced people are thrown on the dole queues. In the borough of Rotherham itself, for every job vacancy there are 68 people in the dole queue to take it up and many more not registered who are also looking for work.

The majority of young people in my constituency have been the victims of the Government's cynical economic experiment, which has failed both nationally and regionally. It is no good Ministers at the Dispatch Box or Tory Members talking about efficiency and making people stand on their own two feet. What chance does a 16-year-old school leaver from a family that is already disadvantaged because of unemployment have of ever being able to stand on his or her own two feet in such circumstances as I have described in many households in my constituency?

Last July, over 2,800 young people aged 16 left schools in Rotherham borough; 89 per cent. of them did not have a proper job. In other words, in July of last year over 2,400 young people were unemployed straight from school. Most of them are on training schemes although a few have got jobs. When we consider the hundreds of young people at comprehensive schools throughout the constituency who will be eligible to leave at 16 and who will be coming on to the dole queues and training schemes in July of this year, we see that the problem is getting worse.

The Government cannot claim that this has come as a surprise. Yet in the eight years during which we have watched the problem develop, the Government have not attempted to find a solution. They should have made an education allowance to 16-year-old students in comprehensive schools to enable them to benefit from further education without feeling that they were a burden on already disadvantaged families. My experience of my surgeries and of my postbag is that people are resentful of the fact that no education allowance is made to help their children get further education. As a consequence, children leave school at 16 to look for money from supplementary benefit or from training schemes. The Government have singularly failed to prevent young people going on the dole queue or into training schemes by not providing an education allowance.

On 11 June, thousands of young people will be voting for the first time. The few whose families have benefited from the tax cuts made by the Government over the last seven years will no doubt support Tory candidates. I am not so sure about those whose time has been wasted on the dole queues. I hope that the voices of that majority of young men and women will be heard rejecting the Government's policies, which have left many areas like my constituency with a gaping hole instead of opportunities for young people to get jobs and lead normal lives. Because they cannot find work, many young people cannot get married and lead the sort of life that most people in these communities have lived for generations.

The Government have failed to do anything to stop the growing tide of youth unemployment in my area and in the surrounding regions. I hope that on 11 June people will decide that no longer will they have a Government who are prepared to let young people waste their lives as is happening in Rother Valley.

7.44 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) on his success in securing this debate and on providing an opportunity for us to discuss youth employment. I have listened carefully to what he has said. I think I can start my reply by making three points on which I hope we will be in a fair measure of agreement.

First, I fully accept that the hon. Gentleman's constituency lies in an area which faces problems of industries in historic decline—like mining and steel—which make the task of adjusting to new world market conditions more intractable and painful than in many other areas. The overall unemployment count in the Rotherham and Mexborough travel-to-work area of 22,929 and the rate of unemployment at 21·9 per cent. put that beyond debate.

Secondly, unemployment hits young people—new-comers to the labour market—particularly hard and it must therefore continue to be the highest priority to improve their prospects of jobs.

Thirdly, while youth unemployment has its features which require a specific response, the job prospects of young people are very much influenced by wider economic developments and Government measures. Young people will therefore benefit from the progress we are making in creating the conditions for faster economic growth and from the new jobs which are being created.

I shall return to these wider matters if time allows, but I should first like to say a little about changes in the levels of youth unemployment. My main point is that nationally there is a clearly marked downward trend. In January 1986 there were 187,000 claimants aged under 18; this year there are 25,000 fewer. Over the three years to January 1987, if we look at total unemployed young people aged under 25, there is a reduction of 127,000, from 1,259,700 to 1,132,700.

Of those unemployed young people aged under 25 there has been a fall of over 80,000 in the past year to January and over 120,000 in the last two years. The unemployment rate for the under-25s is now 18 per cent.—lower than the EC average of 21 per cent., and much lower than Italy at 35 per cent. or France at 24 per cent.

These encouraging trends, I have to say, are not so clearly established in the Rother Valley area. But there is some progress. In the Rotherham travel-to-work area the number of unemployed people aged 18 and under fell by over 400 between January 1986 and January 1987, and in the wider region of Yorkshire and Humberside there were about 8,000 fewer unemployed people aged under 25 in this year compared with last. I very much hope these changes point to further improvement.

Further progress depends not on the Government alone, but the Government have their part to play. They have to continue particularly with their investment in young people, both to improve their employment prospects and to provide a skilled work force for the future of our industry.

I would like now to outline some of the specific measures we operate for our young people. At school level, it is the aim of the technical and vocational education initiative to prepare young people for the world of work by increasing the relevance and practical content of the curriculum, developing motivation, initiative, and problem-solving skills, providing work experience, and establishing links with local employers.

As hon. Members know, TVEI began on a pilot basis in 1983 and experience of the pilots was so encouraging in terms of the enthusiasm of teachers, parents and children alike, that we took the decision last year to extend the scheme into a national initiative, from which all 14 to 18-year-olds in maintained schools will be able to benefit. We shall be spending some £900 million on the national scheme over the next 10 years.

TVEI is, of course, voluntary, and Rotherham was one of the tiny minority of mainly Labour-controlled local education authorities which opted not to take part in the pilot phase. I am glad to say that it has now submitted a proposal for a three-year preparatory phase with a view to subsequent participation in a full extension. I hope for a successful conclusion of discussions so that TVEI will begin in Rotherham in September 1987 and the local authority will be able to take up the £5·25 million offered to enhance the education of its children.

A large and growing proportion of our young people are now being helped by YTS. A third of a million young people are now currently training on YTS; without YTS many of them would be unemployed. YTS is playing a central role in helping young people to gain skills, work experience and qualifications which increase their self-confidence as young adults and give them a better chance of employment. By giving young people the opportunity to train in the particular skills that are needed today—in new technology, for example—YTS is helping to bridge the skills gap which has bedevilled our industry for so long; and in helping industry to gain the skilled and enterprising young people it needs, we are helping industry to thrive and to create the jobs of the future.

Every 16 and 17-year-old unemployed school-leaver is now guaranteed a place on a YTS scheme. This means that no one under 18 need remain unemployed. This is an outstanding achievement of which the Government and providers of training can be proud. The Government are demonstrating their commitment to youth training by spending £1,000 million a year on YTS. Employers have been prepared to make a substantial and growing financial contribution because they recognise the benefits that YTS brings.

Nationally, about 60 per cent. of YTS trainees find employment soon after leaving, and many stay on with the same firm as regular employees. But there are bound to be regional variations in the picture, depending on the buoyancy of local labour markets.

The employment pattern in Rother Valley is obviously very difficult and this is reflected in below-average numbers of trainees finding work, although their situation is showing signs of improvement. The introduction of the new two-year YTS programme last year means that the young people of Rother Valley are now enjoying a longer period of high quality training with more practical work experience and off-the-job training. I have every hope that these substantial imrovements in the YTS training programme will result in a significant increase in the number of YTS trainees who move directly into work.

If young people are to take advantage of the opportunities on offer, they need realistic and well-informed careers guidance. The work of the local authority's careers service is crucial in all this. The careers service plays a central role in YTS recruitment: eight in ten recruits enter via the careers service. The Government fully recognise its role and the extra burdens which high levels of youth unemployment have placed on its staff. We will be continuing to support directly over 1,000 posts in local authority services. The careers service in Rotherham will benefit by 11 posts—close to a third of its total complement.

Our range of employment and training measures continues beyond YTS to provide help to young people seeking to improve their job prospects.

The new workers scheme is there to assist job seekers under 21 by providing financial assistance to employers who engage young people at rates of pay which reflect their relative inexperience. In the Rotherham-Sheffield area, 765 people were benefiting at the end of March.

The community programme also provides participants with improved employment prospects, at the same time yielding direct and tangible benefits to the community. Places in the Rother Valley are organised in part by the Sheffield and district area office and in part by the Derby area office of the Manpower Services Commission. The Rotherham and district share of provision in the Sheffield area totals some 3,370 places; 3,029 places were filled at the end of April this year. Some 65 per cent. of entrants are under 25.

For those young people who suffer lengthier unemployment, measures are in place to provide them with motivation and skills to compete effectively for jobs as the economy grows. Earlier this year we announced that we were stepping up the restart programme to include people unemployed over six months and to provide further interviews at six-monthly intervals. We also announced an extension of the new job training scheme with the aim of giving nearly a quarter of a million people a year a better chance to compete for the increasing number of job vacancies through quality training lasting an average of six months.

Under restart arrangements in the Rotherham-Sheffield area some 28,346 people had been interviewed and 89 per cent. of those had been made a positive offer; 1,924 had entered restart courses and 107 had been accepted for job start allowances.

Job clubs have been extremely successful in helping the unemployed. There are 16 job clubs in the Rotherham-Sheffield area. Some 368 people have been participants and 180 have gone into jobs, while a further 48 have gone into the community programme.

We are also actively encouraging enterprise and self-employment. Since 1979 the number of self-employed people in the United Kingdom has risen from 1·9 million to over 2·6 million—an increase of 37 per cent. About one in nine of the labour force is now self-employed.

The self-employed option is therefore one which needs to be held out to young people. Of course, only a few will be equipped and ready to start work on a self-employed basis, but it would be a denial of the enterprise in our young people not to alert them to the opportunities.

Through the enterprise allowance scheme and in many other ways we are ready to foster an enterprise culture. The EAS has been very successful. In the Rotherham-Sheffield area close to 4,000 people have entered the scheme since August 1983, and at the end of April this year 1,376 were currently benefiting from the allowance.

The director of Rotherham enterprise agency reports a high level of interest in business start-up among young unemployed people. He estimates that approaching 50 per cent. of all his clients fall into the 18 to 25 age group.

There is a small business club affiliated to the enterprise agency with a core membership of 40 with at least 20 members who are 25 or under. The agency also has three workshops in different parts of the borough offering small starter units to small business. At each location approximately 40 per cent. of the tenants are young business people in this same age group. The view of the director is that more young people would seriously consider self-employment as an option if similar work space was more readily available.

The South Yorkshire regional co-ordinator of the newly formed Prince's Youth Business Trust—the PYBT—shares this view about the level of interest in business among young people. During the first three months of operation eight out of a total of 85 bursary applications received from young people have had Rotherham postal addresses.

It is not, of course, much use having a full range of employment, training and enterprise measures if they are not properly marketed so that those who are eligible for and in need of help are fully aware of what is available. Through our "Action for Jobs" campaign, therefore, we have made every effort to bring the schemes to the notice of those who might benefit by participating or by providing opportunities. The campaign has been extremely successful: over 5 million people have picked up copies of the booklet "Action for Jobs", which gives an easy-to-read guide to over 30 programmes available to help people to get work. This is an excellent programme.

Assistance to economic development in the Rother Valley is not, of course, a matter solely for my Department, and considerable help is being given from elsewhere. Since 1979, under regional selective assistance arrangements, some £8,379,000 has been made available to Rotherham and a further £12,780,000 has been provided to the Rotherham development area since 1984. Rotherham enterprise zone, which opened in 1983, has successfully attracted 74 firms employing about 2,000 people.

Traditional industries have, I agree, been contracting, but other sources of employment are available. I have already referred to jobs created in the enterprise zone. Other jobs are being created. A multi-million-pound development at Park Gate, Rotherham, is under way and scheduled to create several thousand job opportunities in the near future. A new store in Dinnington for Leo's Supermarkets will shortly provide 300 jobs.

Now that there are five jobs in services for every two in manufacturing it is especially encouraging to see the creation of new opportunities in the service sector in the hon. Member's constituency. It is also encouraging to report that the number of vacancies notified in the year ending March 1987 to Rother Valley jobcentres was some 17 per cent. up on the previous year and that a comparison on the same basis shows placings up 14 per cent. The stock of unfilled vacancies was up to 364, as against 217 a year earlier, which is a 68 per cent. increase.

In a short debate such as this it is difficult to describe fully all that is being done to help young people in the Rother Valley. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman is clear that this Government are as concerned as he is to ensure worthwhile opportunities for young people in Rother Valley.

I have described what our particular measures are doing and will continue to do to help. Young people now have opportunities for training, way beyond those of earlier generations. These, together with the progress that we are making in creating a climate for new jobs, in economic growth and in defeating inflation, provide their best guarantee of better job prospects.