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Volume 403: debated on Monday 14 April 2003

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What steps he is taking to help jobseekers find work. [108715]

We are taking a wide range of steps to help jobseekers to find work, including the roll-out of Jobcentre Plus, delivering a work-focused service to all; the new deals, which have got 750,000 people into work; employment zones and action teams, which are helping a further 90,000 people in disadvantaged areas, including 2,000 in Devon, to find jobs; the minimum wage and tax credits, which guarantee parents with one child £237 a week for full-time working; and new technology such Worktrain and job points, which provide information about jobs and training. Those policies have ensured that since the start of the recent global downturn, the number of people working in the UK has increased by 500,000.

I am grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive reply. I know that he is doing his best, but many employers in my constituency report a growing trend whereby young jobseekers arrive for a job interview but through their behaviour demonstrate that they are not remotely interested in taking that job, or perhaps any job. Does he think that we are down to a small but stubborn minority of young jobseekers who are happy to receive benefits from the rest of us but are not remotely interested in work? What does he propose to do about that?

The hon. Gentleman may have answered his own question, but he must not talk down his constituency. South-West Devon has a high standard of living, with only 1.3 per cent. of adults in the constituency unemployed. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman barracks me, saying, "It says here," and it does say so here, but the here from where I got the facts is his website.

The Minister will be aware that one of the most vulnerable groups of jobseekers is lone parents, but the new deal for lone parents has already moved 175,000 lone parents from welfare into work, and for the first time more than 50 per cent. of lone parents are in work. Despite the Opposition's threats to the new deal, will he confirm that that fine scheme has funds to continue?

I can confirm that. My hon. Friend is right to say that the Government have made progress in that respect. We are proud of the achievement, but more needs to be done, and we shall carry on until we have made work pay for lone parents and helped to bear down on poverty in lone parent households.

Further to the highly pertinent question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and the Minister's somewhat neurotic reply, will the right hon. Gentleman now answer this simple and intelligible question: how many jobseekers have had their benefit docked or withdrawn after refusing three reasonable job offers?

With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, of whom we on this side of the House are very fond, I am not sure that he should accuse other Members of being neurotic. As for the answer to his question, he knows that the number is relatively small. He knows from our previous discussions that the action is intended to be a sanction of last resort, not a mainstream means of doing business.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend accepts that lone parents have been encouraged into work not only by the new deal for lone parents, but by the working families tax credit. In the past week, it has come to my notice that some people who applied for working families tax credit two or three months ago have not had their claim considered. In the light of last week's hiccup in the transition to the new child tax credit, will he engage with Treasury Ministers to ensure that those who are waiting for their claim for working families tax credit or the new child tax credit to be processed do not fall to the back of the queue and that their claim will be dealt with quickly? Many of the lone parents involved are already in work and desperately need that money.

Of course I will do what my hon. Friend asks, and ensure that officials in our Department take those issues up with Treasury officials. There are three things that we must not lose sight of. First, the success that the Government have been able to achieve in the labour market is due to the fact that a combination of tax credits and the minimum wage means that work pays. Secondly, the jobs are there and, thirdly, the Department's proactive approach to helping people through training, advice or even encouragement into those jobs is having a discernible impact on the labour market.