The latest figures published at the end of April show that 77,580 young people in Scotland have found employment through the new deal.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The new deal has been important to thousands of youngsters in Scotland and it is important that it continues. We are lucky in the city of Aberdeen because we have relatively low unemployment, but we do have an employment problem at the moment. We have young people who are still looking for jobs. Many of them have had problems in their lives and are getting special assistance from voluntary organisations such as Aberdeen Foyer in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg). At the other end of the spectrum, we have a boom in the oil industry and an ageing work force. We need additional resources to assist with training and to achieve synergy between the young people who are looking for jobs and an industry that is desperate to employ people. Is that an area that he will discuss with his colleagues in the Cabinet to see what can be done?
I am certainly happy to raise with colleagues the points that my hon. Friend has made, but it is important to keep in context the challenge that he describes. Long-term youth unemployment in Scotland has been virtually eradicated—it is 90 per cent. lower than in 1997. Secondly, 1,120 young people in his own Aberdeen, North constituency have been helped into work by the new deal. On his first assertion—that the new deal has been hugely significant—I am afraid that that is not a consensual view in all parts of the House. The Conservatives opposed the new deal and would abolish it, the Liberal Democrats never supported it, and the Scottish National party did not bother to turn up to vote in favour of it.
The Secretary of State will be aware that many young people who find work through the new deal or otherwise are on relatively low wages. Does he therefore agree that it is absurd that the Department of Trade and Industry has withdrawn support for the minimum wage helpline run by the Scottish Low Pay Unit, which has helped thousands of Scots on low wages? As a result, the helpline is due to close at the end of the month. Will he demand that the DTI reverse its decision and continue to provide the relatively small amount of finance needed to keep this valuable service in operation?
Given the enormous success of the new deal for young people, despite opposition from Opposition Members, will my right hon. Friend consult the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to see how best the new deal can be extended to include other groups of unemployed people in areas of high unemployment such as, sadly, many parts of the city of Glasgow?
I am of course happy to give an undertaking to consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Although more than 200,000 people have found work in Scotland since 1997, I fully recognise that in the great city of Glasgow, and particularly in its east end, considerable challenges are being faced. I pay particular tribute to the work undertaken recently at the Forge, where young people have been taken on, training has been provided and a very effective public-private partnership has been established to address the urban regeneration issues that my hon. Friend is seeking to deal with in his constituency. The new deal has not only been successful in tackling the first tranche of unemployment that we encountered—since then, it has become an innovative and imaginative tool in our efforts to ensure that we further extend the number of people in work in our economy.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the youth unemployment figures were on a downward trend before 1997, and that that has continued subsequently? Will he also confirm that whereas the new deal for young people is available at the very early stages of unemployment, the new deal for the over-50s is not available for the first six months? Will he review that arrangement and ensure that that age group, among whom unemployment is growing, benefits from the new deal at the earliest possible stage?
I am glad that the question that has been asked seems to reflect a continuation of Conservative policy, which is an instinctive knee-jerk hostility to effective measures to address some of the challenges that we face in the labour market. If it is as easy as the hon. Lady suggests to drive down unemployment, there are genuine questions to be asked about why we now have the highest level of employment in many decades, contrary to the position during the boom-bust years of the Conservatives.
My right hon. Friend will know that unemployment is the single most important determinant of policy. Although we have made great advances through the new deal for young people in each of our Scottish constituencies, there are still 7,000 people on benefit in my constituency, which makes it the joint 41st highest in the United Kingdom in that regard. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that pathways to work and other innovative projects are maintained in constituencies such as mine, so that we can get young people who are unemployed for six months for more, in particular, into work?
I have taken a very close interest in this issue in my constituency. Renfrewshire was one of the first pathfinders for pathways to work, and by meeting Jobcentre Plus staff I saw for myself the innovative approaches that are being taken to ensure that genuine assistance is provided to people who may have issues such as drug dependency, literacy or numeracy difficulties that have inhibited them from entering the labour market. I believe that pathways to work represents the way forward in terms of innovative labour market strategies, which is why I am glad that it is being extended to my right hon. Friend’s constituency.