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Economically Inactive Teenagers

Volume 450: debated on Monday 16 October 2006

2. How many economically inactive teenagers aged 16 and 17 not in full-time education there were at the end of (a) 1998 and (b) 2005; and if he will make a statement. (93397)

At the end of 1998, the figure was 46,000. At the end of 2005, there were 122,000 economically inactive people aged 16 and 17 not in full-time education.

Will the Minister explain why the group of teenagers who are not in work, full-time education or training has, according to his figures, tripled to roughly 30 per cent. of the total, despite the enormous number of Government programmes and despite the fact that that group features a high prevalence of crime, drug use and other forms of antisocial activity?

This is an important point. We introduced the education maintenance allowance to encourage young folk to stay on at school because the priority is for them to remain in education. I am pleased to confirm to the House that both the proportion and number of such people who remain in education is up, although there is much more work to do. I think that the hon. Gentleman would accept that the long-term youth claimant count is down by 60 per cent. nationally and by 50 per cent. in his constituency.

My hon. Friend the Minister joined me at a Save the Children fringe meeting at the Labour party conference in which we met a group of young people from an estate in a rural part of Wales. They flagged up the fact that one of the key issues affecting their ability to get into work was the lack of and the cost of transport. Will he join me in welcoming the End Child Poverty month of action that intends to highlight those problems and tell me a little more about what he plans to do following our meeting with Save the Children?

I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet my hon. Friend and young folk from rural Wales. She is correct that the single biggest problem that they all identified was the availability of transport in rural locations. That showed me that the way of overcoming the multi-dimensional way in which poverty arises is through collective action across all Government Departments. I confirm to my hon. Friend that we remain absolutely committed to halving child poverty by 2010 and abolishing it entirely by 2020, which is remarkably different from the situation a short time ago when we had the highest levels of child poverty of any industrialised nation on the planet.

I am confused. A moment ago, I heard the Minister say that the long-term youth claimant count was down by 60 per cent., but on 5 September, the Prime Minister said:

“We have eradicated long-term youth unemployment.”

Additionally, just the other day I read published Office for National Statistics data showing that long-term youth unemployment stands at 181,000, which is its highest level since October 1997. Will the Minister tell us who has got it right—him, the Prime Minister or the ONS—and which two have got it wrong?

I cannot do much about the hon. Gentleman’s state of confusion, but I can confirm that long-term youth unemployment in his constituency stands at 15. Of course, that is 15 too many, and we will do all that we can, working with everyone else, to ensure that we further reduce long-term youth unemployment in his constituency and elsewhere. However, I am sure that he would be the first to acknowledge that remarkable progress has been made on eradicating long-term youth unemployment, partly through the new deal, which, of course, he described only recently as an “expensive flop”.