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Volume 454: debated on Thursday 7 December 2006

I announced yesterday new measures to help lone parents and the young unemployed into work. Since 1997, 900,000 lone parents have benefited from the new deal, and 122,000 disabled men and women have found jobs. We have helped 316,000 young people and 283,000 of the long-term unemployed, which is one reason why there are now 2.5 million more people in work than in 1997. The answer is not to abolish the new deal but to extend it into a new deal for jobs and skills.

Last year, unemployment increased in 527 constituencies across the United Kingdom. In Wellingborough, unemployment increased by 17.6 per cent. There are, and I have checked my figures, more people unemployed in Wellingborough today than there were nine years ago. Is this “here today, gone tomorrow” Chancellor proud of that record?

I know more about Wellingborough than almost any other constituency in the country. The claimant count is down from 1,856 in May 1997 to 1,535 now. Youth unemployment in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is down by 47 per cent. since 1997, and adult unemployment is down by 71 per cent. The count on employment shows that not a few hundred but several thousand new jobs have been created in his constituency since the last election.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is more serious about creating jobs in the future. On April 15 2005, he said this in the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, “We want to get rid of red tape, but if that means unemployment, I am sorry, they will get another job. We are not here to create jobs.” I hope that he will support us on the new deal.

Does the Chancellor agree that as a result of the coalfield plan, we have made progress in coal-mining areas throughout Britain? I have spoken in many of those areas, where there have been 40 to 50 per cent. reductions in unemployment—at one time, many of those pit villages experienced unemployment of 15 per cent., and in some cases the figure reached 20 per cent. We will need a little bit more money for junction 29A, which goes straight into Markham pit yard. That is where we are going to get rid of all the pit tips and the lines of coke, which will be replaced by industrial premises and 5,000 jobs. Give us the extra money.

My hon. Friend has outlined the high road to employment. Looking at every region of the United Kingdom since 1997, there are 160,000 new jobs in the west midlands, 200,000 new jobs in the east midlands, 200,000 new jobs in Scotland and 200,000 new jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside. The one thing that the Opposition cannot say is that the 2.5 million new jobs that have been created in Britain in the past 10 years is not a record for this country. There is a higher proportion of people in work in this country than in most of the other advanced industrial economies. The Opposition should support the new deal, rather than trying to abolish it.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this week, unemployment among adults under 25 has never fallen below 10 per cent. since the Chancellor came into office, is three times greater than for adults over 25 and is now rising. Does the Chancellor agree with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation? Will he accept that that is a problem? And why does he think that policy has so far failed that group of people?

The hon. Gentleman might also have said that unemployment has fallen in his constituency by 54 per cent. since 1997 and that it has fallen for the young people that he is talking about. It is important that the House knows the employment figures on 18 to 24-year-olds since 1997, despite what the Opposition say. There were 3,230,000 young people in work in 1997; by 2006, the figure was 3,600,000, which is an increase of more than 300,000.

I recently paid another visit to the Single Parent Action Network, which has its national headquarters in my constituency. It has just received nearly £400,000 in lottery grant to expand its study centre work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that sometimes it is important that single parents have a year or two to gain qualifications, so that when they enter the job market they can go for better-skilled, better-paid jobs, rather than entering work straight away? And will he tell me what the Government are doing to support that?

One of the great changes that has taken place since 1997 is that the number of single parents entering work has risen substantially. When we came into power, the figure was about 43 per cent., and it has now risen to nearly 58 per cent.—we are on the road to raising it to around 70 per cent. in this country. One of the reasons why we have been able to make that change is by providing training support and child care help to lone parents to enable them to make those decisions. In particular, we have been able to help those people with the sort of courses recommended by my hon. Friend. Again, that part of the new deal is essential to the creation of jobs. I wish that there were all-party support for the new deal, instead of the Opposition parties trying to abolish it.

In the light of research that every 10 per cent. increase in unemployment results in a 30 per cent. increase in home repossessions, will the Chancellor call in the banks to negotiate a code of conduct with them to ensure that job losses do not lead to the loss of homes? In that context, can he confirm an alarming fact on page 224 of the Red Book, where the Government appear to project that claimant count unemployment will rise to more than 1 million in 2007-08? Is that correct?

No, because we do not make projections about the claimant count. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that historically no Government have predicted what unemployment will be in a year’s time. I have to tell him also that in 1997 unemployment was 1.6 million and that since then it has fallen by 700,000 to 900,000. That is an achievement in itself.

As for mortgages, the hon. Gentleman will probably remember that 1.5 million people were in negative equity at the beginning of the 1990s. It is because interest rates remain low that so few people, in comparison with that figure, are in negative equity and that there are now so many fewer repossessions. I hope that he will support an economic policy, contrary to the one that he represents at the moment, that will ensure economic stability through low inflation and low interest rates.

Unemployment in my constituency halved in the first four years of this Government, but sadly it plateaued, and in the past year it has increased by almost 22 per cent. and is now 7.7 per cent.—more than double the national average. Can the Chancellor tell me what fresh initiatives in the pre-Budget report will bring some hope to my constituents?

As my hon. Friend knows, unemployment in his constituency is still very much below what it was in 1997, as a result of the new deal. Yesterday we announced more help for single parents and the young unemployed to get into work. We will carefully consider, area by area, whether in local employment offices or in the regions, what local discretion can be exercised to allow jobcentres to enable jobs to be created in those areas. We are determined to get more people into jobs. My hon. Friend must recognise that there are now 2.5 million more people in work than there were in 1997 and that the percentage of the adult population in work—75 per cent.—is higher than in most countries. We will continue to create jobs, but we will need the new deal to do that, not its abolition.

Can the Chancellor confirm the simple but little-known claim that unemployment among young men in Britain is now the highest in the whole developed world? A yes or a no will do.

It is completely untrue. Unemployment among young people in France is nearly 20 per cent. [Hon. Members: “Young men.”] I said that unemployment among young people in France is about 20 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman were to look at the figures for France and for many other industrialised countries, he would also be in a position to know that in his constituency unemployment is down by 25 per cent. since 1997. I hope that the Opposition will start to think about their policy. If they seriously want to get more young men and young women into work, how can they possibly support the abolition of all the measures that are necessary to get people into work? Instead of attacking the unemployed, they should be attacking unemployment.