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Volume 464: debated on Monday 8 October 2007

1. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of worklessness among under 25-year-olds since 1997; and if he will make a statement. (156103)

9. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of worklessness among under 25-year-olds since 1997. (156111)

Now that the red flag has been hauled down and the yellow flag of cowardice has been hoisted, what is the Secretary of State’s vision for youth unemployment, given that so many more people who have been on the new deal have gone back on to jobseeker’s allowance?

The truth is that, compared with when the Tories were in power, when young people had virtually no chance of getting a job in constituencies such as mine, unemployment has been cut, youth unemployment has been cut and long-term unemployment—more than a year—has been virtually eradicated. That is a record of which we are proud, and the new deal for young people has made an enormous contribution to that—a new deal opposed by the Conservatives.

The number of young people leaving the new deal to go straight back to benefits has spiralled in recent years and the number of 18 to 20-year-olds not in education, employment or full-time training has increased sharply. Does not that show that the claim that youth unemployment has been virtually eradicated is nonsense and that, despite all the billions of pounds of expenditure on the new deal in the past five years, we still have a serious and growing problem with a hard core of unskilled, unmotivated young people who are effectively doing nothing with their lives?

In the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, long-term, six month-plus youth unemployment has fallen by 94 per cent. since we came to power. I can give him lots of other figures, including about the very high number of vacancies in his constituency. There are plenty of jobs in his constituency, and that is true right across the country. Yes, there is an issue about 16 to 17-year-olds, which we are addressing, but it would not be addressed by the bankrupt policies of the Conservatives.

What role does my right hon. Friend think city strategies can have in tackling worklessness among the under-25s?

Those strategies can have an enormous role, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on chairing the city strategy project in Rhyl, which has got off to a flying start. He has brought together local employers and all the other agencies. The strategies are focused on tackling some of the problems right at the centre of our towns and cities that are still very serious and part of a legacy that we inherited 10 years ago. We are doing something about it.

My hon. Friend is indeed doing something about it, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is joining me in congratulating him on what he is doing in Rhyl to tackle some of the serious problems of people who are also involved in drugs and other problems in some of our most disadvantaged areas. In Rhyl, people are showing the way forward, and we will all need to consider whether that model can be applied elsewhere.

Given that, during the past three years, 2 million people have come to this country to work and have found work, does my right hon. Friend not feel that our welfare-to-work strategy is somewhat disappointing? Given that we are not now to have an election, might we have a debate in Government time on the new proposals that he intends to introduce to help and encourage more people to move from benefit to work?

As my right hon. Friend knows, we are consulting, including with him, on how we take on the next stage of getting more people into work. The truth is that we have been incredibly successful in the past 10 years in tackling the main problem of those who are in and around the job market, with 2.7 million extra jobs in the past 10 years, about 800,000 of which involve those who have come from outside the country to work in Britain and are contributing to our economy. However, there is still a high level of people on long-term benefits, which we intend to tackle. That is why we published our Green Paper, “In work, better off: next steps to full employment”, and I will certainly work with my right hon. Friend and anyone else who has ideas to contribute during the consultation that ends at the end of this month.

I welcome the Secretary of State back from the campaign trail. I have been wondering over the weekend whether he is one of the Cabinet’s young Turks or grey beards.

The Secretary of State talks about youth unemployment. According to the Office for National Statistics, overall youth unemployment is almost 50,000 higher than it was when the Government came to office. Does he accept that situation?

As the Secretary of State responsible for the grey citizens in this country, I take pride in that role. Furthermore, when we look at our record on youth unemployment compared with what we inherited in 1997, we see the truth: the rates of both claimant and International Labour Organisation youth unemployment have fallen since 1997. The new deal for young people has reduced total and long-term youth unemployment and virtually eradicated long-term claimant unemployment—those claiming for a year or more. Those figures have gone down by 90 per cent. since 1997.

Despite the continual attacks on the new deal for young people, independent assessment has shown that the total number claming jobseeker’s allowance for more than six months would have been twice as high as it is now. That is all a result of our achievements, but we have got to do more—and we will do more.

I find it baffling when the Secretary of State talks about his achievements. According to the Office for National Statistics, the unemployment rate among 16 to 24-year-olds was 14.1 per cent. in 1997; today it is 14.5 per cent., and nearly 50,000 more young people are unemployed. When the Secretary of State said to this House,

“Actually, youth unemployment has been all but eradicated”—[Official Report, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 283.]

was he telling the truth?

I repeat to the hon. Gentleman the point that I have already repeated: long-term youth unemployment—those on the claimant count for more than a year—has been virtually eradicated. That is a fact. He can check the statistics with me; I am happy to exchange correspondence with him on the issue. The truth is that we have a good record on increasing the number of jobs for young people. We continue to do so. However, there are more young people in the under-25 age group in the labour market now. That accounts for some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman, but he should check his figures.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is still a problem that we must resolve? Will he look at some of the exciting pilots that depend on intensive mentoring? There is one in east London and we are starting one in Huddersfield. Jobcentre Plus and bureaucracies such as learning and skills councils often get in the way of such pilots. Will he visit some of those interesting pilots?

I am certainly happy to look into those projects. Yes, there is a whole issue about mentoring. The question is not only about getting young people into jobs, but about keeping them in those jobs; that is where mentoring comes in. Such mentoring is important for all sorts of categories of people who have been on long-term benefits, as it makes sure that they sustain their employment. When mentoring is applied, such people often do so.