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Economic Inactivity

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2007

The Government are planning a wide range of initiatives aiming to help those on benefits back into work in Wales, including city strategy pilots in Rhyl and the heads of the valleys, and extending pathways to work to all Wales by the end of this year.

The Secretary of State will know about the recent Bevan Foundation study, entitled “Caring and Working? A Welsh Case Study”, which addresses the barriers that carers face in returning to work. Does he agree that one of the best ways to help carers in Wales and elsewhere is to review the carer’s allowance and significantly improve their respite care? Does he also agree that the Prime Minister’s review of the national carer’s strategy and his excellent initiative to establish a carer’s commission present an ideal opportunity to assist carers and thus reduce economic inactivity in Wales?

Yes, I do. I commend my hon. Friend for his pioneering work in support of carers—he has done a fantastic job. The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004 took up much of that work. The Bevan Foundation publication on caring and working, which I have read, is very interesting and will inform our current debate on a national carer’s strategy and our intention to publish a Green Paper once we have taken the work forward.

Wales has the capacity to become the capital of environmental industries for the United Kingdom and, indeed, Europe. Is the Secretary of State willing to meet a delegation representing environmental enterprises to discuss the potential of tackling economic inactivity throughout Wales at the same time as contributing to our sustainable agenda?

I would be happy to meet such a delegation. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that environmental manufacturing and environmental businesses have a vital role in a strong, modern Welsh economy, which we are building in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that economic inactivity in south Wales will be greatly reduced by the military training academy at St. Athan, especially if we get the transport infrastructure right? Is he satisfied with the progress that the Welsh Assembly Government are making on that infrastructure?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary visited in the summer to look into the matter. The St. Athan project is a flagship project for Wales, which will bring in billions of pounds of investment and create thousands of jobs. That shows the value of the partnership between our Government here in London and the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff, with Wales as part of the United Kingdom, not taken out of it, as the nationalists propose, or forced to withdraw as a result of the disastrous proposals of the Leader of the Opposition to create first and second-class Members of Parliament.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the transformation in economic success of my constituency. Ten years ago, it was an unemployment blackspot; now it has almost full employment. However, problems remain with economic inactivity. May I draw his attention to the work of the Prince’s Trust and Pembrokeshire college, which are delivering upskilling for young people, 140 of whom are based at the Cleddau activity centre, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary visited in September?

Wearing his other hat as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Prince’s Trust does fantastic work in Pembrokeshire and elsewhere in the country. I also agree that the transformation in the Pembrokeshire economy has been nothing short of miraculous, given the devastation that I remember seeing when I canvassed with him in the early 1990s. Now, more than 1,000 job vacancies have been advertised in his constituency alone. That shows the enormous growth in the economy in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire and the fantastic potential for everybody there to do well, for people to get more jobs and to go from strength to strength.