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Jobseeker's Allowance

Volume 483: debated on Monday 24 November 2008

3. How many jobseeker’s allowance claimants there were in (a) the UK and (b) Ludlow constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. (237964)

The number of people in the UK claiming jobseeker’s allowance in October was 980,900. In Ludlow, the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance was 651.

I am delighted that the Secretary of State is aware that unemployment in Ludlow has gone up by 10.5 per cent. in the past year alone, but why are there 300,000 fewer British people in work today than two years ago, while there are almost 1 million migrant workers in work?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, we totally understand that people will be worried about the economic circumstances, and our commitment is to do everything that we can to help people get back into work if they lose their job. That is why we have announced, for example, an extra £100 million—to do exactly that. We will do that to ensure that we never reach the unemployment levels that we had in the past—almost 3,000 people, not 651, in his constituency—at the height of the previous recession.

The fact that the numbers of people on jobseeker’s allowances are rising is, nevertheless, a big contrast compared with the 1980s and 1990s, when people were just abandoned in the terrible Tory years. [Interruption.] As we are entering a period of turbulence in the jobs markets and rising unemployment, will my right hon. Friend specifically look at the question of people not receiving their benefit and support quickly, if not immediately, particularly in respect of mortgage relief and of those who are made redundant? People should receive their benefit right away and then be helped back into work, instead of languishing for a period in no-person’s land.

We are introducing today the lone parent changes, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for that radical welfare reform package, for which he was responsible. He is absolutely right: we need to ensure that we get people their benefits as soon as possible, and that is why we have brought forward the help that people receive if they lose their job and need to pay their mortgage, from 39 weeks, as it was under the Conservative Government, to 13 weeks.

I know that Opposition Members did not like it, but my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to remind them that in the ’80s and ’90s, millions of people were abandoned when the Conservatives massaged the figures to get people on to incapacity benefit. We will not repeat that mistake.

Given that the number of new jobseeker’s allowance claims is rising quickly alongside unemployment, and that Government policy changes mean that an extra 350,000 people will be moved on to JSA between now and 2011, at the same time as the Department for Work and Pensions plans another 7,000 job cuts on top of the 16,000 jobs that have already been lost, will the Secretary of State guarantee that Jobcentre Plus staff will have the time and resources to deal with the increasing work load? Does he agree that this is the time to recruit more Jobcentre Plus staff, rather than to continue with job cuts?

The hon. Lady is right to say that we need to make a commitment to do everything that we can to help people find their next job. However, she misunderstands the nature of the efficiency changes that we have made; they are about moving people from back-office jobs to the front line. Actually, there are 1,500 more personal advisers today than two years ago, so we have got more people to the front line. On top of that, we are retaining an extra 2,000 people who were helping us with the introduction of the employment and support allowance; they will now help us with the higher volume of claims. The hon. Lady will have to wait for the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement later this afternoon to see whether anything further is coming.

Will my right hon. Friend look towards ensuring that there is a skill match for people who have lost their jobs and that if those people need to be trained, training is available immediately, rather than their having to wait a long time before qualifying? That would begin to help the situation at Leyland Trucks, where jobs have, tragically, been lost. With a bit of skill matching and extra training, we can get those skilled people back into work. That is the kind of support that they need. Will my right hon. Friend look towards assisting them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The earlier we can get help to people, the easier it will be for them to find their next job. That is exactly what we want to do. We want to make sure that the rapid response service helps people when redundancies are announced, before they even lose their jobs, so that they can be provided with help on retraining. As my hon. Friend says, with a small amount of retraining, people with good skills can get back into work quickly. That is exactly what the extra £100 million that we have announced is, in part, designed to do.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne); he did not even attempt to answer my hon. Friend’s point about the impact of migrant workers. As the recession bites and unemployment rises, what plans does the right hon. Gentleman have to make representations to the migration advisory committee, so that when it considers shortage occupations, it looks first at people who will be helped by the Government’s welfare reform programme, rather than bringing in people from outside the country to do those jobs?

Is the Conservative party against migration now? The tone of its questioning is getting suspiciously close to that. It is important that we have a system for managing migration effectively, and that is exactly why we are bringing in the system based on the Australian points system. However, it is important to remember that in the past 10 years we have gone from being the poorest country in the G7 to being the second richest. Three million more people are in work than in 1997. We come from a context in which, earlier this year, we had the lowest unemployment count since the 1970s and the highest employment ever. We now need to make sure that we do everything that we can to help people fairly through the coming downturn. That absolutely involves welfare reform to get people back into work.