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Jobcentre Plus

Volume 487: debated on Monday 2 February 2009

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus services in dealing with an increase in the number of people registering as unemployed. (253029)

Jobcentre Plus continues to meet the demands of the rising number of people looking for work. Clearance times are at an average of 10 days, which remains the best performance since records started to be kept in 2003-04.

Some former Woolworths employees might be fortunate enough to get one of Asda’s 7,000 new jobs, but for many other redundant workers, there might be a mismatch between their present skills and those required for any other jobs that are likely to become available in the foreseeable future. In the light of the comments of a former Woolworth’s employee on television yesterday that she would have to be unemployed for six months before becoming eligible for any new training, what help with training can people expect from jobcentres, and what plans does my right hon. Friend have to introduce more flexibility in order to give redundant workers earlier access to training schemes, when that is clearly what is required?

Order. May I gently say, as I have said before, that although it is important that we argue for those who are unemployed, there should be no written statements made in supplementary questions? Also, supplementary questions should be short; I do not expect a prepared statement.

My hon. Friend makes the important point that we should be getting help to people, even before they are made redundant. That is why we have been working with Woolworths and others to get help for people to retrain, if necessary, and to improve their CV and their knowledge of how to look for work. From day one of their unemployment, people are able to train, as long as they combine that with a job search, and, after six months, we step up the support that we offer to people. We think that that is the right approach.

As we anticipate that mental illness is likely to rise with the rise of unemployment, what steps are the Government taking to ensure not only that the staff at jobcentres have adequate training but that they can refer people on so that they receive the necessary early intervention to ensure that their mental health does not deteriorate and further reduce their chances of getting back into work?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. We are working with pilots such as Talking Therapy, which she will know about, to make sure that employment advisers work side by side with therapists so that both employment prospects and people’s mental health are discussed. It is also important that we do not forget about people on incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance because of their mental health. We need to keep up the support and continue to reform welfare so that such people are not left behind because of their specific conditions.

In her question, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) referred to a situation in which a large number of people were being made redundant and in which training might therefore be offered. In Milton Keynes, there are more than 500 vacancies but large numbers of people are being made unemployed from a variety of different places. Can the Secretary of State think about how those people could be put on training almost straight away, to upgrade their skills so that they match the jobs available locally? There are no low-skilled jobs available for them.

That is a good point, and exactly why we say that people can train from day one as long as they combine that with a job search. Furthermore, if they have not found work after six months, we step up the offer so that there is either a full-time training course to support people setting up their own companies or a job subsidy to make sure that people do not become unemployed long term. The real danger is that long-term unemployment becomes the scar that defaced so many of our communities in previous recessions.

How big an increase in staff is the Secretary of State planning for this year to deal with the unfortunately very large increase in unemployment that most people are forecasting?