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Jobseeker’s Allowance

Volume 487: debated on Monday 2 February 2009

9. What proportion of the population in (a) the UK and (b) Banbury constituency is claiming jobseeker’s allowance. (253032)

Latest figures show that 3 per cent. of the UK working age population and 1.7 per cent. of the Banbury working age population are claiming jobseeker’s allowance.

Last Friday a weekly job club was launched in Banbury with the support of the whole community. Between 200 and 300 jobseekers turned up for the first day, which is an indication of how grim the situation is getting. What is Jobcentre Plus doing to ensure that notified vacancies are matched up to jobseekers as quickly as possible, and that jobseekers can as easily as possible access the Jobcentre Plus notified vacancies? Not every town has a Jobcentre Plus office.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is why we are making sure that there is outreach work, for want of a better phrase, directed at smaller towns and areas. He will know that the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire district has developed a local employment partnership through which many of the notified vacancies are filled. About 45 per cent. of all vacancies are signed up to through the local employment partnership, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must not only provide help and support, but get notified vacancies publicised to as wide an audience as possible. I will reflect on his point about rural areas and the sparsity of provision of Jobcentre Plus offices. They cannot be everywhere. Much of the work that we do in respect of notified vacancies is over the phone or the internet. None the less, it is a fair point and I will reflect on it.

Women in the retailing and hospitality industries, especially those in part-time jobs, are particularly vulnerable at this time. What is Jobcentre Plus doing specifically to address the needs of women workers who lose their jobs?

Again, that is an entirely fair question. On the figures up to now, I do not concur entirely with what the TUC said about last month’s figures—that this is turning in to an equal opportunities recession, with a disproportionate impact on women—save for the fact that we know that in all downturns or recessions, part-time work, short-time work and temporary work are the first to go. Those are the very categories that include women. We are making sure that Jobcentre Plus is doing all it can not just for women who present, but especially for those from the retail sector. Our colleagues will know and understand that, as I said in my previous answer, we need to link up much more directly the vacancies out there in the retail sector with those recently made unemployed in the retail sector. It is a fair point that—[Interruption.] Along with the impact on young people and others, we need to keep an eye on that point during these serious times, which the Opposition clearly are not bothered about.

Do we not have to put the figures that the right hon. Gentleman gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) against the background that the number of UK workers in work went down last year, while the number of non-UK workers has gone up, with most coming from outside the EU? Is it not the case that we need effective control over work permits for workers coming from outside the EU? We also need an effective welfare-to-work policy for the nearly 2 million people who are unemployed, and for the additional 2 million economically inactive people who want to work, but who have been left to languish on benefits. Can we have less spin, less dithering and some fresh thinking please?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has the front to say “less spin” at the end of that question. He does make some serious points, but let us be clear: about 8 per cent. of those in employment are foreign nationals and UK nationals account for more than nine out of 10 people in employment. Well over half of the increase in employment since 1997 is accounted for by UK citizens.

Through the points-based system, we are improving considerably the situation regarding work permits. Broadly speaking, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues agree that there should be a focus on the economy and the skills shortage in the migration process, but he must be careful when using the other figures that he bandies about. Either he is conflating the International Labour Organisation and incapacity benefit figures, or he is—[Interruption.] It is not possible to use them to arrive at the figure cited by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) of more than 5 million, giving the impression that they are all economically inactive, without including—at least in part—those on disability living allowance, many of whom are in work, and carers, to whom it is a complete insult to suggest that they are in such a position.