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Jobseeker’s Allowance

Volume 489: debated on Monday 16 March 2009

8. How many jobseeker’s allowance claimants there were in (a) the United Kingdom and (b) the South-West Hertfordshire constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. (263321)

As I said earlier, in January 2009, there were 1,282,645 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in the UK and 1,006 in the South-West Hertfordshire constituency. Those numbers are based on seasonally unadjusted figures.

Given the OECD’s prediction that unemployment in the UK will rise higher and faster than that in any of the other G7 countries, does the Minister believe that the UK economy was best placed to withstand a recession?

We are not in the game of making predictions about unemployment. There are many forecasts about where unemployment and, indeed, the economy may well go, but our job is to ensure that there is help and support for each and every person who is unemployed. In that context, the Jobcentre Plus network is very well placed.

Both the Minister of State and the Secretary of State have referred several times today to the ProAct scheme, which helps to subsidise wages and training in many companies in Wales but is not available to companies in England. Will the Minister, or indeed the Secretary of State—we have worked together well on other occasions—agree to meet me, and other midlands Members of Parliament, to discuss how the scheme could be extended to England so that we can reduce the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance and keep people in work?

If the hon. Gentleman chooses to visit his local Jobcentre Plus on 6 April, he will see that the scheme is part of the six-month offer.

Evidence from all quarters now suggests that there are many more jobseekers than there are vacancies advertised in jobcentres or vacancies in the economy as a whole—not least in the Secretary of State’s own constituency, where there are 18 jobseekers for every vacancy in the jobcentres.

I welcome the fact that Ministers have now given up on the complacent assertions that they were making until recently about the number of vacancies in the economy. I include the Secretary of State, who was making such assertions until very recently. Now that those Ministers have woken up to the reality that is faced by so many of our constituents who are having to visit jobcentres, may I invite them to give jobseekers the best possible opportunity to fill vacancies by making available to them the personalised employment programme that we have said should be provided at a much earlier stage in the handling of a claim than it does under the Government’s plans?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are more than aware of the reality facing people in this country. If there is any complacency, assertion and smugness, it resides on the Opposition Benches, whose Members indulge in fantasy politics and put no money up.