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Jobseekers Allowance (Training Courses)

Volume 495: debated on Monday 29 June 2009

5. What recent assessment she has made of the effects on the assistance available to jobseeker’s allowance claimants of their participation in training courses; and if she will make a statement. (282351)

Training can be an important part of helping people back into work and that is why we are increasing training support for jobseekers, particularly those who have been out of work for more than six months. For training support to be most effective for jobseekers, it needs to be accompanied by a continued search for new jobs.

What would the Secretary of State say to a constituent of mine who wanted to renew his forklift truck driver’s licence, which could have got him a job, and was told that, despite his having been out of work for six months, he was not eligible to have the costs refunded or to have any training not because he was not entitled to it, but because he lived in the wrong area? Why is there a postcode lottery when it comes to giving training to people who want to find work?

I am obviously very happy to look into the individual case that the hon. Gentleman raises. Across the country, we have provided increased support for training. He is right, I think, to raise the case of a constituent who has been out of work for six months, because the longer people are out of work, the harder it can be to find new jobs. Although new vacancies are being reported all the time, if someone does not have up-to-date skills or recent work experience, it can be harder. That is why we have provided additional investment in training to help those people. I shall look into his individual case.

The Secretary of State has just said that the longer people are out of work the more difficult it is for them to get back into work. Is that not particularly true for young people? Unemployment rates have doubled in Cornwall over the past year. Does that not mean that help, such as training, needs to be introduced and to be available to people before they have been unemployed for a year, so that they do not get trapped in a vicious cycle?

The hon. Lady is right that we need to provide help for young people in particular. We saw what happened not only in the early ’80s, but the early ’90s, when effectively we lost a generation to work because of the long-term unemployment among young people. That is why, as well as the future jobs fund, which will provide more than 100,000 additional youth jobs across the country, we want training at an earlier stage. Young people can also benefit from the additional training provided at six months that was introduced in April. It is an additional help to people who need support at this time, in the middle of a recession.

May I welcome you to your new role, Mr. Speaker? May I also welcome the Secretary of State to her new position, albeit that I note that she is the fourth Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in two years? May I also note that Lord Freud has been introduced into another place this afternoon, which we welcome?

The Secretary of State talks about more help after six months, but in an economy with rising unemployment and falling vacancies, many people need to be able to retrain immediately. When will the Government adopt our proposal and allow people to retrain, full time, from day one of their claim for jobseeker’s allowance?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words. She and I were on the Select Committee on Education and Employment together 12 years ago. It is good to see that she has maintained her interest in these issues. On the question of what training support is provided from day one, people who have lost their job can already get up to 16 hours of part-time training and support from the skills for life qualifications and from the employability skills programmes. Last year alone, Jobcentre Plus referred just over 1 million people for skills and training in the first six months of their claims. A lot of support is provided already for training for people in the early months when they lose their jobs. She asks why we cannot introduce her policies. She would not be able to introduce her policies or most of ours because she opposes the £5 million additional investment that we are putting in to support the unemployed this year.

The Secretary of State makes all these claims about the amount of help available for unemployed people but they ring hollow, given that, as from today, no new referrals to the new deal will be made across half the country, including in major cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. Why are the Government abandoning the unemployed in half the country?

I do not think that the right hon. Lady understands what the employment programmes are. We have already introduced additional support that is stronger than the new deal in many areas since April. After someone has been unemployed for six months they can get additional job subsidies and additional training support; they can get all kinds of further help that is better than the new deal for adults, which was offered across the country. We are going further; we are introducing the flexible new deal. I must say to her that she can talk as much as she likes about “hollow words”, but the hollow words come from her party, which will not fund additional help for people whom it previously abandoned. We are determined to help these people get back into work, whereas she simply opposes the funding for them.