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Jobseeker’s Allowance

Volume 502: debated on Monday 7 December 2009

5. What the percentage change has been in the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in (a) Wellingborough constituency and (b) England between 1997 and the latest period for which figures are available. (304066)

From October 1997 to the end of October 2009, the numbers claiming jobseeker’s allowance in England have gone up by 163,277 and in Wellingborough by 1,578. This is a change of 14.1 per cent. and 105.1 per cent. respectively. In the same period, employment has risen by 2,685,200 in England and by 11,700 in Wellingborough.

In 1997, Tony Blair said that things could only get better. In Wellingborough, unemployment has more than doubled since 1997. How could Tony Blair have got it so wrong?

Things have certainly got better for those 11,700 people who, thanks to the policies of this Government, are now in work and who would not have been in work before. Things have got better for the 137 people net who came off jobseeker’s allowance last month in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I do not hear him celebrating the fact that the figures are now starting to come down in his constituency. All in all, the management of the economy that we have seen over the past year through this recession is in stark contrast to that when his party was in power, when unemployment was deemed a price worth paying. We have now seen unemployment figures that are 400,000 less than those predicted at the time of the Budget in April.

In Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, including in Wellingborough, those who have been on jobseeker’s allowance for 12 months are referred by the local jobcentre to a private sector organisation, the offices of which I visited last week to discuss its approach. How confident is the Minister that the training and support that those outsourced contracts provide will be appropriate to those who seek to find work in a very difficult market?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that, however good the providers are, we also need to ensure that we have policies in place to create work for people to move into. Those providers are paid on the basis of results—for those whom they successfully get into work—and that is a strong incentive for them properly to match the support that is needed with the individuals. The biggest threat comes from the policies that have been put forward by the shadow Chancellor, which The Economist has said would lead to a doubling of unemployment to 5 million.

Was not the pledge of Labour in 1997 to get 250,000 under-25s off benefits and into work? Is it not the case that today there are 300,000 more under-25s out of work than there were in 1997, and that that figure has been rising for many years? Was it not higher before the recession took hold than it was in 1997? Is there not a problem of structural youth unemployment today, and do we not need some fresh thinking rather than the failed policies of the Government?

I am afraid that that is more rubbish from the Conservative party. The pledge on the famous pledge cards in 1997 was about long-term youth unemployment and what would be delivered through the new deal. As the noble Lord Freud said a year ago, that was a huge success. We were able to tackle long-term claimant youth unemployment, which is currently an 18th of what it was in 1997. It has been slashed, thanks to the imaginative ideas of the Government. The problems that we have now are in relation to short-term levels of unemployment.