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Youth Unemployment

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 24 February 2010

1. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on youth unemployment in Scotland. (317401)

Good morning, Mr. Speaker. Youth unemployment in Scotland has increased in recent months, but since 1997 the number of 18 to 24-year-olds in Scotland claiming unemployment benefit is down by 40 per cent. That issue was discussed at the recent jobs summit in Easterhouse.

After 13 years of Labour Government we discovered yesterday that one in six young people in England between the ages of 18 and 24 are not in employment, education or training. What is the figure in Scotland?

The figures in Scotland have gone down 40 per cent. In Scotland the number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming unemployment benefit for six months or more was 8,800 in January 2010, so hopefully that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question. I would have thought that it would be a matter of consensus across all the political parties that we have to do more together to challenge youth unemployment, because it dampens expectations among the most idealistic and energetic generation, and has the potential to ruin young lives. However, based on the hon. Gentleman’s question, it is clear that he does not understand very much about unemployment among young people in Scotland.

Youth unemployment is a massive problem in Ayrshire, with North Ayrshire having some of the worst levels of social deprivation in Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the Ayrshire jobs summit, which is taking place tomorrow, and does he agree that economic growth and job creation are key for the most successful future for Ayrshire?

It is very important that we take a team Ayrshire approach to trying to overcome youth unemployment, and not just youth unemployment. We are keen to ensure that those over 50, who have perhaps not experienced unemployment or been in a job centre for a considerable period—or perhaps never in their lives—do not become used to unemployment and do not spend that period in advance of their retirement settling for a life on unemployment benefits. It is therefore essential that we do more together across all the generations, in Ayrshire and across Scotland.

In 2000 the then Secretary of State for Scotland boasted that

“For the first time in generations, the end of youth unemployment is a real possibility”.

After 10 years of Labour Government youth unemployment has not ended; it has actually shot up by 60 per cent. Last week the Secretary of State said that the onus was on bankers to deal with unemployment. Then he claimed that Scotland’s economy had been boosted by the recent snowfall. Has it not occurred to him that youth unemployment in Scotland is high not because there are too many bankers or not enough snow, but because the Government’s economic policies are not working?

It is a fact—I thought that the hon. Gentleman would share this view—that a minority of bankers in Scotland have a moral responsibility for their actions and the way they behaved in destroying fantastic international banking institutions, the consequences being, in part, a global recession and rises in youth unemployment. However, because of the actions of this Labour Government, 50,000 jobs have been saved in Scotland. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman does not care about that, because he is so fixated on trying to get only one job, and that is my job, at the next election. The people of Scotland know that. They see through it and they see the Conservative party in Scotland for what it is: less popular today than even in Mrs. Thatcher’s time.

I do not think that the Secretary of State should give lectures on people who are seen through. He will acknowledge that a stable and supportive family environment plays a major part in equipping young people with the personal skills needed for employment. Yet Cardinal O’Brien has warned that the Secretary of State’s Government are undertaking a

“systematic and unrelenting attack on family values.”

Last night the Secretary of State was due to say, “When the Cardinal speaks, people listen.” The cardinal has spoken. Is the Secretary of State listening?

It is right that we focus on how we get through this recession together. We are determined to ensure that we support families, through tax credits and the national minimum wage, for example. It is sobering to reflect on the fact that during the 1980s Tory recession, it took 19 years for the jobs situation to return to pre-recession levels. Nineteen years—nearly two decades—is how long it took Scotland to recover from that recession. The fact is that the Conservative party has not learned the lessons of the 1980s, because it remains committed to cutting tax credits from many families throughout Scotland. It is no wonder that Scotland sees the Tories as a real danger to its well-being.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could comment on the success of the future jobs fund. He will be aware that his ministerial colleague the Under-Secretary of State visited my constituency recently and saw some of the fruits of the scheme. Is it working in this area?

My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously in his constituency on the future jobs fund, which is testimony to the way he carries out his politics. He is a fantastic constituency Member of Parliament. We announced 1,300 more jobs in the future jobs fund last week, and there are now 9,000 opportunities in the fund in Scotland. That is the Labour Government subsidising the opportunity for young people and others to have the chance of a job during this recession. The Conservatives are committed to abolishing the future jobs fund, which is 9,000 more reasons in Scotland not to vote for them.