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Youth Unemployment

Volume 507: debated on Monday 15 March 2010

We are backing 470,000 additional youth opportunities, including through the £1 billion future jobs fund, as well as extra training and job opportunities. That is part of a youth guarantee, which is that all young people should be guaranteed a job, training or a work placement if they have been unemployed for more than six months.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but does she recognise that 923,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 are now unemployed? That is a 50 per cent. increase on the number in that age group unemployed when this Government came to power in 1997. Will she admit that the Government have got it terribly wrong for the youth unemployed?

No, I think the Government are right to provide additional support for young people, through a youth guarantee that the hon. Gentleman’s party opposes, and the future jobs fund, which it would abolish. He asked about the figures. In fact, if we exclude the number of full-time students from those figures, there are 657,000 young people who are unemployed according to the definition of the International Labour Organisation, compared with 830,000 in the early ’90s and more than 1 million in the early ’80s. It was the hon. Gentleman’s party that turned its back on the young unemployed and left a lost generation, whose scars we have seen for very many years. We are not prepared to do that, which is why we are investing in the youth guarantee that his party opposes.

May I add my condolences to the family and friends of Ashok Kumar? He and I became very good friends, not least because he was the only Member of Parliament who had read my father’s seminal history of British Steel.

How can the Secretary of State say that the Government have done enough on youth unemployment when one in five young people still cannot find a job, the young person’s guarantee, which she mentioned, has been delayed for a year and only half the jobs that she claims have been created under the future jobs fund have actually received any funding?

Again, the hon. Gentleman does not have his facts correct. The youth guarantee started this January and is already offering substantial support for young people across the country. I am surprised, frankly, that he cares when it started, seeing as he opposes it and his party wants to abolish it. To point out the facts in his area, there are currently 2,455 youth claimants in Oxfordshire, compared with 5,865 in the early ’90s recession. It is because we are putting in extra investment that we are preventing youth unemployment from rising as high as it did in previous recessions, but we agree that we should do more and will do more next year. His party opposes that.

Thankfully, there is very low youth unemployment in my constituency, but I spoke to a large youth conference last weekend and I can tell the Secretary of State that very few young people have any idea of the work that her Department is doing. What will she do to ensure that some of the young people who may unfortunately become unemployed are aware of the work that is going on?

If young people are unemployed, signing on and going to the jobcentre, they should certainly get a dedicated personal adviser who should be able to tell them about all the help available in their area. We are also working with the careers service and with colleges to ensure that we can make as much information as possible available; the internet is important, too, because we know many young people will increasingly gain their information from those kinds of sources, and we are trying to provide better information for young people in that way.

The question is how successful the Government’s policies have been and how well they have kept their promises. They came to power in 1997, saying that they would get 250,000 young unemployed off benefits and into work. Is the Secretary of State aware that there are now 250,000 more unemployed young people than there were in 1997, that there were more unemployed young people before the recession began than there were in 1997 and that the number of unemployed young people has been going up since about 2001? Is it not time for some fresh thinking to give chances to our young people, or is the Secretary of State going to tell us at exactly what point since 1997 the Government claim to have kept their promise?

In fact, the new deal for young people helped huge numbers into work and off benefits. Indeed, the 250,000 figure of young people helped into work was met more than 10 years ago, exactly as a result of the support we put in. Young people have been more heavily affected than older workers as a result of the recession. That is why we think it right to put in additional support to guarantee them that extra help to get back to work, but if the fresh thinking the hon. Gentleman is calling for involves cutting £5 billion of help for the unemployed and abolishing the future jobs fund, which is helping huge numbers of young people to get good career opportunities, I have to say that that it is not a form of fresh thinking that Government Members are interested in.