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Jobseeker’s Allowance (Wales)

Volume 507: debated on Monday 15 March 2010

6. How many jobseeker’s allowance claimants there were in (a) the UK, (b) Wales and (c) Clwyd West constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. (321777)

The unemployment rate in Wales is not only the worst of any of the home nations, but worse than that of countries such as Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria. Is that a matter of concern to the Secretary of State, or does she share the satisfaction of the Secretary of State for Wales that at least Wales is doing better than Rwanda?

We are putting in place a lot of additional support for people who have lost their jobs in Wales. That is the right thing to do. We are helping people in Wales back to work significantly faster than was the case in previous recessions. The hon. Gentleman will know that although the figure is 80,000 today, it was 130,000 in the 1990s and 160,000 in the 1980s. I think it is right that we keep up that support.

In fact, I went to Merthyr Tydfil just a few weeks ago to look at the work being done there to support the future jobs fund, and to provide opportunities for people to get back to work as rapidly as possible. We will continue to do that, but we have set out investment for it. The hon. Gentleman’s party wants to cut that investment, and that would hit Wales hard.

Just before I ask my question, I should just put the Secretary of State right. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked about incapacity benefit. She was clear that the number of people on incapacity benefit in May 1997 was 2.616 million, and that the latest figures—those of August 2009—show that it is 2.632 million. It has gone up by 16,000 since the Government have been in power, not down, and it may have gone up because the Government’s White Paper said that pathways to work—the flagship programme that is supposed to be dealing with this matter—had no employment impact when it was rolled out. The Government’s latest research report reveals that there is

“management pressure to focus on”

the clients who are easiest to get into employment, “parking”—leaving clients who are difficult with no help—and steering people away from helping disengaged clients. We really do need a change. We cannot go on like this. We need a programme that is successful in returning disabled people to work, which is what our “Get Britain Working”—

The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked about the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s report and about worklessness. The figures relating to the number and proportion of workless households have indeed fallen.

The right hon. Lady also raised the subject of incapacity benefit. As Conservative Members will know, incapacity benefit trebled under a Conservative Government. It rose steadily for about 30 years, and the first falls were a result of the Government’s support before the recession. The additional support that we are providing as part of the new work capability assessment and the employment support allowance is also making a difference, making it possible to find more people who are fit for work.

Support for people receiving long-term sickness benefits does need to be improved. We will not only apply the new work capability assessment but increase support for those receiving those long-term benefits as well as the long-term unemployed, because we do not want to see—and are not seeing—the big increases in long-term sickness benefits that were encouraged by the right hon. Lady’s party during the last recession.