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Youth Unemployment

Volume 514: debated on Monday 19 July 2010

The Government are committed to tackling youth unemployment. Young people can access a comprehensive range of opportunities, support and advice that will help them find employment, as part of the Work programme. As we introduce that programme, it will offer integrated employment support to young people, regardless of the benefit that they claim. I recognise the work that my hon. Friend has done in her constituency among young people. The results there are good, because youth unemployment is lower than the national average and has fallen over the past year.

In my constituency, at this time of year when there is seasonal work things are not so bad, but there are up to 470 young people under 24 claiming jobseeker’s allowance at other times of the year. Can the Secretary of State clarify what measures will be taken to boost apprenticeships to give young people better life chances?

Yes, I can. As my hon. Friend knows, we made provision in the Budget for more than 50,000 new apprenticeships. It is also worth remembering that one thing that the last Government set in train, and would have introduced had they been returned, was a hike in national insurance, which would have damaged any prospect of young people in her constituency being in long-term viable jobs. There is a good story to tell, which could not have happened if we had not taken over and found savings within the budget in our first year.

Given the gap that there will be between the prevention of the rolling out of the future jobs fund and the introduction of the Work programme next year, and as apprenticeships are a devolved matter, what practical help will the Secretary of State be able to provide for my constituents, particularly the 1,300 young people who are out of work in Glasgow North East at the moment? Do the Government not need to do more to prevent an autumn, winter and spring of discontent for young people in Glasgow?

There will not be a gap, all existing programmes are being extended, and the Work programme will be applicable to all those young people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Having only just gone into opposition, he might like to reflect on the past 14 years, and the fact that when his party left office it left us with more than 1.3 million 16 to 24-year-olds not in full-time education, employment or training. That is 200,000 more than were left to the Labour party in 1997. It is a shameful record, and we do not need lectures from Labour Members about youth unemployment.

How does my right hon. Friend plan to break the cycle of intergenerational unemployment? In my constituency there are many families in which no one works. That has a devastating effect not only on those families but on their communities.

My hon. Friend asks an important question. In the past 14 years huge sums of money have been narrowly focused on different groups, and we have forgotten that in households with families, far too many are out of work. That is one reason why child poverty has been so difficult to tackle, and why we must change the system. We want to consider how to make work pay for those on the lowest incomes, and how work can be distributed more among households and less just among individuals. Most particularly, we want people to recognise that it is more important and more viable for them to be back in work than on benefits. The complicated system that the previous Government introduced, with all its different taper rates and withdrawal rates, meant that people needed to be professors of maths to figure out whether they would be better off going to work or staying on benefits. Our job is to ensure that the system is simpler and easier to understand. Unlike the previous Government, we will value households that take a risk and try to go to work.

The Secretary of State will know that many young people get fantastic help from the voluntary sector through, for example, the future jobs fund, the youth guarantee, the working neighbourhoods fund, and also through small contracts with the jobcentres to help people into work. As he is cutting those programmes by more than £1 billion, does he think that the funding from his Department for the voluntary sector to help young people and others into work will increase or decrease in the next 12 months?

I would say to the Secretary of State—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I mean the shadow Secretary of State; I nearly made a mistake there. I would say to the right hon. Lady that we will provide sufficient funds as necessary for the voluntary sector. She should know from all our previous work that the voluntary sector is a vital part of finding people work and putting them in closer touch with their local communities. She goes on about the future jobs fund, and she must understand that we are continuing with the programmes that have already been let, but getting rid of those that have not yet been let. She knows that those programmes are incredibly expensive—far more expensive than the guarantee. We simply cannot afford them, because of the mess that the previous Government left, so she must understand that we will get people back into work through ensuring that the economy is back on track, providing apprenticeships, which offer real opportunity for young people, and ensuring that the national insurance hike that she was about to make will not happen.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the consequence of his party’s Budget is to cut, not increase, the number of jobs in the economy. He will also know that he is cutting 90,000 planned and funded jobs from the future jobs fund. He did not answer the question about whether he would increase or cut the support for the voluntary sector to help get people into work. As he well knows, the Minister in the Lords has told voluntary sector providers that they are too small to get contracts under the Work programme. The Government have quadrupled the size of the contracts, and are locking out the voluntary sector for up to seven years. Is not the truth that all the right hon. Gentleman’s talk about the big society is simply a big con, to hide cuts in jobs, in help for the unemployed and in support to get people back to work?

It is ridiculous for the right hon. Lady to stand there, two and a half months after leaving government with the finances in a total shambles, and try to lecture us about youth unemployment. [Interruption.] I remind her that in the whole time for which Labour Members were in government, there were only three years in which they reduced unemployment for 16 to 17-year-olds. Youth unemployment rose throughout 10 years, and the Labour Government left it worse than they found it. No lectures from the right hon. Lady, please; only apologies will do.

Will the Secretary of State take no lectures from the Opposition on unemployment? In Wellingborough unemployment doubled under the Labour Government.

What would my right hon. Friend have said if he had been in my office on Friday, when a constituent came in and said, “My granddaughter works very hard. She’s a single mum and she’s just getting by, but she doesn’t have a council house. The other granddaughter has given up her job and is on benefits. She has a house and is better off”? Which granddaughter is doing the right thing?

Those who take the risk and try to work and take jobs are the people whom we want to support in society. The trouble is that endlessly under the previous Government, the levels of support for those who did not take a risk or a chance were too high for them ever to take those risks. The answer is very simply this: we will value those who try, and make sure that things such as housing benefit and unemployment benefit are set at rates that do not discourage people from taking work.