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Jobseeker’s Allowance

Volume 521: debated on Monday 10 January 2011

8. What information his Department holds on the average cost to the public purse of an additional person being on jobseeker’s allowance in 2010-11. (32649)

Today, the JSA rate for a person over 25 is, as the hon. Lady knows, £65.45, and that will rise in April to £67.50. In 2010-11, the average weekly JSA rate was about £63.00. In addition, there are housing benefit, council tax benefit and employment support costs. However, the vast majority of jobseekers spend only a very short time in that situation; over half are back in work within 3 months.

According to the New Economics Foundation, there is a jobs gap in the north-east of 447,000 jobs, and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that we will lose an additional 4.1% of our total jobs base as a result of this Government’s cuts. Ministers have spoken about help for the longer-term unemployed, which I welcome, but what assurances can the Secretary of State provide that those additional job losses will not simply represent additional benefit payments, as well as lives wasted?

The question that the hon. Lady asks is a pertinent one. The Work programme that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was just speaking about is to make sure that those who go beyond a certain point at differing levels are swept up because they have particular problems. We need to deal intensively with them and use the private and voluntary sector. But to help earlier, Jobcentre Plus has been pretty successful at getting people matched up with the work that they need to be in and getting them back into work. When it comes to skills, the Government are increasing the number of apprenticeships—50,000 rising to 75,000 extra—which will help hugely with skilling, and the mentoring and work for yourself programme, which are part of the Work programme, will have a huge impact, by advising young people and enabling them to take the right jobs and get the right skills. The hon. Lady is right. Skilling up is important, but we think we will be on the right track to do that. Overall, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that employment will rise over the period.

Does the Secretary of State accept the Office for Budget Responsibility figures, revealed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), that an extra two thirds of a billion pounds will be spent on housing benefit as a result of rising unemployment over the next four years?

The OBR is independent and the Government of course accept what it publishes as independent figures. We go by what the OBR’s figures say. As the hon. Lady knows, we inherited a financial mess left by the previous Government. What we are doing is to make sure that we reduce the ballooning cost of, for example, housing benefit that she left behind—a bill that doubled in the past five years.[Official Report, 12 January 2011, Vol. 521, c. 6MC.]