The unemployment rate has fallen recently: in the latest data, it was 7.7%—down from 7.9% on the quarter. The Office for Budget Responsibility assumed at Budget 2011 that the structural rate of unemployment was unchanged from its previous trends at 5.25%. In the medium term, unemployment is expected to fall as the economy recovers, supported by the action taken by the Government, including measures published in the Budget and “The Plan for Growth.”
Youth unemployment peaked in 1985 four years after the recession of 1981, with disastrous consequences for a generation of young people. When the Chancellor scrapped the future jobs fund he showed that he had not learned from what happened in the 1980s. Is not the truth that the Chancellor is out of touch with the realities of life for young people and is on course to repeat the same mistakes as the Tories made in the 1980s, with the same disastrous consequences?
If the hon. Gentleman was being fair, he would recognise that youth unemployment was growing substantially under the previous Government as well. The country has faced the problem for many years, which is why in the Budget we announced a £200 million package of support, including work experience placements for young people, skills training, guaranteed interviews and progression to apprenticeships. Including the measures in the Budget and the spending review, we will deliver at least 250,000 more apprenticeships over the next four years, compared with the previous Government’s plans.
Since this nightmare coalition came to power, the number of people out of work in my constituency has increased, and that is even before the cuts really start to bite. Is it not a fact that the Chancellor, like many Members on the Government Benches, still believes that unemployment is a price worth paying?
Certainly not. That is why in Merseyside, we have announced a new enterprise zone that will encompass the Liverpool Waters and Mersey Waters regeneration projects. The regional growth fund has announced several projects in Merseyside, and the Work programme in Merseyside will help to deliver support for people to get off benefits and into work; the second contractor got under way yesterday. I hope the hon. Gentleman agrees that is a serious programme to help people off benefit and into work in Merseyside.
Will the Minister confirm that the recent announcement of the sharpest fall in unemployment in a decade and the creation of 500,000 jobs in the private sector over the past year shows hope that things are going in the right direction for unemployment?
We always said that the economic recovery would be choppy, but it is none the less welcome that we have seen significant job creation in the private sector over the past year. That offsets some of the job reductions in the public sector that are necessary as part of our deficit reduction programme.
May I tell my right hon. Friend that since May last year unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 11%? That is due to fast-growing private companies, such as Pegasystems. Is not the key to reducing high unemployment sticking to the deficit reduction programme and removing barriers to growth?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have to stick to the deficit reduction programme, which is the essential underpinning for future economic growth in this country. We also need to take steps to ensure that that economic growth is balanced across the country, and the regional growth fund and the local enterprise partnership programme are an important part of ensuring that we have growth across the entire United Kingdom.