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Work Programme

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

The Work programme was launched last month and has long-term goals. Sustained jobs, not quick fixes, are what will change people’s prospects, particularly for those who are long-term unemployed. That is what the Work programme will pay for. The Department expects to release statistics on referrals to the Work programme from spring 2012, and on job outcomes lasting three or six months from autumn 2012.

During the last recess I spent several days in my local Jobcentre Plus office and saw for myself the contribution that a number of small voluntary organisations are making to getting unemployed people back into work in my constituency. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that, as part of the Work programme, there will still be a role for such small local voluntary organisations?

I absolutely can give my hon. Friend that assurance. There are about 500 organisations from the voluntary sector involved, large and small, ranging from the Prince’s Trust and similar-sized organisations through to local projects such as a walled garden project in Yorkshire. There is space for any organisation that delivers excellence in getting people back to work, and those that are really good at doing it have every reason to become involved in a payment by results approach.

What steps are the Government taking to respond to the local variability in job opportunities, so that people are not penalised in the benefits system merely because jobs are not available in their area?

One of the things that we expect the Work programme providers to do is match individuals to vacancies. Even in Wales, as we know from the debate that the hon. Gentleman and I had last week, there are a significant number of vacancies. There has been private sector growth in the past few months, and unemployment has fallen. We have to ensure, through the work of Jobcentre Plus and the Work programme providers, that people on benefits take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Several Members have mentioned jobs fairs in their constituencies. We had one in Watford two weeks ago, to which 5,000 people came and at which more than 600 jobs and apprenticeships were on offer. As we speak, three weeks later, 50 jobs and 30 apprenticeships have been offered, predominantly to young people. As the fair was organised with Jobcentre Plus and seems to be a formula that helps, at no cost whatever to the taxpayer, is the Minister prepared to circulate the idea to other Jobcentre Plus offices and assist in organising such events?

Absolutely, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work. There have been a series of successful jobs fairs in Enfield North, in Stafford, in Reading East and now in his constituency. I would say to Members on both sides of the House that they are a really good way of bringing together local employers, local unemployed people and others who can help them, and Jobcentre Plus and the Department will help any Member of Parliament who seeks to get such a fair up and running.