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Volume 534: debated on Monday 24 October 2011

The latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics show 2.6 million unemployed, on the International Labour Organisation measure—a rate of 8.1% of the labour force.

The latest unemployment figures show that 35% of all jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Stockport are from the most disadvantaged area in my constituency. Unemployed people from disadvantaged areas are likely to remain unemployed for longer, so what steps will the Minister take to ensure that disadvantage does not become further embedded in our community?

The structure of the Work programme will mean that, for the first time, we will be paying a higher rate for the help provided to those who come from more challenged backgrounds, in order to encourage providers to make an investment in helping them. That will be an important part of getting them back into the workplace. Under the previous Government’s schemes, there was one flat rate for everyone, but our pricing structure reflects the real need to focus on people who are struggling in life.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the ways to reduce unemployment is to make sure that people set up new businesses? Does he agree that the new enterprise allowance, which we in Hastings and Rye welcome, should also be directed at both disadvantaged people and young people, to make sure that the widest possible number of people are able to set up in business?

I agree, and it is very much my hope that the new enterprise allowance will generate a significant boost to new enterprise, small businesses and self-employment in this country. In the way that it is structured, it is aimed at those who have been out of work for more than six months, so I hope it will deliver exactly what my hon. Friend hopes for, which is to support people who have potential but who face the greatest challenges in getting back into the workplace.

Young and disabled people are more likely to rely on public transport to get to work, yet the right hon. Gentleman’s Government’s policies are leading to cuts in bus services and unaffordable fare rises. How is that helping to get unemployment down?

When I listen to Labour Members bemoan the cutbacks, I am always astonished that they seem to fail to understand that it is down to the mismanagement of the previous Government that we are having to take these difficult decisions—and we are having to take many such decisions. They should be looking in the mirror in the morning and saying, “Whose fault is this really?”