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Work Experience

Volume 536: debated on Monday 28 November 2011

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of work experience programmes on employment prospects. (82826)

13. What assessment he has made of the effect of work experience programmes on employment prospects. (82834)

Early indications show that the work experience programme is proving extremely successful. The first figures we published for the period up to August show that more than half the young people starting a work experience placement under the scheme are off benefits within three months. As the scheme is extremely cost-effective, that is welcome news.

Will the Minister visit one such successful work experience programme in Haverhill in my constituency, where youth unemployment has fallen by 15% since the programme started? Some 40% of young unemployed people are on the programme and, as with the national average, half of them are going into full-time jobs, even where there were no vacancies.

I pay tribute to the staff of Jobcentre Plus in my hon. Friend’s constituency for their part in delivering a successful scheme. I will be delighted, the next time I am in Suffolk, to drop in with him to meet and pay tribute to them for what they have done.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that work experience schemes need to progress to apprenticeships, and will he support the scheme I am working on with the charity New Deal for the Mind, Harlow college and Essex county council, which aims to employ genuine apprentices in Parliament?

I am very happy to support and pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s efforts. He is a model example of how an individual Member of Parliament can make a real difference by identifying an area where they can transform people’s prospects. His work on apprenticeships is a credit to him and to the House.

As someone who was involved in recruitment for many years before becoming a Member of Parliament, I know that it is certainly better to have work experience on a CV than a gap, so will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to condemn those people who have described the scheme as akin to modern-day slavery?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are times when I read things and have to step back in amazement and think, “Some people just don’t get it.” The work experience scheme is making a real difference for young people. I pay tribute to the firms taking part in the scheme, particularly, given recent publicity, our supermarkets, which are large and diverse employers with wide-ranging opportunities. They are playing an important role in giving young people a start in their careers. The scheme is working, and that is enormously down to the work of employers in helping to give young people an opportunity.

I believe, like other colleagues, that work experience is beginning to have a real effect on the employment prospects of the young. I also see from the sister programme, the Work programme, a really encouraging drop in long-term unemployment in my constituency of Gloucester. I understand the reasons for waiting a year to analyse the results, but will the Minister consider publishing data, at least on a preliminary basis, after six months to show the results across the country?

I hear what my hon. Friend is saying. I am not in the business of burying good news. We are hearing encouraging noises from the early stages of the Work programme. Indeed, one of our providers has said on the record that it is going much better for them than the previous Government’s flexible new deal. I will bring forward statistics on the Work programme as soon as it is practical to do so, but I am under obligations from the Office for National Statistics to produce statistics that are valid and appropriate, which is what I will do.

I had drawn to my attention today the case of a constituent's grandson who has worked at Debenhams on one of these courses for four days a week, then for three, then for two, then for one, and now it is down to four hours only, for £24 with a bus fare for travelling to and from Derby. Surely that is not benefit plus, but benefit minus. Will he ensure that people placed in that predicament do not lose their benefit?

From what the hon. Gentleman says, I do not think that he is describing our work experience scheme. If he wants to write to me about the individual case, I will look at whether it is due to something that the Government are doing or something else.

Will the Minister comment on reports that even young people with qualifications are being sent for 13 weeks of shelf stacking? What sort of experience is that giving them?

I am always very disappointed to hear Members attacking major employers such as our supermarkets. A few months ago I met a man who had been long-term unemployed, who was given a job at one of our major supermarkets and who, within a few months, had graduated to running a department of 20. These are major employers with good opportunities, and we are about giving young people a start in life.

Youth unemployment in the north, the north-west and my area of north Wales is rising higher and is deeper and longer than in the south. Does the Minister have any assessment of the quality and number of work placements in the north versus those in the south of England?

I have talked to Jobcentre Plus about the availability of placements, and I am confident that, together with the changes that we announced last Friday, which will double the size of the work experience scheme, we will be able to offer every single young person who needs such a placement the opportunity to embark on one.

Youth unemployment has now hit 1 million, and the OECD has forecast today that unemployment is set to climb to 9%, as thousands and thousands more people lose their jobs. The Government scrapped the future jobs fund in their very first month, but the new measures that they have announced do not start until April—two years later. Will this morning’s shocking projections finally wake up the complacent and out-of-touch Ministers before us and persuade them to implement our plan for 100,000 jobs, paid for by a tax on bankers’ bonuses?

The trouble is that we just cannot take the Opposition seriously when we know that they have already announced 10 different ways of spending that money. We as a Government are delivering real action through real schemes that work and are affordable, and that is something that they failed to do. It is worth saying also that Labour is the party under which, back in 2009, more than 1 million young people were not in education, employment or training—despite the fact that Labour Members tell us otherwise.