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Work Experience

Volume 541: debated on Monday 5 March 2012

1. What recent assessment he has made of the outcomes of his Department’s work experience schemes for unemployed people. (97688)

17. What recent assessment he has made of the outcomes of his Department’s work experience schemes for unemployed people. (97707)

Work experience is a very positive scheme, and 51% of people are off benefits 13 weeks after starting a placement. I am delighted to tell the House that, notwithstanding the attempts to damage the programme, it remains strong, with another 200 employers, including Airbus and Centre Parcs, wanting to get involved to help young people to gain vital experience of work.

Will my right hon. Friend expand on the answer he has just given and tell the House what other support he has received since the row about work experience broke out? This vitally important and publicly popular initiative helps young people to get the experience they need to get into work. Would he echo Sir Stuart Rose’s comments that companies involved in the scheme should show some “backbone” and not give in to politically motivated protests?

Before I answer that question, may I pass our message of support to the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, who has had a terrible accident? We wish her well and a speedy recovery to her normal place for Work and Pensions questions.

There has been a lot of support for the work experience programme. A small number of people, in some cases backed by the unions, have made trouble. I shall quote Sir Stuart Rose—this is interesting because his successful career started at the bottom. He said:

“We’re offering young people the opportunity to…understand what the workplace is…really…about and it appears that there is some plan to sabotage this which…is nonsense…it seems …straightforward. You can come in, you can get work experience and if you…don’t like it after the first week you can”


Given the importance of schemes such as work experience to giving unemployed people the skills they need to compete in the labour market, especially in the north, will my right hon. Friend update the House on discussions he has had with companies that support the Government in trying to achieve that?

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State who has responsibility for employment held a meeting with a number of employers who are part of the scheme, all of whom backed and supported it. They were concerned that the message goes out that the scheme benefits young people. One employer who is not a profit-maker—the chief executive of Barnardo’s—said:

“Scrapping the scheme would have taken a lifeline from thousands of young people.”

I should also quote a girl called Dawn, who was on the programme after having real trouble finding work. She said that work experience was daunting, but that:

“It’s work experience—the clue’s in the name. Nobody is going to give you a job unless you get experience first, and that means sometimes working for free”.

I urge the Secretary of State to sort out the teething problems with the programme—there have been such problems. Will he look at the Morrisons initiative, which is different and overcomes many of the criticisms that have been made of the programme? Will he also be assured that many Opposition Members want a scheme that gets young people into work and work experience rather than being on the dole?

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s positive involvement. I simply say to him that the scheme as it stands is incredibly positive. More than 50% of those who enter the work experience scheme go into work, many with the employers who took them on for work experience. The reason we set up the scheme is what young people said, and they told us, “Our problem is that when we go to an interview, employers ask us, ‘What experience have you got?' We say, ‘We don’t have experience.' They say, ‘We can’t employ you.' But without employment we can't get work experience.” I genuinely believe from our discussions with employers that the scheme is a positive move, but I will certainly look at the scheme that the hon. Gentleman talks about.

I echo the Secretary of State’s good wishes to the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.

Work experience is a very good thing. The Minister of State has emphasised that the scheme is voluntary—his U-turn last week underlined that—but jobcentre letters say the opposite. They say:

“If, without good reason, you fail to start, fail to go when expected or stop going…Jobseekers Allowance could cease to be payable”.

The Department for Work and Pensions website says the same. Until recently the website also said that the minimum wage applied unless work experience was compulsory. That point has mysteriously disappeared from the site. Will the Secretary of State get a grip, clear up this extraordinary muddle and end the confusion in his Department?

I will do a little deal with the right hon. Gentleman: I will ensure that any little discrepancies are sorted out, providing that he and his party step forward and publicly welcome the whole idea of the work experience programme and condemn the many unions, such as Unite, GMB, Unison and others, that are backing this ludicrous Right to Work programme. Will the Opposition state that the unions should withdraw their backing? Last week, we held discussions with employers, and they asked that no sanctions be taken unless they say that something has happened to damage the business or cause a problem. We have agreed that in essence, and that is how it will stand.