We are in the final stages of preparing for the launch of the youth contract in April. We believe that it will have a positive impact on youth unemployment, providing nearly half a million support opportunities for young people. We and employers are working together to give young people the support they need to gain employment.
At a meeting with business people in my constituency some months ago, there were calls for a small tax break, or some other form of support from the Government, to help them take on young people. I am therefore delighted that 160,000 job subsidies worth up to £2,275 will now be available for each business that employs an 18 to 24-year-old through the Work programme. Can the Minister comment on the level of interest in the scheme so far?
There is already considerable interest in what is planned, and I hope that it will give unemployed young people a leg-up in the workplace. We hope that the challenge that they face owing to a lack of previous experience—which we were talking about earlier—will be ameliorated, at least to some degree, by the incentive payment that we will provide, and that the result will be far more young people getting their first opportunity to get into work.
We are also stepping up the support that we provide to young unemployed people through Jobcentre Plus, which will include more frequent work-focused interviews. We are also recruiting more youth advisers in Jobcentre Plus to provide help to the young unemployed. We are determined to deal with the problem of youth unemployment, which in all parts of the House we agree is a massive challenge for the nation.
I assume that the hon. Lady is referring to the programme that we have just announced for 16 to 17-year-olds. Of course, the big challenge with that age group is not the total number of NEETs, because most young people move quickly back into education. However, there is a hard core of young people who spend long periods not in education or employment, and they are not in the benefits system either, so we have no direct means of engaging with them. I hope and believe that the new approach—founded on payment by results, with charitable and private sector groups working together to try to reach that audience—will make a big difference to engaging with them and getting them back into either employment or education.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is continuing to cite figures that are statistically inaccurate. The figures to which he refers were distorted by the previous Government’s propensity to bury young people in the statistics where they would not be visible. Now that we do not put people on to a training allowance, which counts as being off jobseeker’s allowance, we are telling the truth about the scale of youth unemployment and seeing the real picture. Our statisticians have made the calculations and found that, when those statistical adjustments are taken into account, there has been no increase in youth unemployment of more than six months over the past two years.
Rather than falling since the general election, youth unemployment in my constituency has risen by five people; it is still too high, however, and I certainly welcome the youth contract. Clearly, it has also risen in other parts of the country at a rate that the west of England has not experienced, so will there be a way of ensuring that the take-up of the youth contract will be high in the parts of the country where it is most needed?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that this is a huge challenge for us. The truth is that, since the general election, youth unemployment has risen by approximately 100,000, with about half that increase coming from full-time students looking for part-time jobs. I regard any level of youth unemployment as too high, and I hope that the subsidies that we provide for employers who hire young people, together with the extra work experience and apprenticeship places being created through the youth contract, will help those in precisely the parts of the country to which he is referring.