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Volume 553: debated on Thursday 22 November 2012

The Minister’s answer concerns me slightly because in my constituency surgery I have heard from women in the 50-to-64 age group who are finding the labour market very tough. I believe that we have seen a recent increase in unemployment of more than 20% in that age group. What will the Minister do to help older women get back to work?

The hon. Lady represents the constituency next to mine and we should both celebrate the fact that employment figures are up for every age group, locally, nationally and regionally. The unemployment rate for people over 50 is 4.5%, and for women over 50 it is 3.5%. Those figures are lower than the total unemployment rate of 7.8%. I would question your facts.

Order. I am sure the Minister is not questioning my facts, but I think I have the gist of what she is saying.

Over the past two years, long-term unemployment among young women increased by 412% on Teesside, with 640 women aged 24 and under claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than 12 months. Does the Minister agree with figures from the Office for National Statistics which show that under this Government, long-term youth unemployment among women on Teesside has skyrocketed, and what will she do about it?

I believe that is only part of the story, and in the past, false breaks in unemployment statistics—particularly under the new deal—skewed figures. The Work programme has removed that anomaly, providing a true reflection of the facts. Youth unemployment is down, and the Government are doing significant things to help with 250,000 more work experience places, 160,000 more wage incentives, and 20,000 more apprenticeship grants. We are doing as much as we possibly can and, as I said, unemployment is significantly down under this Government.

Youth unemployment in Clwyd South is up 157% from this time last year. Does the Minister accept that her weasel words simply will not wash with those young people, and will she confirm how the Government intend to help them? Surely the Government should take the utmost action to get them back into work.

They are not weasel words. Clwyd South’s statistics show that unemployment is down whether for 18 to 24-year-olds or for all claimant counts. We are doing significant work to support young people.

It is extremely concerning for all hon. Members when young people are unemployed. Enormous numbers of jobs have been created in London in the past 10-plus years, and yet some young people have been left behind. Does that not highlight the fact that we must approach the problem from the point of view of education and skills, rather than pretending, as the Opposition do, that the problem started in 2010?

I agree with my hon. Friend absolutely. For clarification, the unemployment figures for young people are affected by the rising proportion of people in education rather than in the labour market. Those who have left education and are unemployed in the 16 to 24-year-old population is 9%, which is lower than in the recessions of the ’90s and the ’80s. We are doing more than ever before for the youth of today.

Youth unemployment in Hastings has fallen by 16% in the past year, which I welcome. Is the Minister happy with how youth unemployment is assessed? Some of my constituents find it confusing that young people in full-time education are still classified as unemployed.

I agree with my hon. Friend—I referred to that in my previous answer. We need to get the statistics right. As I said, 9% of the total 16 to 24-year-old population are unemployed. We have put more in place than ever before to help that group of people.

May I declare an interest in the employment of women aged between 50 and 64? Will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that the unemployment rate in that group is, at 3.5%, the lowest rate of unemployment for any group of women? Some 3.5 million women in that age group are employed, which is the highest number ever, and 60.6% is the highest rate of employment for the group.

I agree with my hon. Friend—that is obviously a very talented group of women. She is correct that 3.5% is lower than before. It is half the total unemployment rate, which is 7.8%.

Last month in Women and Equalities questions, the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), said she did not accept that the figure of 50% unemployment among young black men was accurate. On 24 October, in a written answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), Glen Watson of the UK Statistics Authority confirmed that the figure is actually 52%. I listened carefully to the answers the Minister gave a moment ago about the definition of the unemployment rate. Is she saying that she does not accept the official figures? What will the Government do about the scandalously high level of black youth unemployment?

We are doing a lot about this. Again, unemployment for that group is under a third—the figures the hon. Lady presents do not include people who are in education.