8. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s fiscal policies on the level of long-term youth unemployment. (132500)
I have made a recent assessment of the impact of fiscal policies on youth unemployment rates. With few exceptions, European countries with the highest deficits also tend to be the countries with the highest youth unemployment rates. In this country, a big increase in the deficit under the previous Government went hand in hand with a big increase in the rate of youth unemployment. Under this Government, the deficit is now coming down, and so is youth unemployment—including, as the hon. Lady knows, in her own constituency.
Overall in my constituency, the number of claimants on jobseeker’s allowance in October was the 22nd highest of all constituencies. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, the rate was 10.4%. That is far too high. My constituency has regular visits from the occupants of No. 10 and No. 11 Downing street to extol the virtues of Tech City, but what is the Treasury doing to make sure that my constituents are able to get any of the jobs created, especially when the Work programme is also failing them?
The hon. Lady was a Minister in the last Government, and she will know that in her own constituency there are fewer young unemployed people now than there were in the last year of the Government of whom she was a member. I am surprised that she has not taken the opportunity to refer to the fact that the rate of youth unemployment in Hackney South and Shoreditch has fallen by 20% over the last 12 months.
May I tell my right hon. Friend that under the last two Labour Governments, the youth unemployment claimant count in South West Bedfordshire rose by 180%, whereas it has fallen by 6% since we have been in office? Does that not show that, in difficult times, although there is, of course, further to go, we are moving in the right direction?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why it is important for us to maintain the course, pay down the deficit and build confidence in the labour market. We know what happened under the previous Government: in their last two years, long-term youth unemployment doubled.
Is the Minister aware that recent independent surveys show that Corby and east Northamptonshire is one of the most difficult places in the country for a young unemployed person trying to find work? I can tell him that I meet young people, day in, day out, who are desperately trying to find work, so will he look at the unique case for having an enterprise zone for Corby and east Northamptonshire, extending by one the number of enterprise zones that the Government have created?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Chamber. When he organised a day think tank, he and I had some very productive exchanges. I should be happy to meet him to discuss the situation in Corby, which is an enterprising town with the potential to create many jobs. As he will know, under the “city deals” system I am responsible for devolving powers to places throughout the country, and I am keen to receive more applications.
A significant factor for young people seeking work in rural areas is the cost of transport and fuel. I therefore welcome last week’s announcement, and also the news that the Treasury is considering extending the rural islands fuel discount to some especially rural parts of the mainland. Such a change would make a huge difference to some of the poorest communities in the United Kingdom, and would encourage growth in employment.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: that is one of the reasons why we were determined to reverse, and then to cancel, the fuel tax increase proposed by the Labour party. As for the rural scheme that he mentioned, we are having conversations with the European Commission in order to establish whether we can proceed with it.