Work programme provider performance is helping people on ESA move towards work, and to continue that improvement we are setting up a best practice group to help other primes share best practice.
Last Wednesday, I spoke at a conference entitled, “Newcastle: a good city in tough times”, where faith, volunteer groups, charities and business all emphasised the importance of volunteering and the voluntary sector in helping claimants into work, yet the Department for Work and Pensions is making it harder to volunteer, through sanctioning, and squeezing the voluntary sector out of Work programme contracts. That is one reason that Newcastle’s success rate for ESA claimants is only 2%. What is the Department doing to encourage volunteers and the voluntary sector to help build the community skills we need to get people back into work?
Of course, we fully support people doing voluntary work, so long as they can commit to their job signing and the work they have to do to get a full-time job. We see voluntary work as an important step to getting a job, and nearly 50% of Work programme providers are from the voluntary sector. Also, I am sure the hon. Lady will join us in celebrating the fact that the claimant count in her constituency has fallen by 13% in the past year.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Work programme and other measures have seen the number of people unemployed in Harlow fall by 100 over the past year and that other Government measures have seen the number of apprenticeships increase by 86%? Does this not show that the Government are helping working people?
Absolutely. Not only are we helping people through the Work programme, wage incentives and record numbers of apprenticeships—half a million in the last year—but the Government are doing everything to support people, young and old, back into the workplace.