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House of Commons Hansard
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Work Programme (Wales)
01 May 2014
Volume 579

[Relevant documents: Third Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, HC 264, and the Government response, HC 1035.]

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I will make my remarks as short as I can. This is a far less controversial issue than the changes to under-occupancy policy. Clearly, all of us want as many people as possible to be in employment, and all of us support the Government in introducing schemes to help those who face significant challenges in finding work and who have been out of work for a long time. This Government have introduced a scheme that basically builds on work done by the previous Government. One thing that we could not do in the report was make comparisons with the previous scheme, because this one is run differently. None the less, it is fair to say that the previous scheme had not been working as well as all Members of Parliament wanted. I do not allocate any particular blame for that; in fact, we did not even look at that issue.

The current Work programme offers consolidated support for numerous people, including those with significant problems getting into the workplace. It differs from previous schemes in that it was designed to allow the providers greater freedom to choose how best to support unemployed people without prescription from the Government. It also differed in how payments were made; they were paid out after people had been put into work for a given period.

One problem that we highlighted, though, was that Wales seemed to be doing far worse than other areas of the United Kingdom. At the time of the report in 2013, we had the lowest success rate in the UK. We found that 10.8% of people referred to the Work programme in Wales found sustained employment, against an average of 12.8% across the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Department for Work and Pensions prefers to consider eligible referrals—in other words, the proportion of people who have been on the Work programme for at least 13 to 26 weeks, long enough to have achieved sustained employment. Using that measure, 14.7% of people on the Work programme in Wales found sustained employment. Although that is higher as a proportion, it is still lower than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

We identified that performance was improving over time both in Wales and in the rest of the United Kingdom, and there have been changes since the report was published. I have been given updated figures that take us up to December 2013, showing that in Wales, 15.1% of Work programme participants have now found sustained employment—a good increase on 10.8%. Again, however, those proportions reflect what is going on in the rest of the United Kingdom, and Wales is still the lowest-performing region in the United Kingdom.

Why should that be? During our inquiry, we heard a range of reasons. We heard that Wales has fewer jobs, especially permanent and full-time jobs. It has a skills shortage, and there are challenges relating to the rural nature of Wales—transport, for instance. It was suggested that the two providers operating in Wales need to raise their game a little, and it seems that they have performed poorly relative to other operators in the rest of the United Kingdom. I am aware that the Minister keeps a close eye on the issue; I believe that she has terminated one contract already in Yorkshire, and others have been put on an enhanced performance regime, whatever that means. I suspect that it means she is keeping an even closer eye on them than she otherwise would.

However, I do not want to lay all the blame on Welsh providers, because the people at the ones I visited with other Committee members—in Pontypridd, for example—seemed to be working hard to help get people into employment. One worrying thing that we heard from a number of people was the difficulty caused by a decision by the Welsh Government’s European Funding Office that Work programme participants in Wales cannot access training courses that receive funding from the European social fund, due to the view that that would constitute double funding. It is a little complicated, but we basically have a situation in Wales that is different from the situation in England, where customers are able to access Skills Agency funding programmes that are part-funded by the ESF.

As far as I or any of us can see, officials in England and Wales have both considered the issue and come up with different rules on the legality of funding job creation schemes and training using ESF money. Of course, it has been done in a way more beneficial to people in England than in Wales. Again, we did not want to allocate blame for that, but we urged the Minister to work with the Welsh Assembly Government to overcome the problem. Hopefully she will update us on any discussions that she has had.

We were also slightly concerned about the outcomes for lone parents. The statistics suggest that 11.8% of lone parents found sustained work through the Work programme, compared with the British average of 15.3%. The latest statistics show an improvement in that respect. In Wales, 15.3% of lone parents are now securing sustained employment, compared with 11.8% at the time of the report, but there is still a gap between that and the British average, which is now 18.6%. Although we are not the lowest-performing area in that respect, we are below the British average and far behind some of the best-performing areas of Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset, where 24.2% of lone parents secure sustained employment.

We also heard that there was an absence of personalised support on the Work programme for lone parents, nearly all of whom are women, and that some providers failed to recognise lone parents’ care responsibilities. We are grateful for the responses that we have had from the Minister and the Department so far, and we hope that the good news, which has come along in slightly small increments until now, will continue, because things seem to be going in the right direction.

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rose

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Order. I will call Nick Smith next, and then Guto Bebb. I will allow them six minutes each to speak, as they did not speak during the previous debate. For the other three speakers, I will cut the time down to four minutes to get the Front-Bench speakers in, although I will have to squeeze them a bit as well, if that is okay.

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I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate, Mr Betts. Well done to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs for its report, and to its Chair for presenting the report.

Unemployment in Blaenau Gwent remains stubbornly high. In March, adult unemployment was 8% and youth unemployment was 11.8%, nearly double the Wales average of 6.4%. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I have become only too familiar with the hapless track record of the Department for Work and Pensions in recent months. It has botched the introduction of the new personal independence payment and the management of its flagship universal credit system has been wasteful, with at least £140 million written off. When the Public Accounts Committee reviewed the Work programme last year, we found extremely poor performance. Only 3.6% of people referred to it moved off benefit and into work—less than a third of the Department’s target. None of the providers managed to meet their minimum performance targets: the best provider moved just 5% of people off benefit and into work, while the worst managed a miserly 2%.

The Public Accounts Committee found that the Work programme was failing young people in particular. The Welsh Affairs Committee has said the Work programme’s success in helping those with the most severe barriers to employment has “yet to be proven.” I therefore hope that the DWP will look seriously at how we can help young people and those with complex needs in a valleys employment market where jobs are scarce.

To be fair, the Welsh Affairs Committee is

“broadly encouraged that the Work programme’s performance has been improving over time, both in Wales and Great Britain.”

Although I understand that this is a difficult agenda, given that the programme’s first year performance was actually worse than the Department’s own expectations, the only way is up, is it not?

To give a tangible example, one employer contacted me with concerns about his Work programme employee. The employer had spoken to the employee’s Work programme adviser regarding help with the cost of travel to work and of work clothing and equipment. The employer understood that four weeks of travel costs and full work equipment costs would be met. In the event, the travel costs were capped at £50 per week and the work equipment costs were capped at £300, although the total cost was £450.

The employer was clear: the Work programme provider failed to give accurate and unambiguous advice to its client. The employer thinks the Work programme provider is preventing a young man from moving forward in his line of work and hindering his future work. I share that view. It is living in cloud cuckoo land to expect the young unemployed to pay up front for the tools they may need for a placement.

The Welsh Affairs Committee found that both Working Links Wales and Rehab JobFit were near the bottom of performance tables when compared with the other 38 providers across Great Britain. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at how their performance can be improved to meet the needs of the unemployed in Wales, as the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee said.

The Work programme will not anyway work in isolation. Other important measures are needed in the eastern valleys of south Wales. Our train infrastructure needs electrifying. Good public service jobs need to be based in the borough of Blaenau Gwent, and educational attainment must be improved in the round. We know that the Work programme in Wales is failing to deliver, so tackling long-term unemployment will be a top priority for the next Labour Government. As we know from the 1980s, long-term unemployment has a scarring effect on individuals and communities. It damages our economy and society, and builds up long-term costs for the taxpayer. Before those things happen, the Government must do better.

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I am pleased to contribute to the part of the debate I intended to speak in. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who is my colleague on the Public Accounts Committee. I acknowledge that the report that we produced on the Work programme was disappointing, but it is fair to say that in that report we acknowledged that it was early days for the programme.

I am encouraged by my recent meetings with providers working for the Work programme, and the statistics show that performances are now significantly improved. Most importantly, the figures will show that the value for money being derived for the taxpayer is significantly better than under those programmes superseded by the Work programme. As we move forward, we have a success story on our hands. It is delivering both for people who need support and for the taxpayer, by delivering jobs at a lower cost.

I turn now to the report by the Welsh Affairs Committee. It is a genuinely constructive report that highlights some of our concerns at the time of writing. The performance of the Work programme in Wales has improved since the report was published—certainly, the figures from my own constituency indicate that—and we are now working against a background of a much stronger employment situation in Wales. We have seen unemployment fall. It is fair to say that the unemployment rate in Wales is now lower than the average for the UK, and I welcome that. In my own constituency, unemployment has fallen significantly and is well below the figure that we inherited in 2010. There is good news on employment.

My specific experience of the Work programme is of a committed work force working for Work programme providers in my patch, who are attempting to make sure that they give full support to individuals who want to get back into the workplace. One example I can offer is of a young lady from the village of Llanfairfechan in my constituency, who had her transport costs paid for the first month of employment, to allow her to work, and also had costs paid to allow her to go to an interview—indeed, the provider supplied the young lady in question with a new outfit for the interview. She was successful and is now working in continued employment. I can certainly offer examples—I accept they are anecdotes—from my own constituency that are different from the examples I have heard from other parts of Wales and are generally very positive.

The Minister visited Merit Motors, an employer in my constituency that has taken on not one, not two, but three individuals on the Work programme, and has described them as the best prepared individuals they had ever had the pleasure of working with. Those individuals are three young lads between the age of 18 and 24, who are now working in Llandudno Junction as a result of the support they have had from the Work programme and of the willingness of a local employer to take a chance on young employees.

I should also say that we cannot leave the whole issue to the Work programme. MPs should become active on this issue. I have written to all employers in my constituency not just to raise the prospect of the support available to employ people through the Work programme but to highlight the support available to employ young people. I have even highlighted the programmes available from the Welsh Government. As a local MP, I want to see increased employment and employment opportunities in my patch. I take very seriously my responsibility to work with providers, employers and the unemployed to make sure those employment opportunities are there.

Indeed, I would recommend that all hon. Members in Wales hold job fairs. I did. We got the local paper involved, and had pictures of people on the front page of the Weekly News under the headline “We want to work”, dispelling the myth that the unemployed do not want to work. The story I want to put out is that we have people who want to work and we have a support structure in place to make sure that they have the opportunity to. The Work programme is part of that success.

I do not want to be negative, but I have to reiterate the concerns expressed by the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee about the way in which the Work programme interacts with Government programmes in Wales financed by the European social fund. We highlighted that in a report agreed unanimously on a cross-party basis, but I have not seen any progress since then. Unfortunately, the issue is becoming more and more problematic. On a recent visit to a charity in my constituency, I was told categorically that they were now having difficulty recruiting people because individuals were being referred from the jobcentre to the Work programme and then were not being referred back to the charity because it was partially funded from ESF funding. That is a huge problem.

That charity highlighted another issue, which I think is shameful. Work programme representatives take the view that we need to make sure that youth offenders and prisoners are put on the Work programme before they leave prison. That is a fantastic initiative—we are trying to make sure that those people do not end up not having a support structure when they leave prison. But, lo and behold, if they go on to a Work programme provided in Wales and it is highlighted that they need numeracy or literacy support, there is no such support available in the Welsh context because of decisions taken by the Welsh European Funding Office.

Frankly, the situation is unacceptable. We are damaging the prospects of individuals, whether they be former prisoners, youth offenders or people who need support to get back into the workplace, simply because we are failing to knock heads together and get some common sense from the Welsh European Funding Office.

When asked about this issue by the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) during our inquiry, the then Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), made it clear that the problem was primarily in Cardiff Bay. I have seen no evidence to contradict that, yet a year after the publication of the report we are still seeing Work programme providers in Wales underperforming, mainly because they do not have the support structure in place in the rest of the United Kingdom.

If anything comes out of the debate today, it should be a strong message from all members of the Welsh Affairs Committee and all Welsh Members of Parliament that the Welsh Government need to work with, not against, the Work programme to serve the unemployed of Wales.

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rose

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Order. The time limit is now four minutes for the remaining Members who wish to speak.

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As hon. Members have said, evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee on the Work programme highlighted that it is clearly underperforming in Wales. The first figures show that just one in nine or 10.8% of those going on to the programme obtain sustainable employment. In their response, the Government said that the figures were from June 2013 and that it was too early to judge the newer entrants—those who had been on the programme for between three and six months.

However, the latest figures show that, six months on, Wales is still bottom according to the Library and data derived from the Department for Work and Pensions. In December 2013, the UK average was 18.7% and Wales was still behind at 16.7%—the lowest for any area of the country. We know there are particular challenges in Wales, but it would be good to hear from the Minister today what we can do to help with the challenges.

Among other things, the report expressed concern about the two prime providers in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) said that, as of December 2013, Working Links Wales was in the middle of the performance table, and Rehab JobFit was second from the bottom compared with other providers throughout the country. The former Minister, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), said in evidence to the Committee that he would “badger them to improve”, and it would be helpful to know how that is going.

As the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) said, our report also highlighted that the programme’s success in helping those with the most severe barriers to employment was yet to be proven. The ambition is worthy, but how successful is the Work programme in that respect and for those who come off it? Will the Minister explain what more is being done with that group, and how the Help to Work scheme will work now that it has been implemented in Wales? I hope that it will help people and not penalise them with an excessive sanction regime if they cannot find work. In particular, it would be helpful to hear what more we can do about lone parents, particularly women. Again, Wales is underperforming on that.

On a positive note, some subcontractors out there are doing particularly well. Labour-controlled Newport city council is the subcontractor to Working Links Wales in my area and has one of the best performances in Wales. I have seen its work first hand, as has the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb); in fact, we both took part in a session with Work programme participants.

It would be worth the Department’s while to look at the fact that a Labour-controlled council is, thankfully, bucking the performance trend. When compared with Wales-wide figures, its performance outcomes are much higher. For example, for jobseeker’s allowance claimants aged 25 and over, the outcome rate for Rehab JobFit and Working Links Wales in year 2 was 16% and 15.5% respectively, but Newport city council’s was 28.3%. For JSA claimants aged between 18 and 24, the rate for Rehab JobFit and Working Links Wales was 26.6% and 24.5% respectively, but Newport city council outperformed that by quite a margin, with 51% of referrals ending with a job outcome. For all payment groups, the council’s outcome rate was 33%, with the Wales-wide figure at around 17%.

I could go on, but I think the message is clear. Newport city council is the best performing Working Links Wales subcontractor in Wales, and it shows that despite all the challenges and the Work programme, jobseekers can be helped back to work by people who know the community, care about it and the people who live within it, and have the determination to deliver for them.

It is also worth looking at Jobs Growth Wales. According to the Welsh Government, its success rate so far is 40% in employment and 20% in apprenticeships after completing the programme. In Newport, 620 job opportunities have been created and 546 of them were filled. That is a success rate of about 88%.

We all want to help people back to work. The Work programme in Wales has not had the best start and the Committee’s report reflects that. It would be helpful to have from the Minister an update on where we are and how we can help to make it work as it is being rolled out.

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I, too, congratulate the Select Committee Chair on his excellent management of the inquiry and the report.

I want to mention briefly the poor level of performance by Working Links Wales and Rehab JobFit in Wales. We know that there are examples of subcontractors doing very good work, but overall it has been recognised that their performance does not compare well with other providers throughout the UK. In their response, the Government said that they will continue to take action where performance does not meet expectation.

What has the Minister been able to do so far and what does she intend to do about those two providers? What monitoring has been carried out—not just counting outcomes, but examining how they operate? The providers have bid for contracts and been awarded them, and the Government should hold them to account for the job of finding work. Considerable public money has been invested, and it should be looked at carefully. What is the providers’ percentage cut for management? What is their engagement with employers? Do they give the right incentives to employers to take part? Who provides training and is it sufficiently linked to the local job market?

Considerable money is at stake—nearly £14,000 for some employment and support allowance claimants—so there must be value for money. There have been instances of poor practice when people have been sent for interviews for unsuitable jobs, have travelled to turn up for non-existent jobs or have had to report repeatedly to centres away from the main areas where they could be looking for work. That happens in my constituency; people have to come to Llanelli when they live in Tumble and should be looking for work in somewhere like Cross Hands.

The report mentions evaluation of the impact of the Work programme. What progress has been made on that? It also mentions Andrew Sells reporting back in the spring on how to roll out good practice in respect of lone parents. What progress is being made on that?

I turn to the community work placement scheme, which is a continuation of the Work programme. I note that only two providers have bid for that in Wales and that they are the same two that are underperforming on the Work programme. Will the Minister look carefully at that and consider inviting further bids? The scheme involves £30 million of public funds.

On the potential overlap or conflict with Welsh Government programmes, we all understand why the Government do not want to double-fund people and pay out twice. This week, Ken Skates, the deputy Minister for Skills and Technology in the Welsh Government, made a clear statement detailing much of the work that has been going on between him and the Minister. I am glad that they are working together to try to sort the matter out.

As the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) highlighted, people coming out of prison are immediately put on the Work programme. There should be a mechanism to exit from that if it is more suitable for them to be on a Jobs Growth Wales scheme or another one. Funding should be managed so that there is no double-funding and that funding is shared if there is going to be more than one provider. I do not see why it is not practical to sort that out so that we do not end up paying twice, but we get the best outcome for the people concerned. I would like an update on progress from the Minister on holding people to account and ensuring that we get the very best value for money for people in Wales.

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The Work programme in Wales does not, as has been mentioned, do as well as elsewhere, but my primary point is that it is costing between £3 billion and £5 billion and that there is a programme that works six times as well—Jobs Growth Wales. According to the latest updated report, the Work programme’s success rate has moved from 11% to 15%. At the 11% point, Jobs Growth Wales is getting 40% of people into permanent jobs, 19% into apprenticeships and 3% into other education, which is a 62% success rate. Will the Minister say why, even if it costs more—if not six times more—we do not adopt it if it works, instead of being prejudiced?

I want to ask about sanctions. In Swansea, 65% of people on jobseeker’s allowance have been sanctioned and their jobseeker’s money taken away for four weeks, 13 weeks or 15 weeks because they failed to turn up to some sort of Work programme appointment—often because the letter arrived after the appointment. In other words, there was an administrative error. Bearing in mind that someone on jobseeker’s allowance is on just £71.80 a week, they have £10 a day to live on. If they do not get to an appointment they did not know about, they lose all their money for four weeks and as they can go to the food bank only three times, they are thrust into the hands of loan sharks. People’s desperation is appalling.

What is also happening—I do not want to mix up things—is that extremely vulnerable people are going to Atos. A person called Michael Rainey met me recently; he has a condition called pericarditis, which is the lining of the heart expanding and contracting due to anxiety, and he also has rheumatoid arthritis. He went to Atos and got zero points for his chronic conditions, and because he was forced into work, he was rushed into hospital and nearly died. He has since been sanctioned, so he has no money either.

We have a situation in which people on sanctions are not counted in the job figures, so suddenly they are not unemployed any more. We are also saving money because we are taking away their meagre benefits. Rather than messing around with statistics and claiming that something like half a million people on zero-hours contracts really do have jobs, we should ensure that if, for example, Jobs Growth Wales works, it applies more broadly across Britain and gives people the jobs they need. People want to work, but they are being starved into desperation by this strange system of sanctions and by being made to turn up to jobs that do not really exist.

Finally, I have been involved in this issue, so I know that the number of people going to counsellors and psychotherapists, often because of anxiety due to austerity and these draconian measures, has gone up from about 300,000 in 2010 to 1 million people a year. People are having mental health problems and going for advice—again, that is a knock-on cost to the health service. We really want to deliver proper jobs and proper work schemes. There is best practice at hand, in particular in Wales, and we should notice and take a lead from that.

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rose

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Order. The Front-Bench Members have eight minutes each, leaving a couple of minutes for the Chair of the Select Committee to sum up at the end.

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After three years of virtually no growth in the British economy after the general election, we are now finally seeing a recovery taking shape, which is very welcome. We all hope that the recovery will be sustained. The central labour market challenge now is that, following that period, we have unprecedentedly high numbers of people who have suffered unemployment in the long term. That needs to be at the centre of policy over the period ahead.

Tackling long-term unemployment is very urgent. As the Welsh Affairs Committee has pointed out, the Work programme is not up to that task. In fact, long-term unemployment rose inexorably to the highest level for 20 years in the two years after the Work programme was introduced. We need to do much better.

The facts about the Work programme’s performance in Wales have been set out fully in the report. The Government’s response says, “Well, it is not quite as bad as it looks, because 14.7% of those who started on the Work programme in Wales have achieved a sustained job outcome.” The Chair of the Select Committee said that it had gone up a bit to 15.1%, and I think that is right, on the most recent data. However, 85% of those who went on to the programme have therefore not achieved a sustained job outcome. It is very difficult to see how 15.1% can be regarded as good performance, and we should bear in mind that people have spent two years on the Work programme and that they have already been out of work for a year, usually, when they start on it. We are therefore talking about people who have had three years out of work, and it looks as though 85% of those who started on the Work programme do not have the sustained job outcome that is the purpose of being there. That looks pretty disappointing to me.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) rightly said, the policy has been particularly disappointing for young people. The youth contract has been a serious damp squib. Wage subsidies provided under that have had minimal take-up. I understand that Ministers have now given up on achieving the take-up that they initially forecast, and it is expected that spending on the youth contract will be much less than was originally thought. If the Minister could tell us her current expectations about that, it would be helpful.

It is true in Wales, as it is elsewhere, that the Work programme has been terrible for people who are out of work on health grounds and in receipt of employment and support allowance. Only 5% of them across the UK have secured a sustained job outcome after two years, so the failure rate has been 95%. If I am reading the Committee’s report correctly, at table 4, the proportion in Wales is less than 3%. Again, those people have spent two years on the Work programme, but it appears that less than 3% of them have a sustained job outcome. The Work programme has been very disappointing for jobseekers generally; for that particular group, it has been terrible. The report tells us that 2,630 former recipients of incapacity benefit were referred to the Work programme in its first two years. Of that 2,630, 10 secured a sustained job outcome.

We were told at the outset that the design of the Work programme would enable extra support for those facing the greatest barriers. In fact, many of those with the greatest barriers—such as people with health problems—have simply been parked by the Work programme and have not had any serious help to get back into work.

The report refers to alignment between programmes in Wales and in the whole UK. As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) pointed out, the Welsh deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Ken Skates, who I think is doing a fantastic job, made a statement on Tuesday about his discussions with the Minister. I hope that she will be able to tell us something from her perspective about the progress of those discussions.

Inspired by the success of the future jobs fund, which was in place across the UK before the election, the Welsh Assembly Government have established Jobs Growth Wales, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) drew to our attention and the report mentioned. By contrast to the disappointment of the Work programme, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) was absolutely right that Jobs Growth Wales has delivered for young people in Wales.

The shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), and I visited Cardiff last month to find out more about how that success has been achieved. We visited a rapidly growing software company employing 150 people in Cardiff. It has taken on young people through Jobs Growth Wales. It told us that it took on 12 young people last year. The company is Israeli-owned, and it had quite a tough job making a pitch to the board in Israel that it should take on those 12 people. It was able to win that argument only because of the wage subsidy from Jobs Growth Wales, but having taken on those 12 young people, 11 have now become permanent employees. The 12th was not kept on, but that young person has gone on to get a job in another firm. We met four of the recruits at the company’s offices in Swansea. They all told us that they had found it extremely difficult to find a job. One told us they had applied for hundreds of jobs; it was Jobs Growth Wales that gave them a break.

As my hon. Friends have said, the performance figures from Jobs Growth Wales are very impressive. The most recent figures that I have seen suggest that of those who have completed the Jobs Growth Wales programme up to 10 April, 45% continued in employment after their six-month job subsidy ended with the same employer. Another 8% were able to get work with another employer and 26% went on to an apprenticeship. Most of the employers recruiting under Jobs Growth Wales are small and medium-sized enterprises. The programme has very strong support from the Federation of Small Businesses and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West said absolutely rightly, the lessons from that success should be applied right across the UK, and that is precisely what Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee will do. We want to guarantee a choice of job offers to 18 to 24-year-olds who have been in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance for a year and—this is different from what is happening in Wales—to over 25-year-olds who have been in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance for two years. Every European Union member state, except for the UK, is now introducing a youth jobs guarantee. We should do so as well, and I very much commend what is being delivered in Wales.

The Select Committee was right to point out the extent of the disappointment in Wales about how the Work programme has done so far—less well than elsewhere, and it has been rather disappointing elsewhere, too. It has been at its worst in Wales. Jobs Growth Wales, by contrast, has established a much more encouraging record. In our view, the lessons from that need to be applied in a compulsory jobs guarantee in every part of the UK.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate and the Chair of the Select Committee for forcing an issue, raising a point and ensuring that both Governments work together on an important issue. We all want to see more people in work, particularly people who have been long-term unemployed. What specific support do we give them? I think that it is key that we compare like with like. We are looking at people who have been long-term unemployed and the support that we are giving them. It is a fake comparison that is being made with Jobs Growth Wales, because that deals with people who are entitled to get the support from day one when they are claiming, not a set of people who have to have been long-term unemployed.

If we look at the journey of an individual who ends up on the Work programme, we see that they have been unemployed for a year, whereas 90% of people would have got a job or stopped claiming JSA within a year. What we are considering today is the 10% of people who are the most difficult to get into work and what tailored support we need to give them. A fake comparison is being made between the two. It is not correct, because what we are seeing, particularly with young people who have been on JSA, is that more than 90% would have got a job anyway. I think that not comparing the two is key. We are talking today about the long-term unemployed and how we get the extra support to them.

Quite correctly, it has been said today that what has happened in Wales has not been as good as what has been happening in the rest of the country. Why is that? What issues have been hampering the support that needs to go to the long-term unemployed there? That has been the difference between national schemes and devolved schemes. How do we get better alignment of those? What has Wales decided to prioritise that has not worked as well as what has been happening in the rest of the UK?

I am pleased to say—the Welsh Affairs Committee has to take great credit for this—that we are working together. The report was published in November, and I met Ken Skates in November and January. The DWP is working with the Welsh Government now. We straight away set up a working group and are taking that forward. In the letter that came to me from Ken Skates and in the statement that came out, he sets out the key points. He says straight away that there must be better alignment and better use of what is coming through the skills funding. How do we do that? I understand his concern that funding must not be duplicated, but how is it then that we manage to utilise the ESF funding so that there is no duplication and, as is the case in the UK, it can be used in the way intended?

Those are the key things that we are working on together now, and we want the same outcome. We have a team working on it. The key priorities are ensuring that Work programme participants can access apprenticeship opportunities, to ensure that we get the essential skills provision that is there and that we manage to support these long-term unemployed people. That is what we have been aiming at for a long time, and that is what they are now doing. A pilot scheme is in place to utilise what we are doing in the UK to ensure that it happens in Wales. In only a few months, we have come a significant way, and all credit has to go to Ken and his team for that.

When I look at the numbers for the long-term unemployed, I see that they are coming down. When we look at the job statistics across the UK and in Wales, we see that we have very good employment figures at the moment. We are at record highs for the number of people in employment. I do not think that we can run that down. It is happening nationally and also in Wales. Let us look at what is happening in Wales. Employment in Wales is up by 41,000 over the past year. Unemployment in Wales is down by 19,000 over the last year and down by 6,000 in the last quarter. The long-term claimant count in Wales is down by 2,600 in the last year, too. When I look at the figures for the various seats, I see that in Llanelli long-term unemployment is down by 13% in the past year. Long-term youth unemployment is down by 35%. When I look across to Newport East, I see that, again, the figures are down. That is what we are all aiming for; it is what we want to see.

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Does the Minister accept that 85% of people on the Work programme are not getting into work?

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We can look at it that way. We know that we are getting 20-odd per cent. into work. We can put either a negative slant on it, as the hon. Gentleman does, or a positive slant on it, as I would. These are people who are very long-term unemployed. Some of them could have been unemployed for 10 years. The journey that they are embarking on is massive. Some of the people are not measured on getting a job. It is about their journey to getting closer to getting a job, and what a journey some of the people I read about have gone on! They have had severe depression and anxiety and have not worked for 10 years. They have lost their confidence and self-esteem. Then I see that at the end of the day they have got a job. That is incredible not only for them, but for their families and communities. For some people, I am afraid to say, that journey will be longer. We hoped that it would be shorter, but what they have done in the two years is significant. That is why there is Help to Work afterwards, to say, “How can we help you even more?” We are starting to get to know these people now and know what their issues and concerns are. Do they need more numeracy skills; do they need more literacy skills; or is it about confidence and health issues? How do we deal with those and take people forward?

I see that time is tight and I want to talk about what we have specifically been doing in Wales and how we have got continuous improvement. We have set up a best practice group. What is working? How do we take that forward? How do we align things? How do we ensure that people are doing the best in their area? Let me mention some of the things. A Welsh provider, Rehab JobFit, has created an additional specialist fund of £160,000 to better support claimants with more complex needs, increasing the use of the specialist provision within its supply chain. It is also rolling out a programme of pre-employment training that will be helpful in supporting some of its hardest-to-help claimants in north Wales. Working Links has taken on new specialist consultants, who are working with employers to promote the benefits of taking on Work programme claimants. That has increased job opportunities and allowed the building of strong and meaningful relationships with employers in getting the right people into work. Yes, we are monitoring them very closely. Yes, we are saying, “What is working in other parts of the country? How can you do the same thing?” Fundamentally, what was hampering the Work programme in Wales was the inability to get on to the skills funding. What we are doing now is aligning things. Our DWP team are working with the Wales Office to understand what is additionality, how people there can do what the UK is doing and how it will not impinge on their funding. I think that that is key.

When we are talking about youth employment, I have to say that I cannot agree with what the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) said. We see that the claimant count for young unemployed people has gone down for 22 months in a row and that youth unemployment has gone down for seven consecutive months. When we see the figures, we see that his portrayal of them is incorrect, because now there are fewer young people unemployed than there were at the time of the general election. I hope that I have answered some of the points that were made. I will now give the floor to the Chair of the Select Committee, who has done such a tremendous job.

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I can only say that I am delighted that there are lots more jobs out there at the moment. I see the evidence of that. Many more people are in work at the moment. Some people have been out of work for a long time and are very hard to place in jobs, but already we have managed to find work for 15% of them, and we will keep on going forward with the other 85%. I believe that the Minister will not give up on anyone. She will do her utmost to ensure that everyone can get a job in this country, no matter how challenging they may find it. I very much look forward to dealing with further aspects of this matter. The Welsh Affairs Committee will continue to monitor what is going on but looks forward to those results coming to fruition.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.