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House of Commons Hansard
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06 December 2017
Volume 632

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I beg to move,

That this House has considered youth employment.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. This is the first Westminster Hall debate I have led. Providing young people with the opportunity to get a good job has been a mission of this Government, and I am pleased that this debate is set against a backdrop of such positive figures. [Interruption.]

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On a point of order, Mrs Moon. Can something be done about the sound system, please?

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I will have to stop the hon. Lady. We cannot proceed until the mics are working properly. We have an engineer on the way. I am not sure what this will do in knocking the rest of the day off in Westminster Hall, but we have to wait for the engineer, because otherwise we cannot broadcast the sound.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming

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We have a system that will allow us to record the debate, but we might not be able to broadcast. If the hon. Lady is happy, we may proceed.

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Providing young people with the opportunity to get a good job has been a mission of this Government, and I am pleased that this debate is set against the backdrop of such positive figures. From July to September this year, we saw more than half of 16 to 24-year-olds in work and a further third in full-time education. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that youth unemployment is at its lowest point since 2001, falling by 71,000 in the past year alone. We have experienced that in Chichester, with youth unemployment now less than one third of what it was in 2010.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing a hugely important debate. She mentions the figures. In percentage terms, the figure is 11.9%, and the lowest it has ever been is 11.6%. I invite her to the all-party parliamentary group for youth employment. We meet on the day that the ONS figures come out. Our most recent project is on those furthest from the labour market. If we can unlock that, we can improve the figures even further.

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I agree, and I would love to come along. The figures are really good news, as my hon. Friend said, and they are even more impressive when compared with those of some of our near neighbours in Europe, although one should not take the success for granted.

At the start of the last global recession, I was working in Spain. In that time, I saw youth unemployment reach nearly 50% at its peak, and I saw at first hand the devastating effect that can have on young people’s lives. I lived in a block of flats in Madrid, and it was difficult to watch as many of my neighbours were made redundant. Even worse was seeing young people graduate from university or college and applying for job after job with no success. It is heartbreaking to watch talented and qualified young people spend years trying to get on the first rung of the ladder. Being continuously rejected is demoralising for anyone, and I wish I could say that the situation has improved in the eight years since I left Madrid, but it has not. Many of the same people are still out of work and struggling to get by. The youth unemployment rate in Spain remains very high at 38.7%, and the situation has been ongoing for almost a decade. They genuinely have lost a generation of opportunity.

The wider EU average unemployment rate is currently at 16.7%, with Greece at 43.3% at the top of the list above Spain. In the UK we compare comparatively well, with youth unemployment at 11.9%. Although we can celebrate the success we have seen in getting more young people into work, still our goal must be to ensure that all 16 to 24-year-olds are either earning or learning. That is crucial, as we need to increase our skills for growing businesses and raise the career aspirations of the next generation. The priority must be to remove the barriers to young people getting into work. To do this we need to ensure our younger generations have a variety of routes into the workplace.

When I left school at 16 there were no decent sixth-form colleges in the area that I lived in in Knowsley. I had 10 O-levels, but where was I to go and what was I to do? I was fortunate enough to get an apprenticeship. I really was lucky because only five places were available. Many of my fellow school leavers would have benefited from the wide variety of apprenticeships on offer today.

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On the subject of apprenticeships, one of the difficulties that we face in Northern Ireland, certainly in my constituency, is that 25 young people will start an apprenticeship but five will finish it. How can we change that mindset?

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That is an important point. I would like to put in a plug for apprenticeships, but they need to be high quality.

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I commend the hon. Lady on securing this debate. One of the things I was concerned about in the recent Budget was the announcement that the minimum wage for apprentices will go from £3.50 an hour to £3.70 an hour. I appreciate that not all apprentices are paid at that level, but does she share my concern about the pitifully low rate of pay that apprentices are paid under the UK minimum wage?

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As the hon. Gentleman says, not all apprentices are paid at the minimum level. I certainly was not when I did my apprenticeship, but an apprentice is earning and learning and the model still works at the minimum wage.

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To continue that point, I have experience of meeting apprentices in my constituency. They are hugely grateful for the opportunity to work with businesses. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the role that business plays that is critical in making apprenticeships a success? It has been the engine driving the remarkable increase in apprenticeships over the past several years. The growth has been miraculous.

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I completely agree. I believe I am the only degree-level apprentice in the House—I have not found another one so far—so I know about this from personal experience.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does she agree that for apprenticeships to be of a high quality there needs to be a vibrant partnership between business and higher education? In my constituency, Forth Valley College has developed a network of connections with local business and is delivering the talent and capabilities that businesses need to flourish and prosper.

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I completely agree that that is the best model.

I spent three years working in every part of the business that I started in, which was a car factory in Liverpool. In parallel I studied business management up to degree level. By the time I moved on to my next job in senior management at NatWest Bank, I had seven years’ work experience, a degree and no student debt. That is the ideal route into the workplace. It has many advantages, particularly for working-class kids such as I was.

I welcome the Government’s recognition of apprenticeships as they are a great way to get into work and learn about business. Since 2010, 3 million apprenticeships are now available, with a target of 3 million more by 2020. That is a significant achievement, but it is not about numbers. It is the good quality training and skills that work for both the employee and employer that are key.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) implied, colleges, universities and business are developing successful collaborative relationships across the country. Chichester College—a college of further education —has achieved that with more than 25,000 apprentices who have passed through its doors, and its success continues, with increased participation year on year.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I know it is extremely important to her to get more young people into good quality jobs. Does she agree that partnerships need to be formed with businesses of the future? Some 50% of all those in the east are in engineering and manufacturing, and, West Suffolk College, an outstanding college in my constituency, hopes to launch an institute of technology. Employers with high quality degree apprenticeships and high quality routes up to those is what is really important.

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I completely agree. Hearing that kind of message coming from Suffolk is music to my ears, because it is a fantastic model and will provide great opportunities for young people today.

Chichester College has put employability at the heart of its curriculum and has developed key relationships within industry, as we have discussed, over many years. Now it also offers students in-work educational programmes. Many of its courses were designed with some of the 5,000 businesses that it works with. One such example is URT Group, a manufacturing firm that works in a diverse range of industries from defence to motorsport. Its business is centred around apprenticeships in every area. In fact, two former apprentices are now in senior management roles in that business.

Business and colleges working together also ensures that skill gaps in local industry are filled. Chichester College also runs seven different construction courses, with more than 1,000 students. The Government are committed to building more homes in the UK, and the students in Chichester will build the homes of the future. Many of the college graduates go on to set up their own businesses, and they in turn take on apprentices. Others come back to run classes and workshops to share their skills.

There are also people who are not in work. They want to take the first step, and universal credit provides greater flexibility to support that journey. It is important to remember that people cannot move up the career ladder until they are on it. Once rolled out, universal credit is expected to boost employment by 250,000. Importantly, elements such as the in-work progression scheme increases expectation and aspiration to seize opportunities to earn more. We recognise that the transition from jobseeker’s allowance to universal credit has caused some concerns, so I welcome the interventions by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Chancellor to tackle those concerns with the recent announcements in the Budget.

Across the country there is still more to do to enable young people to get into work. In the north-east, youth unemployment is at 18%. By contrast, in the south-east it is 10%. We are also seeing ethnic differentials too, and I would welcome further investigation into why that is the case. Thus far the statistics show that those who do not attain grades at school are more likely to end up not in education, employment or training, as so-called NEETs. Despite 1.9 million more children attending a good or outstanding school since 2010, some young people do underachieve during their educational years, but that should not disadvantage them for life.

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I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Given the welcome stats that we received about two weeks ago showing the reduction in net immigration into the UK, does she agree that if employment stats continue to improve, as we all hope they will, we will need to see a nationwide retraining of our young people to try to fill what may well be a gap, if we do not do that emphatically and comprehensively across the nation?

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Yes, I do agree. As we would say in business, that is a nice problem to have.

Programmes such as “Get into”, which is run by the Prince’s Trust, are fantastic for those who underachieve at school. The scheme works by getting young people on to a four-week placement across a range of industries. It provides an opportunity that for many is a vital life chance, with almost a quarter of those in the programme having been unemployed for more than two years. Many large companies—for example, Accenture, Arvato, and HP—now offer young people opportunities to get into the workplace via the “Get into” programme run by the Prince’s Trust.

One participant, Michelle, was physically and sexually abused for years, and understandably suffered from depression and started offending. After going on the programme, she said:

“Without the Trust’s support, I would have carried on being self-destructive, with no future to look forward to. Instead I’m happy, sociable and I’m actually excited about where my life is going.”

Her words highlight the importance of getting young people into work and giving them the opportunity to build self-esteem and purpose.

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Would my hon. Friend recommend that prisons offer more apprenticeships? They have to provide a work focus for their prisoners, and it would be extremely useful if they offered apprenticeships as part of that.

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That is an excellent point. I recently visited Wormwood Scrubs, and I think that would be a fantastic programme to help people who, ultimately, have just taken the wrong path in life, but really do want to re-join the workplace upon leaving prison.

Last Monday, I went to St Pancras church in Chichester, which runs a breakfast for some of the 80 homeless people and rough-sleepers in the city. There I met a young girl who has been through the care system and now finds herself without a roof over her head. She feels that she lacks the experience and support to get into work. Some 24% of those between the ages of 16 and 18 who have been in care are categorised as not in education, employment or training. That is why programmes such as “Choose Work”, run by Chichester District Council, are so important. They help people to access work experience, helping them on to the first rung of the ladder. I am also delighted to say that the young girl I met on my visit is now in supported housing.

One area of concern is wage stagnation. Figures for 22 to 29 year-olds suggest a decline of 5.5% in real-term wages, compared with 2008. Clearly, the effects of the financial crisis are still present. The Government’s policies on the minimum wage and raising the tax thresholds have gone some way to protect those on the lowest incomes; however, the more skills and qualifications one has, the better the wage, so we must enable young people to upskill and increase their earnings and living standards.

The Government’s role is to help people develop. As the proverb says:

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”

To ensure that does not happen, the Government have launched several schemes to bring about greater youth opportunity. The adult education budget, for example, provides free training to those who are over the age of 19 and unemployed, up to and including level 2 qualifications. All that is arranged through the jobcentre. Similarly, the youth engagement fund, launched in 2014, aims to improve education outcomes and employability for disadvantaged young people. More generally, education is diversifying, with the first three T-levels now launched, supported by a further £500 million a year, once those programmes are fully rolled out. They will provide yet another path to a career for young people.

The Government do need to do more for some groups, such as those with a disability. Figures from 2016 show that the youth employment rate is only 38% in those groups. I recently met a constituent whose son Josh has autism. She managed to get him on a work experience programme in IT. Some roles, such as those in IT, are very well suited for people with disabilities such as autism. The overwhelming effect of the work experience was positive, and his mum told me that he was less anxious, and over the period began to open up more and more—a significant challenge for young people with autism. We must do more to help that group.

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Will my hon. Friend commend the work of charities such as Leonard Cheshire Disability, which does some excellent work in this area, encouraging those who are disabled to get work experience, and from there to get into the world of work as well?

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Yes, I think that is an excellent scheme.

The next generation stands at the precipice of the fourth industrial revolution, with big advances in next-generation technology, such as artificial intelligence and biotech. The next generation is also composed of digital natives: those who have embraced completely the power of mobile computing. As a nation, we are preparing to spearhead that advance, and we need to lead in the latest industrial revolution. Businesses can rely on world-class centres of education and research, with a strong digital foundation—18% of all global data flows are already hosted in the UK. That is powerful when combined with our nation’s historic foundations of common law and internationally respected institutions, plus the Chancellor’s Budget announcements of increased investment in research and development, tech infrastructure and skills development. Put together, our potential is real.

Tech waves themselves can provide a mechanism for social mobility. I was young once, and the internet revolution during the ’90s helped me to build a great career. Sitting in my comprehensive classroom in Huyton, in Knowsley, I never thought that I would be negotiating technology deals in Japan just 10 years later—but nobody else knew how to do that either.

To fulfil the needs of industry, we need to ensure that there are opportunities for young people to get high-quality training that meets the needs of business. The fresh food industry in Chichester is worth £1 billion, and currently has a shortage of engineers to handle both the advanced robotics and the chemical elements involved in growing produce. The advanced manufacturing and engineering sector in the Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership represents 4.4% of all businesses, so it is important to upskill young people to fill those roles. Increasing the number of people taking up science, technology, engineering and maths qualifications is therefore vital for industry.

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My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that there is an onus on industries to go into schools and other institutions to tell young people about the opportunities that await them? Sheer effort enabled her to achieve what she did in her career, but lots of people do not get the chance even to know what opportunities might be available to them. It is happening on industries’ watch, and they need to address that.

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I completely agree. In my case, without an inspiring maths teacher, who was also my careers teacher, I would not have even heard about the opportunity of an apprenticeship.

The University of Chichester is investing in a new technology park, where they will put a bit of STEAM into STEM, by facilitating the relationship between art, design and sciences. The university is adopting a model of “Conceive, design, implement, operate”, which is supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. That model has already been adopted by 12 other UK universities, and aims to close the gap in higher-level engineering, creative digital technology, data science and sustainability skills. The investment that we see in our universities is welcome, and that boost in development is very much down to the effects of a guaranteed income, provided by student fees. No longer do universities suffer from underfunding by successive Governments.

Implementing new courses and facilities is key if we are to ensure that we meet the expected needs of industry. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy estimates that 56,000 level 3 apprenticeships will be needed each year to meet the needs of the engineering sector alone. At present, we have 26,000.

Alongside investment in better education and routes into work, we must put appropriate structures in place to encourage careers in the technology and engineering sectors. Careers services, as we have just discussed, need to move into the 21st century. I therefore welcome the introduction of a new careers strategy, launched on Monday this week. The most important element of the new strategy is the “Good career guidance”. Advice will be forward-looking and in tune with the developments in the technological landscape that we all now live in. I am pleased that the strategy includes industry interacting with our schools, and I hope that that will inspire young people.

The strategy follows the work of Jobcentre Plus, which already works with children in schools from the ages of 12 to 18 to discuss career options and inform them of all the alternative routes into work. I hope that today’s debate will emphasise the importance of a diverse range of routes into work and mechanisms to support the next generation to achieve their aspirations. We will focus on creating opportunity and raising aspirations for young people. I have spoken about people who have turned their lives around by getting into work, including myself. Getting all 16 to 24 year-olds either earning or learning is the right goal for us all.

In preparing for the debate, I looked back on my school years. Almost every one of my classmates in my failing comprehensive school had talent and the potential to achieve whatever they put their mind to. Some of us beat the odds and got life chances, in spite of our schooling. My life chance was my apprenticeship. Others did not get such an opportunity. They were let down in school and not offered enough support, or alternative routes into work when they left school at just 16. If only they were now leaving school, they would have a far greater chance to achieve their potential.

The fourth industrial revolution brings with it opportunity—opportunity for future generations to grow into high-skilled and high-paid jobs. Investing in young people has to be the wisest investment a country can make, as they are the only future we have. The Government have a good record on youth employment, and I welcome their steps to improve it. By creating opportunity and life chances, like the one I got, we can have a future generation that is better educated, more skilled and more highly paid. Investing in the young is investing in the future of Great Britain and will, I believe, make us much greater still.

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Order. I advise Members that we are now recording again, and have been for most of the hon. Lady’s speech. We have very limited time. I am not going to impose a time limit, but I advise Members not to take more than six minutes, if they hope to allow other colleagues to get in.

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I congratulate the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on securing this debate on an often neglected but none the less important issue. I also congratulate her on being, I believe, the first female MP to represent her area—well done on that.

When doing research ahead of this debate, I was disheartened, although not surprised, to learn that people aged 16 to 24 are more likely than any other age group to be employed on zero-hours contracts, be in temporary employment, be stuck in part-time employment or be in unskilled work.

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight that issue, but does she recognise that the research briefing shows that, although zero-hours contracts do not suit everybody, they do suit a number of people? Some people study at the same time and welcome the flexibility that zero-hours contracts give them. My son is on a zero-hours contract and it suits him down to the ground. He is 18 and is getting experience he would not otherwise get.

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I genuinely appreciate the hon. Lady’s point, but if she is suggesting that all young people benefit from zero-hours contracts, she is on a different planet. If that is not what she is saying, that is fine. That kind of overly positive attitude towards zero-hours contracts is something that we would read in a Tory party briefing, rather than any other briefing.

I suspect that the Government’s response to any criticism during this debate will be to say that the number of young people not in education, employment or training has been slowly falling—magic! We could say, “Well done,” welcome the fall and simply leave it at that, but like all things in life the situation is more complicated than that. That kind of argument completely ignores the quality of the work. Patting ourselves on the back about the falling numbers is all well and good, but if they are falling because people are working in insecure jobs that do not last long, is it really worth celebrating? If the Government have lowered those figures by pushing people into destitution and poverty—that is my experience since I was elected—is that really something to celebrate? That is not to mention the pitiful minimum wage, which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) talked about, which starts at £4.05 for those under the age of 18. I do not see how anyone can afford to run a household on £4.05 an hour, especially if we consider the fact that the Government have seen fit to take away housing benefit from 18 to 21-year-olds.

Organisations such as the Resolution Foundation are reporting that the Government’s tax and social security policies will drive the biggest increase in inequality since Thatcher. I know that the Government greatly admire that woman, but perhaps they will look past their ideological nostalgia and look again at how they achieved those falling numbers.

The Government could consider following the lead of the Scottish Government, who achieved their target of reducing youth unemployment by 40% four years ahead of schedule. Going further, the Scottish Government will introduce a jobs grant to help even more 16 to 24-year-olds into work. Funnily enough, I highly recommend the Scottish Government’s work, given that Scotland has the lowest youth unemployment in the UK and one of the best youth employment rates in the whole of Europe.

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Will the hon. Lady give way?

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I am coming to my concluding remarks.

The Government could consider following the lead of Renfrewshire Council, in the area I represent. Following the implementation of its “Invest in Renfrewshire” scheme, youth unemployment fell by more than 80%. I have met some of the people who have reaped the benefits of that scheme. It has motivated nearly 850 local employers to support young unemployed people and has stimulated job creation, taking Renfrewshire from being the sixth worst local authority area in Scotland for youth employment to being the fourth best. The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned the importance of working with business and working outwith the community.

I mention those success stories not for the sake of petty political point scoring. Surely any decent Government should listen to constructive criticism and look for solutions. The reality is that young people leaving university have huge debts and have to take on insecure and unskilled work. They face wage stagnation like we have never known—literally the worst in more than 200 years —as well as the huge uncertainty of Brexit and an impossible-to-reach housing ladder. After all these years of watching austerity push people—particularly the young, the disabled and women—towards food banks and into poverty, surely it is time to reconsider this regime and look at other solutions.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on calling this critical debate on an issue that affects all Members of Parliament. I have certainly been inspired by her story. She is a fantastic example of the power of opportunity. When it is presented to a young person, it can enable them to reach their potential. I share the wishes of all Members of this House: all young people in all of our constituencies should be able to access those types of opportunities. I hope this debate will influence the Government’s thinking on the issue.

Work is important because it is not just an economic proposition. It is about more than just earning money; it is also about achieving our human potential and cementing our identities in the world. Who could have imagined that a young girl who grew up in Liverpool and started work at 16 could become a Member of Parliament? There are many more such stories that show the impact that work has on young people’s mental and physical health, and on their capacity to make a difference in the world. It is so inspiring to hear that.

Since I became an MP, I have focused on youth unemployment and worked with businesses and young people in Redditch. I started a Redditch mentors programme, and I am encouraging businesses to work with schools and colleges in my constituency to ensure that young people see what is available for them in the area. That is why I am backing the campaign for an institute of technology in Redditch, which would be a fantastic step forward for our town. Before I came to this House, I set up an education and skills charity, and I worked in Birmingham introducing employers to schools, because at that time we were suffering from the devastating impact of the financial crash, under the Labour Government, which caused record rates of unemployment in that area.

I want to make two major observations. The Labour Government did some very good things for our country—I congratulate them on their focus on higher education—but they neglected to think about the technical, practical and IT skills that our young people need. They missed a massive opportunity. The Government are now rightly focusing on those skill and are putting a lot more effort into careers education, T-levels and institutes of technology up and down the country. That is the right thing to do.

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My hon. Friend is making an eloquent point about her constituency of Redditch. I am very pleased that my constituency of Aldershot has experienced a remarkable decrease in youth unemployment: it was 450 back in 2010, and it is now 110. Is there a similar picture in Redditch? I would be very interested to learn whether there has been a similarly remarkable decrease in youth unemployment in recent years.

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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing me on to the next point in my speech. I am delighted to hear that youth unemployment in Aldershot has gone down, and I am pleased to say that it is a similar picture in Redditch. In 2010, 620 young people were unemployed and the figure now is 185. That is a significant drop, with 435 fewer unemployed young people.

I want to return briefly to the point made by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) about zero-hours contracts and flexibility. I accept that they should not be forced on people—I want to put that statement on the record—but they offer flexibility for young people. Apprenticeships give people the flexibility to earn while they learn. The workplace today is changing massively, as are jobs and work. We need to make sure that employers get behind that in a positive way so that it is an opportunity for young people.

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I accept what the hon. Lady said for the record, but does she also accept that zero-hours contracts—certainly in the experience of my constituents and even people I know—are forced on people? Not only are they expected to function with a household and often with a livelihood and children; they also live with uncertainty about how much money will be coming in. That, unfortunately, is a reality for far too many people.

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I completely accept the hon. Lady’s point. We have a picture of much lower employment across the country, including in her constituency. The Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is specifically considering cases of exploitation.

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Is my hon. Friend looking forward to the Government’s formal response to the Matthew Taylor report, which we hope will go some way towards ironing out some of the inequities that might exist in the issues raised by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black)?

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Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me about the absolutely brilliant work that is being done. This Government banned exploitative zero-hours contracts that prevent people from taking on other work, so now such contracts can be a solution, although I still recognise that they should not be forced on people or be the only option. We want more opportunities across the board for people of all ages.

I will finish by bringing to the House’s attention another positive story that I heard from my Jobcentre Plus office in Redditch. My constituent, who was under the local authority care system, attended her universal credit appointment and was asked by the work coach why she was making a claim. She said that she desperately needed to get a job; she was not happy in her care home and she needed to earn to move on. The work coach explained that she would not be entitled to universal credit because the local authority was responsible for her until her 18th birthday, but that the jobcentre would help by looking over her CV and advising her about job search sites. At the time there was a provider in the office with whom the work coach worked closely. They discussed what the provider could offer and how people could be helped into work.

Redditch Jobcentre Plus has a very high success rate for customers getting training through the provider, the Training Academy. The work coach took my constituent there to introduce her personally and to explain that she was only 16. The contact at the provider asked if he could help my constituent in any way and invited her to enrol at the academy the following day. That day, the work coach received an email to say that the provider had secured an interview on the same day for my constituent, closely followed by an email with a photograph of her holding up a plaque stating, “I got the job”. What a fantastic result for her: she went from being told that she would not be entitled to any universal credit, to securing full-time employment within two days. I have many more stories, but that is a fantastic example of how universal credit is helping young people into employment when provided with a package of full support, as is the case in Redditch.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on securing this debate and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on an issue that is so important to my constituency and to the UK as a whole.

According to Eurostat, at 12% the UK has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the European Union, ranking us ninth out of 28. Indeed, youth unemployment is a major issue in much of the EU. By comparison, Greece has a youth unemployment rate of 44%, Spain 39%, Italy 35%, Portugal 24%, France 23% and Belgium 22%. As my hon. Friend said, however, that does not happen by accident.

A great deal of work has been done by this Government and the coalition to drive down youth unemployment, because under the previous Labour Government it rose by 45%, creating something of a lost generation. Although this UK Government have made concerted efforts to tackle youth unemployment, it is still higher than we want it to be.

Since May 2010 the UK Government have created more than 3 million apprenticeships, which are keeping more young people in education and giving them the skills needed to excel and make progress in their careers. As a result, youth unemployment has been steadily decreasing and, at a time when so much of Europe is suffering from substantial youth unemployment, I am particularly pleased that the UK is bucking the trend.

That is a record to be proud of, but we cannot simply rest on our laurels. My hon. Friend has referred to those not in education, employment or training. On those 18 to 24-year-old jobseeker’s allowance and universal credits claimants required to seek work, the most recent ONS figures available to the House of Commons Library show that the UK rate is 2.8%. In Scotland the figure is higher, at 3.3%, while in Ochil and South Perthshire that rate of youth unemployment is 3.8%, which is higher still. I am concerned that Scotland has a higher rate of youth unemployment than the rest of the UK. The rate is higher still in my constituency, which is why it is such a big issue for me.

Since being elected I have met youth groups across my constituency, including the Logos project in Crieff and Developing the Young Workforce in Clackmannanshire, to understand the challenges young people face and how employers and politicians can work together to remove barriers to youth involvement in the labour market. When I speak to youth groups, I ask them what the barriers are, and young people identify transport, the range of jobs available and employer recruitment processes as obstacles to employment.

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The hon. Gentleman is talking about employment. We all welcome seeing young people go up the ladder—although I do not welcome zero-hours contracts—but a trend has started in the places in Scotland that he is talking about of young people taking jobs in return for work experience. One youth has worked 13 hours for three weeks, but he has not been paid for it because employers know that people want to put such experience on their CVs and job applications. What are the Government doing to prevent that from happening?

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Our issue will be a devolved one, but to be fair to the Scottish Government, they are introducing incentives such as the recruitment incentive, which provides up to £4,000 to employers to help young people get rewarded for some of the work they are doing. On the specific point about work experience, employers need to work with the young person’s educational establishment to ensure that they are not just getting free labour and that true work experience is being gained; otherwise, as is sometimes said, some get the work and others get the experience.

As I was saying, young people raise the issue of the range of jobs available and other obstacles in the recruitment process. Meanwhile, employers tell me about the lack of suitable qualifications and work ethic as reasons that they do not hire young people locally. Government have a significant role to play here, as do MPs and MSPs. We must build a bridge between the two groups to improve opportunities for our communities and to progress young people’s development.

The key to such progress, as in so many areas, is education. I have already mentioned the successes of apprenticeships and the impact that such schemes have had on youth employment. In Scotland we have consistently created about 26,000 starts per year since 2011-12.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no difference in value in a young school leaver going into work, college or university? Perhaps we have spent too long putting too much emphasis on university as a higher route, rather than looking at all those options as having equal value.

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I could not agree more with my hon. Friend and I will develop that point shortly.

Those 26,000 starts per year is some credit to the Scottish Government—it is a strong result—but I have concerns about higher education. Only 8% of Scottish 18-year-olds from the most deprived areas enter university, compared with 17% in England, 15% in Wales 15% and 14% in Northern Ireland. Eighteen-year-olds from deprived areas in Scotland are therefore significantly less likely to have the opportunity to attend university than those of the same age anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Education is, of course, devolved in Scotland, but the existing policy of free tuition fees is clearly not delivering for the most deprived in my constituency. Furthermore, in order to pay for the free university tuition fees, since coming to power the Scottish National party Administration in Edinburgh has cut about 150,000 college places in Scotland, further denying people another route to education. That is a great shame, especially when the staff of colleges such as Forth Valley in my constituency are working so hard to provide opportunities and to adjust to the challenges of life-long learning.

Academic education and vocational training are not the only answers to youth unemployment. We need more initiatives to improve social capital. In areas of deprivation, young people face not only material shortcomings, but a shortfall in social capital. That means that the boy or girl born on the council scheme does not have the connections to get the work experience that they desire. Those from a workless household do not always have the chance or guide to show them not just what they are, but what they could be. For too many, their background and birth deny them the freedom to pursue their true aspiration and calling. That is why I welcome the Government’s groundbreaking TUC-CBI national retraining scheme, which provides opportunities and skills throughout life. The scheme does not apply in Scotland, but I gently remind the Minister that he is a Minister for the whole of the United Kingdom, and I know that my constituents would welcome the expansion of the scheme to Scotland and, specifically, my constituency.

The UK unemployment rate is lower than most, but the higher average youth unemployment rate in Scotland, and in my constituency, shows that current policies are not as effective as they could be. By recognising this, I hope that colleagues across the House and in the devolved Administration can work constructively and creatively to tackle this challenge and to ensure that young people have the opportunities they deserve.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on securing the debate.

Youth employment in the United Kingdom is indeed a good news story. The overall picture for employment is good, with 32.06 million people in work, reflecting an employment rate of 75%, which is the highest for four decades. Since 2010, the Conservatives—not alone but in partnership with industry—have delivered a staggering 3 million more jobs, giving more people the dignity of work and the security of a pay packet, which may be an old-fashioned term these days. At the same time, the Conservatives have taken millions out of tax altogether, and they have created and increased the living wage.

Many of the beneficiaries are our young people. Since 2010, the number of young people out of work has gone down by more than 400,000. That is a not insignificant figure. In my constituency, youth unemployment has more than halved, from 825 in 2010 to 370 in 2017. For those among us who are not mathematicians, that is a fall of 455 young people. That has to be welcomed, but there are still challenges. We have to focus on those 455 and get them on that ladder to success.

The number of apprenticeships is at record levels, with more to come. New, modern apprenticeship schemes are in place throughout the UK, although there are variations. We are giving people the skills to thrive in a new economy, by launching a partnership of the Government, the CBI and the TUC. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester mentioned, we need to try to push that throughout the United Kingdom, and Scotland would welcome that way forward.

Manufacturing growth is at a four-year high—the highest since 2013—and that brings job opportunities for our young people. Despite the growth in manufacturing, the Chancellor plans to invest £31 billion to further rejuvenate productivity. That figure includes an additional £8 billion, aimed primarily at key areas of housing, transport, research and, perhaps more importantly, digital communications, which is our future. I addition to improving productivity, new jobs for young people will be secured by this forward-thinking investment. The industrial strategy is brand-new but it will move forward, and as it gains traction, it will also be a player in securing youth employment.

On education, there are more than 1.9 million pupils in “good” or “outstanding” schools, which lead to better employment opportunities, although I note, sadly, that although Scotland used to have an education system that was the envy of the world, there is still work to do to revive Scotland’s education. The Government are on the case and I am sure that they will succeed, as education is absolutely vital.

However, despite the slashing of 150,000 places, Scottish colleges are doing extremely well. They are working well in partnerships with industry. In my area, Ayrshire colleges have worked well with the aeronautics industry around Prestwick airport, which is in a neighbouring constituency. They supply the young people for apprenticeships in the aviation or avionics industries.

More young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are attending university; Scotland still has some way to go on that, but it is pushing forward in that area. Many of those young people are the first in their family to secure a degree, which opens up new opportunities for them. My youngest daughter is among them—how proud I was on the day that she received a degree.

The number of children in workless households is at a 20-year low. That must be applauded, because it means that children see the opportunities and benefits that hard work brings to that household. They can take that opportunity forward in their own lives.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps there should be some kind of celebration associated with the completion of an apprenticeship, on the same scale as a graduation?

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Yes—as a late starter at school, I think we need to celebrate the success of those in apprenticeships. I left school with zero qualifications, but I find myself speaking in Westminster. The journey can be a bit tougher, but I would welcome that sort of initiative.

What I am setting out are not promises or pledges on a political platform or pamphlet, but the facts, and the policy successes of this Conservative Government—a Government who have ensured, and will continue to ensure, that every child or young person in the United Kingdom has the opportunity to get on in life, no matter their background.

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The hon. Gentleman has talked a lot about the promises and the future in education, and so on. What children need in life is the real living wage, which should be £10 an hour; a real start in life; and social housing for young ones.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Although it is a modest increase, I recall that the Budget raised the living wage by around 4% or 5%, which is helpful although it may not meet what we aspire to. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said that she was young once; my memory goes all the way back to my first salary. Our wage was £5—not per hour, but for five days a week. We have moved on somewhat. The moral of the story is, for a higher wage, stick at school.

Finally, I wish the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) every success in running for UK city of culture. Hopefully, Paisley will be pulled out of the hat today. I wish it well as a Scottish town and I am sure that success in that will also lead to enhancements in youth employment.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on initiating a thoroughly brilliant debate.

I stand here with some embarrassment, as the product of three universities, and stand shoulder to shoulder with my hon. Friend in a party that really believes in opportunity and matching those opportunities to the individual. That is a very important point to make. I stand here with some embarrassment also because in my constituency, the number of youth unemployed receiving jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit was 25 according to the November figures. That is 25 people across the whole of the constituency, under the age of 24, who were unemployed. I want to look briefly at some of the reasons for that figure. We have discussed them but perhaps I can draw them together again.

This is all about apprenticeships. First, I will mention a type of apprenticeship that illustrates the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), which is at the company DAF Trucks, the truck maker in my constituency. It has established an academic relationship with a university just outside Bristol, and it celebrates the granting of those apprenticeships as if it were the granting of degrees. It is absolutely brilliant that they have done that.

Secondly, there are apprenticeships with semi-government organisations. Examples in my constituency include the work being done at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, in electrical training apprenticeships, and at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which has been running apprenticeships on site for 12 years. I have become very involved with them in the sort of apprenticeships that they run. Thirdly, there are the type of apprenticeships that companies themselves sort out. A very good example in my constituency is the furniture maker StuartBarr, which has organised apprenticeships for a number of young people.

There is a difference in the way in which different schools approach apprenticeships. Some schools have gone out of their way to establish good relationships with business, but others still see going to university as the prime reason for the school. They do their children no favours at all in pursuing that line.

Fourthly, there are apprenticeships in genuine government organisations, such as prisons, which I mentioned in my intervention, where there is an incentive to get purposeful living out of prisoners to ensure that they do not reoffend. The use of apprenticeships there can be quite helpful.

The thing that all those types of apprenticeship have in common is hard work. They are not easy to run. They are not easy for students to undergo—and nor should they be, because this is about getting the skills for a future in life. We MPs can play an enormous role by encouraging apprenticeships and by talking to businesses and explaining the motivation behind the Government programmes that support apprenticeships.

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My hon. Friend makes his point very eloquently. Does he agree that the link between business and education establishments is really important? Industry knows what it wants, and if it tells educational establishments what it wants, people will study for apprenticeships with enthusiasm because they know that they will be employed meaningfully at the end. We have had tremendous success with Farnborough College of Technology, which speaks directly to industry in Farnborough. Does he agree that that link is critical to the success of this model?

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I totally agree that that link is essential. An example in my constituency is Henley College, which has good networks of relationships and runs apprenticeship programmes that businesses actually want and can deliver for the students who take them. That is a crucial point. It would be pointless to offer apprenticeships that just float about in space and give no benefit at all to the people who take them. We want high-quality apprenticeships that deliver for everyone. Apprenticeships need to be win-win for both the academic organisation and the business. From my experience, that is perfectly achievable.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I warmly commend the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on opening the debate. She spoke inspiringly about her experience and background.

I had not planned to, but I want to talk about my own career path. I am proud to be a Cranhill boy who was elected to the House of Commons. I am pretty unusual, in so far as I did not go to university and I did not study politics. I left school at 16. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) talked about growing up on a council estate, as I did. I am incredibly proud of that. I was brought up by a single parent, and going to university was not something that people from my family did. The only person in my family who has ever been to university is my wife—she was the first Linden to graduate. When I was growing up, I always had this idea that I would go and be a police officer. I went and took my standard entrance test and got full marks in English and maths, but I failed the information handling aspect by half a point—so making me a Member of Parliament was perhaps a bad idea.

I remember deciding, because I was quite stubborn, that I would leave school at 16. I went ahead and did that and decided to undertake an apprenticeship with Glasgow City Council. Members will not often find me paying tribute to the Labour party, but that was under the leadership of Steven Purcell, the then Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, who made a bold commitment that we would have apprenticeships that paid a proper living wage. I will come back to that. I undertook my apprenticeship and fell into the job of working for a politician. It is a bit like quicksand—the more you fight it, the deeper you get—hence I am now a Member of Parliament.

Every time we take part in Westminster Hall debates it is incumbent on us SNP MPs to defend the record of the Scottish Government, particularly when our friends from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party decide they are going to have a go at them, but I have not been shy of criticising the Scottish Government in the House when I think they could do more. Take the International Men’s Day debate about male suicide rates, for example, and some of the other debates I have taken part in. But on this matter, I am afraid that the Scottish Government were given a bit of a bad press by the hon. Members for Ochil and South Perthshire and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant). They were actually the first Government in Europe to appoint a youth employment Minister. I do not know whether the hon. Gentlemen deliberately missed that out of their speeches, but pretty significant work has been done to reduce youth unemployment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) outlined.

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I hope the hon. Gentleman appreciates that I paid tribute to some of the Scottish Government’s work, especially on recruitment by smaller employers, but we were critical of their performance on education. Fewer students from deprived backgrounds go on to higher education in Scotland than in any other part of the UK. That is a fact.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will come back to education, which is important.

I want to touch on apprenticeships. I am very proud that the SNP Scottish Government are delivering 30,000 apprenticeships each year—I should probably declare an interest as I am a product of that—and I pay tribute to them for that. However, we must pay people who do apprenticeships a real living wage. I was very disappointed that, in the Budget two weeks ago, the national minimum wage for apprentices went from £3.50—which is pretty pitiful—to £3.70. I appreciate that not every company will pay that basic rate, but it is pretty disgraceful. Members have mentioned the national living wage. I am afraid that the national living wage that the UK Government talk about is a con trick, because it does not apply to under-25s. I am more than happy to give way to anyone who wants to correct that. If we are genuinely serious about building a country that works for everyone, it has to work for under-25s, too. I very much hope that the Minister will feed that back.

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Does the hon. Gentleman think the levy should be used to contribute to apprentices’ wages?

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Not necessarily. We need to understand that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. I am not sure that we should take that from the levy. If we are serious about treating people equally, we need to do so when it comes to pay, too.

I want to pay tribute to one of the colleges in my constituency. The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned that we need to recognise that there is a role for apprenticeships. I tend to take the view that if your pipes burst at home, you do not necessarily want a lawyer or an accountant; you want a plumber. Sometimes I think that Governments of all colours have been a bit too obsessed with the idea of just churning out people with university degrees. It is important to understand that we have a diverse economy. That is why I am glad to commend Glasgow Kelvin College, which has successfully invested more in graduate-level apprentices.

The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire mentioned colleges. The reality is that the SNP Scottish Government have stuck to their manifesto commitment to provide 116,000 college places; I very much welcome that. On the number of people from deprived backgrounds who go on to university, UCAS figures show that, despite a small decrease in the number of acceptances among people from the 60% most deprived backgrounds, the number of acceptances is still 3% higher than it was in 2015. I very much commend that.

I am conscious of the time—I certainly did not intend to speak for this long—so I will close by congratulating the hon. Member for Chichester on securing this excellent debate. I hope that this is not the end of the conversation about how we help youth employment.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on securing this debate on such a vital issue. Finding a first job is part of a young person’s passage into adulthood. It is important that young people get the education and training they need and make the transition into employment smoothly, without spending a long period out of work.

At first sight, the youth employment statistics look like good news. Unemployment among young people has been falling, as has unemployment generally, and the Government have set a target of 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. In the period July to September 2017, the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds not in full-time education was 10.3%, compared with 11.7% a year ago. However, youth unemployment remains much higher than unemployment among the working-age population as a whole, which according to the latest figures is 4.3%.

If we look more closely at the picture, we see further causes for concern. Some 12.3% of 16 to 24-year-olds were not in education, employment or training in the second quarter of 2017. That figure is even higher in some places and among certain groups.

A survey by Impetus Private Equity Foundation’s youth job index in June 2017 estimated that 1.18 million young people were not in education, employment or training for six months or more. In addition, the number of young people spending 12 months or more not in education, employment or training increased from 714,000 last year to 811,000 this year. That can have an extremely negative impact on a young person’s mental and physical health and their future employment prospects. About 5% of 16 to 17-year-olds, for example, are not in education, employment or training, despite the requirement that all young people are to be in education or training until they reach the age of 18. A significant number of people—290,000 at the last count—are therefore slipping through the net. I would be interested to hear what the Government plan to do to address that.

The proportion of young people who are not in education, employment or training is about 15% in Yorkshire and Humberside. The Social Mobility Commission’s “State of the Nation” report, published last week, highlighted that some affluent areas such as West Berkshire, the Cotswolds and Crawley are among the worst for offering good education and employment opportunities for their most disadvantaged residents. Some young people can be caught in a cycle between being in and out of employment, education or training, which again can have long-term consequences for their earnings, employment, health and wellbeing.

It is extremely difficult to estimate accurately the number of young people not in education, employment or training in the UK, and the numbers may be much higher than the official figures. Evidence from London and Manchester youth talent match programmes suggests a significant number of hidden NEETs, as they are referred to. London Youth’s talent match found that 35% of its intake from January 2014 to December 2016 were people who could be said to be hidden NEETs. Talent match is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the European social fund. While the Government have guaranteed funding agreed up to the point of Brexit, there is a question of where funding will come from after that. I would be grateful if the Minister would respond on that point.

How do the Government plan to ensure that those hidden young people are found and given the support that they need? That was once a local authority responsibility but, due to financial pressures, many local authorities have reduced youth services and do not track the whereabouts of the local youth population.

People in certain groups are especially likely to be not in education, employment or training. The proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds not employed or in training or education was higher for some ethnic groups than others: for example, it was highest for those from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, at 16%. Thirty per cent of young disabled people are not in education, employment or training, nor are 40% of care leavers aged 19 to 21, compared with 14% of all 19 to 21-year-olds. Those statistics should really concern us. What additional support is being put in place to ensure that those young people are given the same opportunities to progress as other young people?

Last week, the Government launched a new strategy to support disabled people into finding work, “Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability.” However, the Work and Health programme is a much smaller scheme than the Work programme and Work Choice. Overall, there will be an 80% reduction in specialist employment support from the Government—most employment support for disabled people is provided by Jobcentre Plus, but it has adopted a generalist model for work coaches rather than one where they specialise in specific kinds of claimants. The Work and Health programme is targeted at people who are likely to be able to find work within 12 months with much more specialist support. However, the reality is that, for young people with the greatest barriers to finding work, it may take much longer. The Big Lottery Fund’s talent match scheme, aimed at young people who are furthest from the jobs market, has found that it can take up to two years for the people they work with to find employment. It is important that specialist support continues as well once someone starts a job so that they can continue in it.

We also need to consider those young people more generally who are registered as unemployed and who, with the closure of the Work programme, will be increasingly likely to receive employment support directly from Jobcentre Plus. Some of the same problems with the way that Jobcentre Plus operates in relation to people with specific needs apply to young people more widely. Jobcentre Plus has adopted a generalist model for work coaches, but supporting young people to find employment may require more specific knowledge of the job market and skills.

The Select Committee on Work and Pensions, in its “Employment opportunities for young people” report, published at the end of March, suggested that the DWP might look at recruiting people with experience as youth workers or coaches. It also suggested that the DWP could learn from schemes such as the MyGo employment service in Suffolk, which operates from modern, open buildings that are more welcoming than many jobcentres. In fact, it is open to young people regardless of whether they are claiming benefits or not.

I have spoken in a number of debates in this Chamber to oppose the Government’s programme of jobcentre closures. Will the Minister tell us what consideration the Government have given to using the end of their contract with Trillium to renovate the estate and provide jobcentres with a much better experience for users, rather than simply decimating the numbers of offices? Will he also tell us what consideration the DWP has given to the use of texts and social media to reach out to young people who are unemployed, and whether texts are used to remind them of appointments—as is done for NHS appointments—at all jobcentres, decreasing the risk of sanctions?

As the full service of universal credit is being rolled out, those young people who are registered as unemployed will receive support through the youth obligation, which will mean an intensive support programme from day one of their claim. Young people who remain out of work for six months will be expected to apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship, or take up a work placement. There is anecdotal evidence, however, from organisations in the field that delivery of the youth obligation is patchy, and that some work coaches do not know what it is. Will the Minister give us the DWP assessment of how effective the youth obligation has been so far?

The Work and Pensions Committee highlighted evidence of concern from employers about compulsory work placements. Will the DWP ensure that the Work programme’s rigid approach to placements is not repeated? In particular, will it ensure that there is flexibility in the youth obligation for young people, especially those facing the greatest barriers, so that, where necessary, steps to prepare for employment may be given priority rather than a placement? I think here of basic skills such as literacy, numeracy and IT skills, as well as other steps, perhaps to improve social skills and build self-confidence.

It is clear from the “State of the Nation” report that the unequal opportunities that young people face have roots in the poverty and inequality they experience as they grow up. In the north-east and south-west, young people on free school meals are half as likely to start a high-level apprenticeship. The Government’s target of 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020 is laudable but, in the first quarter following the introduction of the levy in April this year, there was a 59% fall in apprenticeship starts, and the majority of starts were at higher levels for older workers. What will the Government do to ensure that young people under the age of 24 do not lose out as a result of businesses using the levy to upskill their existing workforce and recruit staff at level 4 apprenticeships?

Beneath the apparently improving youth employment figures lies a more complex story. Evidence from specialist organisations suggests that there are schemes that are working well and producing results for young people with the greatest barriers to finding work. Those young people need support tailored to their specific situation and experience but also time for that support to make a difference. I hope the Government are listening.

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What a great pleasure it is to see you once again in the Chair in Westminster Hall, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), on bringing this important debate to Westminster Hall. I know how important youth employment is to her, and it is important for us to have opportunities to debate it. We are all grateful to her. That is reflected in the attendance—we have had eight full speeches and this is the ninth. Seventeen Members have taken part in the debate, reflecting its importance. I also welcome the opportunity to set out the targeted support and reforms to vocational education we are implementing to give every young person the best start—an ambition we will achieve only with the help of employers large and small. We need businesses to be prepared to take a chance and offer more young people, whatever their background, valuable work experience and vocational training.

We have already made significant progress on youth unemployment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) reminded us, youth unemployment is down by 422,000 since 2010. Youth unemployment is now at a record low: just 4.8% of under-25s are both unemployed and not in full-time education, and the UK now has the second highest youth employment rate in the G7.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester reminded us of the reality of youth unemployment in some other countries, using her experience from Spain as an example. Around one in 10 16 to 24-year-olds are not in employment, education or training. While some of those have actively made a decision to take some time out before starting a career, others struggle to overcome complex barriers and multiple setbacks or have had their expectations and ambitions damaged, in turn damaging their confidence. The Government are committed to encouraging young people to be in education, training or employment and giving them the chance to progress and achieve. That is critical if we are to improve productivity, promote intergenerational fairness, and tackle poverty and disadvantage.

The right support in school is critical, and if young people are to make the best choices at school, good advice is essential. It is important to widen children’s expectations, and broaden their understanding of the range of jobs and career opportunities available. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) spoke about the importance of social capital, and if there is an absence of that, the role of the school becomes even more important when trying to fill that gap. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) spoke about the importance of getting companies and industry into schools to present their opportunities directly, and I could not agree with him more. Some industry programmes, such as Feeding Britain’s Future, seek to widen people’s understanding of the range of careers in those industries, and STEM ambassadors talk about where people can get to if they knuckle down and do their maths and physics, including things like engineering, an apprenticeship or a degree.

To help young people make decisions about their future, we have introduced Jobcentre Plus support for schools. Working in partnership with the Careers & Enterprise Company and professional careers advisers, Jobcentre Plus advisers in schools help young people in a variety of ways. They set up work experience opportunities, offer advice on the local labour market, CV writing and interview techniques, and promote vocational routes into employment. We are also reforming the post-16 skills system and introducing T-levels. Employers want young people to have better vocational skills, and we want everyone to recognise that a technical education is as valuable as the traditional academic route for a successful career. We must keep pace if we are to drive the benefits to the UK economy: an estimated 1.2 million new technical and digitally skilled people are needed by 2022 if we are to compete globally. The Government are embarking on a major reform of the post-16 skills system in England, focusing particularly on technical education and lifelong learning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester spoke of the high reputation of Chichester College, of which I am aware. She also spoke about her own experience, and what a great illustration her story is of where an apprenticeship can take someone. We have invested more in apprenticeships than any previous Government, and by 2020 we will have increased annual apprenticeship funding in England to £2.45 billion—double what it was in 2010. There have been 3.5 million apprenticeship starts of all ages since May 2010, and 1.1 million apprenticeship starts in England since May 2015.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke about the importance of quality apprenticeships. He is absolutely right, and the Institute for Apprenticeships is important in that regard. We are also improving access to apprenticeships for those who are disadvantaged or who have a learning difficulty, health condition or disability.

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FES in Stirling has set up its own training academy and is working in partnership with Forth Valley College. What more can the Government do to encourage more businesses to take that progressive attitude to investing in their talent?

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That is something we are constantly engaged with, and Members of Parliament can play an important role. More and more companies are doing such things. With employment at its current level, and unemployment at its lowest level since 1975—some people in this room were not born the last time unemployment was lower than it is now. It is a competitive market for talent, and more and more companies are seeing that part of having the competitive edge is exactly about investing further and doing bold things with recruitment and development.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire reminded us, too many young people leave school without a place in further education or training, or an apprenticeship or job go to. To tackle that head on, in April we introduced a new programme of intensive support for unemployed 18 to 21-year-olds who were making a claim to universal credit full service. The programme starts with a 71-hour curriculum of workshops and exercises that encourages them to think more broadly about their skills and job goals. It helps them to identify any training they need, and supports them to improve their job search, job application and interview skills.

Young people also receive intensive work-focused coaching, and referral to additional support drawn from a wide variety of locally available provision. That provision is tailored to address specific needs and can include mental health support, employability skills, basic skills training in maths, English and IT, work-related skills training, mentoring, and a short work experience opportunity. We anticipate that many young people who receive that valuable intensive support will move quickly into further education, vocational training, an apprenticeship, or a job. Those who are still unemployed after five months on that programme will have an extended stock-take assessment to review their learning and progress, and identify additional barriers to work that need to be addressed quickly. At six months, if the individuals remain unemployed, they will be offered a sector-based work academy placement, which is a short period of vocational training, and work experience in a sector with a high number of vacancies, or encouraged to take up a traineeship. Every 18 to 21-year-old on the programme who does not take up work-related training will be offered a three-month work experience placement to help them achieve their job goals.

Universal credit also offers, for the first time, in-work support for young people on a low income to help them progress in work. Young people are better off in work under universal credit. Most young people were not entitled to claim working tax credit until they were 25, but under universal credit they continue to receive benefits while in work and on a low income.

The rate of the national minimum wage for young people is a balance. It is, of course, important to ensure that people are properly remunerated, but we must also protect their employment prospects. The rate for people aged 18 to 24 has risen by between 7% and 8% since 2015, and from April 2018 the apprenticeship rate will be at a record high in real terms. Overall, the national living wage—such a key reform—has meant that the lowest-earning 5% of the population have recently had the biggest rise in their annual incomes since records began.

The hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) asked about our use of texts and other forms of communication. Yes, we absolutely use those things in jobcentres these days. It is an important part of our communication.

As our industrial strategy set out, we need to boost productivity and earning power across the country, improve the quality of work, and ensure that everyone has the right skills to progress. As I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester will agree, when businesses give a young person a chance of employment or the valuable opportunity of work experience, it is not only the job-specific skills that they gain that make a difference. Through work experience, young people broaden their horizons, learn how to work with others, and gain confidence. That in itself can be instrumental in changing their job opportunities and life chances.

Employers say that one key reason why they do not employ young people is a lack of work experience, so getting that experience is important. If any Member has difficulty with putting local employers in touch with jobcentres and creating those work experience placements, they should get in touch with me and I will help to facilitate that. This is such an important subject, and I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. This is a partnership approach between the Government, MPs and educational employers.

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Our performance in youth employment is strong, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) said, this is a good news story. That news is especially welcome when compared with our European neighbours. That is not an accident, but the result of the right policies, and we must not take it for granted. Improving school standards, high-quality apprenticeships, investment in tech and digital skills, and high-quality colleges and universities, all working more collaboratively with business—that model is working, but we still have more to do to ensure that all young people have a decent future, and not a future on benefits. Labour Members talk about benefits a lot, but for young people that is not the workplace. I thank all hon. Members for taking part in this debate, and I look forward to working together to increase opportunities and earnings for young people today and in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered youth employment.