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Apprenticeships and Work: Fair Access

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 7 February 2019

6. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on ensuring fair access to (a) apprenticeships and (b) work in all sectors for the most marginalised people in society. (909066)

I agree with my right hon. Friend, and we are at one in thinking that apprenticeships can be a powerful force for social mobility. We want the advantages of apprenticeships to be available to all, and I am in regular contact with my ministerial colleagues. For the smallest employers we meet 100% of the costs of apprenticeship training for apprentices aged 16 to 18, 19 to 24-year-old care leavers, and 19 to 24-year-olds with an education, health and care plan. As my right hon. Friend knows, and indeed welcomed, last year we introduced a £1,000 bursary for care leavers who are starting an apprenticeship, to support them as they transition into training.

Unless I am much mistaken the Minister has just elevated the hon. Gentleman to membership of the Privy Council, for which I am sure he will want to thank her. Who knows? It may be a straw in the wind.

Mr Speaker, I was very honoured to be made a member of the Privy Council after the 2015 election.

That is why I said “unless I am much mistaken”. I am sorry that I had not noticed the right hon. Gentleman’s status, and three years late, may I congratulate him?

Mr Speaker, you did call me right honourable yesterday during questions to the Prime Minister.

May I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for coming to Harlow this afternoon to see Harlow College, which is one of the finest colleges in England? Will she consider using the apprenticeship levy to provide an apprentice premium and transport costs for disadvantaged young people, so that they can climb up the apprentice ladder of opportunity?

My right hon. Friend is frequently right, and most definitely honourable. Targeted financial support is available for young apprentices and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, including the care leaver bursary. The Department for Transport is introducing a railcard for 16 and 17-year-olds this year, and we continue to work together on further options. I am very much looking forward to visiting Harlow College later today.

Can the Minister explain how a young person under the age of 19 from a low-income family, who works 35 hours a week on the minimum wage earning £3.50 an hour on an apprenticeship scheme—less than £122.50 a week—and who is barely able to pay for their own meals, travel, and basic work garments, can be classed as being “employed” by this Government?

I point out to the hon. Lady that we take the advice of the Low Pay Commission on wages for apprentices, and that rate will be going up. I have spoken about the targeted support available, and whenever I meet apprentices I ask them about their wages and how they travel to work. We are very aware of some of the problems faced by those young people, and as I have said, the railcard for 16 and 17-year-olds is available, and colleges have discretionary bursaries to support them.[Official Report, 14 February 2019, Vol. 654, c. 9MC.]