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Returning to Employment: Covid-19

Volume 680: debated on Monday 14 September 2020

What steps her Department is taking to support people of all ages to return to employment as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (905902)

What steps her Department is taking to support people of all ages to return to employment as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (905910)

What steps she is taking with her Cabinet colleagues to support back into the labour market people who became unemployed as a result of the covid-19 outbreak. (905925)

The furlough scheme, as we have heard, has been a huge success in helping millions of employees to keep their link to their employer, as well as providing other opportunities for people who are self-employed, with support through grants or through the benefit scheme. Our plan for jobs is a cross-Government initiative that will promote employment opportunities for people of all ages. Our local jobcentres have fully reopened, and we will provide additional support for claimants by doubling the number of work coaches. We are also expanding SWAPs, the sector-based work academy programmes, and we have launched our ambitious kickstart scheme, which will provide a vital first step on the jobs ladder for many young people.

I am very supportive of the recent action the Government have taken to help young people into work. I have, however, been contacted by a number of older constituents who have unfortunately lost their jobs because of covid-19. I would therefore be interested to know what steps the Government will take to encourage employers not to overlook the skills and experience that those in their 50s and 60s can bring to the workplace when they are hiring.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the value that experience can bring to the workplace and to a potential new employer. SWAPs allow those looking to pivot into new rules to gain experience in that new area, and in the coming months our job-finding support package will draw on private sector expertise to help those who have recently lost their jobs, while our job entry targeted support scheme—JETS—will provide extra help for individuals who have been unemployed for three months or more and find themselves at risk of long-term unemployment.

The residents of Hastings and Rye are full of potential and talent that need to be unleashed, but the recent pandemic has put pressure on local jobs. The kickstart scheme is engineered to help people between the ages of 16 and 25 to gain skills and employment. May I ask what my right hon. Friend is doing to help people over the age of 25 to get the skills and training they need?

Our £30 billion plan for jobs will see us support people of all ages in building the skills they may need to return to work. One of the key elements is the sector-based work academy programme, which is expanding the opportunities in priority areas such as construction, infrastructure and social care, and which can provide training, work experience and guaranteed job interviews for those people who are ready to start a job. Of course, older workers will be eligible for this and can gain important new skills, to pivot into sectors to secure employment.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s response. There is no doubt that we must ensure that the younger generation gets the best chance in life post covid-19, but in North Devon we have a slightly older population. Many of my constituents have also lost their jobs, and need additional help and support to retrain. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that those who are a little bit older will not be forgotten?

Indeed, and key to identifying those important opportunities and ways to help people over the age of 25 will be our network of empowered work coaches who engage proactively with claimants to help them to identify the options they need to help to build their skills, increase their confidence and return to employment. We are already doubling the number of work coaches, and my hon. Friend will be interested to know that, in North Devon in particular, we have launched a 14-week IT connect 50-plus programme, an initiative supporting those over the age of 50 to develop digital skills and apply for jobs online.

The Secretary of State said in July that work coaches were the ones who could help to tease out the great skills that people have and what makes a good fit for a new role. She was right, but the pledge she made in July for 4,500 new work coaches to be in post by October has resulted in only 300 being in post to date, as was revealed last week. The crisis has now gone on for six months, and average work coach caseloads are already over 200, so can she tell the House what is going on and why, since April, she has been so slow to act?

The hon. Lady is perhaps far from what is going on. I think she has very recently visited her local jobcentre to discuss this. I want to encourage her by saying that a number of people can be on-boarded into the Department at any one time, given the comprehensive amount of training that someone needs to become a work coach. We have also done this in such a way that many existing DWP civil servants can move from being in the service centres in order to get promoted to being a work coach, building on their valuable experience. I can assure her that we are well on track for making sure that we have the right number of work coaches, and indeed replacement decision makers, on the agreed timescale.