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Long-term Unemployment

Volume 742: debated on Monday 18 December 2023

It is a pleasure to be back, Mr Speaker. We are delivering a suite of measures as part of the back to work plan, supporting customers on their journey to employment. That is focused on developing skills and building confidence through interventions such as the restart scheme. We are working across Government to support those with health conditions get back to work, with programmes such as our WorkWell service.

As a Conservative MP from a working-class background, I believe fundamentally in aspiration, hard work and fairness. Does my hon. Friend agree that the benefit system must be a safety net for those in genuine need, and that those people who can work should work?

I thank my hon. Friend because he speaks perfectly for those of us across the Conservative family. Work is positive, a force for good, and the system should be fair to the taxpayer and the claimant, with checks and balances. It is right that, on average, those in work are some £6,000 better off per year. Universal credit was introduced and further rolled out because it is a welfare system that makes work pay.

Skills are clearly key to supporting the long-term unemployed to find work. Buckinghamshire Council is launching a series of skills bootcamps, targeted at the long-term unemployed. For example, one bootcamp will provide construction skills, including a construction skills certification scheme card, plus support to reach self-employment and wraparound support on how to set up a company. Will my hon. Friend congratulate Buckinghamshire Council on that initiative, and say what more she can do to ensure that those who need to upgrade their skills base are able to do so?

I am delighted to congratulate not only Buckinghamshire Council but my hon. Friend on the fantastic work he does in his constituency. Upskilling jobseekers, particularly in areas such as construction where we need more domestic workers, is vital. The Department for Work and Pensions continues to support individuals into employment through back to work programmes such as the restart scheme, which provides tailored training programmes and sector-based work academy programmes similar to those mentioned by my hon. Friend. It offers training, work placements, and guaranteed job interviews, and I am committed to exploring what more can be done.

Earlier today I met Everyone’s Environment, and we talked about how we can ensure that people with disabilities benefit from some of the new green jobs and training that are coming on board. I know that the Minister’s predecessor as Minister for employment sat on the green jobs delivery group, so will she say what involvement she has had with that group to date?

I have already had a meeting of the inter-ministerial group on green jobs, and I have met many of those from across the disability sector. When I was a Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I sat on the inter-ministerial groups for green jobs and for disability access. It is vital that we use everybody’s talents, because work is a force for good. Someone’s disability should not stop their talent shining, and I will not let it do so.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I thank the Minister for that response. Many of the long-term unemployed have disabilities. Some of them cannot work, but some wish to work, and they need flexible hours because they do not know the times and days that they will not be able to work and will be off. What can be done to help those who have disabilities get into work, so long as their health can dictate when?

We have a whole suite in the back to work plan and the investment of £2.5 billion so that we can work with individual people to tailor plans for them. It is vital that if, for example, someone’s health condition restricts when they can travel on public transport, we work with them to ensure that they can travel after rush hour. They might need a taxi or some other tailored support. That can be done, and it will be done.