My Lords, the Government have invested £5 billion, through DWP, to ensure that people are supported to find work during the recession. This includes more resources for Jobcentre Plus and the Flexible New Deal; increased staffing; our six-month offer to jobseekers; and, of course, the young person’s guarantee and Future Jobs Fund.
Furthermore, our Backing Young Britain campaign seeks to help young people find work while they are studying, as well as helping those unemployed.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. In the Prime Minister’s speech at the Labour Party conference, he referred to the,
“100,000 new young people’s jobs we are already creating”.
He went on to talk about a further 10,000 skilled internships and 10,000 green work placements. Is all that enough, in view of the fact that the young unemployed now number close to 1 million?
Well, my Lords, the noble Lord asks “is it enough?”. It is certainly a good deal more than the noble Lord’s party would do, because it is predicated on investment by government. Because the noble Lord’s party is on record as opposing the fiscal stimulus, it would not be able to do what we are doing. The Government are supporting and investing in a range of programmes, including the young person’s guarantee. It is right, of course, that unemployment continues to rise, and with it youth unemployment, but there are signs that it is easing. We should not forget the fact that young people tend to come off jobseeker’s allowance faster than other people. In terms of NEETs, there are now more young people in employment and education than there were in 1997, and the number of 16 and 17 year-olds in the NEET category has declined for three years in a row.
Does my noble friend agree that, rather than wallowing in the bad news that there is around, in relation to unemployment we ought to recognise that the stimulus package is beginning to work and that the unemployment figures published last week were far lower than had been anticipated and seem to indicate that there is a reasonable prospect that unemployment is bottoming out?
My noble friend is absolutely right. As I said a moment ago, unemployment is still rising but it is easing. We should not forget that there is a dynamic market here; the number of onflows on to JSA in September was 357,000, but the number of people leaving jobseeker’s allowance was 336,000. Lots of people, young people included, are still finding work through the support that the Government are giving them.
My Lords, will the Minister do his best to ensure that the admirable Access to Work scheme, which helps many disabled people get into work, including many in this age range, is not so bureaucratic that, by the time all the paperwork is done, the employer may have withdrawn the job offer? We have heard that that has happened, particularly in the field of the hard of hearing.
My Lords, if that has happened in individual cases, we are certainly happy to look at it and take it up. But I think that the noble Baroness will share the view that Access to Work has been a huge success. The Government have doubled funding for it, and it is making a real difference to disabled people in helping them to access employment. I understand that it is on the lists of those programmes that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has his sights, should he ever have the opportunity to introduce them in government. I think that it is due to go, should there be a change of government, which I do not expect.
I can confidently tell the Minister that that is not one of the programmes that we have in our sights, as he puts it.
The programmes in the young person’s guarantee look very similar to those in the New Deal for Young People, which was introduced 11 years ago. That programme managed to place only one young person in five into work, according to the DWP’s own employment data. Does the Minister think that the young person’s guarantee will perform better than the New Deal for Young People and, if so, why?
My Lords, I do believe that it is an effective proposal, which will help young people to access work or work-focused training. The structure of the programme is quite appropriate and it is targeted correctly. I do believe that the programme will succeed and be an important part of the range of government programmes. It is, again, part of the programme that is funded through the fiscal stimulus.
My Lords, while the additional support to help the unemployed—more especially, jobless young people—is most welcome, would my noble friend agree that, in the present economic climate, it is more important than ever to recognise the added vulnerability of disabled young people in seeking to enter and remain in work, and that progress made over recent years in prioritising their claims should continue with renewed energy and commitment?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point and I agree with him. We must continue to support disabled people into work, notwithstanding the challenges of the current recession. That is why we are investing £1 billion in Pathways to Work between 2008 and 2011, doubling—as mentioned a moment ago—the Access to Work budget from £69 million to £138 million by 2013-14, and planning to introduce a new, more integrated specialist disability programme, Work Choice, by October 2010. Meanwhile, we are taking extra powers in the current Welfare Reform Bill to ensure that customers engage with the back-to-work support that we offer.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, as has been mentioned already, it is very important that young people are given every opportunity possible? Internships have been mentioned. Does he agree that it is important that, while they are there, people are also treated fairly through internships and that opportunities are given as soon as possible to provide paid work? Volunteering is another area that could similarly help.
Yes, my Lords, and that is very much part of the approach in Backing Young Britain, where the Government have initiated a campaign which is really a rallying call to businesses, charities and government bodies to create more opportunities for young people. Included in that is the creation of internships for 18 year-olds and non-graduates, as well as providing more apprenticeships and internships for graduates.
My Lords, do the Government intend to give more support to rural youngsters to enable them to get to work? In other words, do they intend to put more money behind the Wheels to Work schemes, which currently woefully lack most central government support?