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Unemployment: Young People

Volume 733: debated on Monday 28 November 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will appoint a Minister to deal specifically with youth unemployment.

My Lords, the Government have no intention of doing this. We already have a Minister for Employment who has a clear strategy and robust policies to support young people into work.

My Lords, I am sure we are grateful for the youth compact that was announced a few days ago and, wherever we sit in the House, wish it well in denting somewhat the 1 million young people who are looking for jobs. However, would it not be better to have one person with an overall view to look at the short-term and long-term problems of youth unemployment, and to co-ordinate the various departments and strands of policy that are affected by them?

My Lords, youth unemployment, specifically, falls within the context of overall unemployment or employment. In practice, it is more important to have integrated support for people to get back into the employment market than across government for youth. In that area, we have the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, which looks at supporting society right across the piece, including youth.

My Lords, is the Minister aware how much the Government are failing many young people in the north-east? We have the highest rate of unemployment and of youth unemployment in the country. That part of the country is struggling to keep going. Given that the Government scrapped the Future Jobs Fund and the regional development agency, which was much engaged in these things, will the Minister give his personal commitment to look at what is going wrong in the north-east and to come up with specific answer for that region and those young people?

My Lords, without just saying yes, I will give that commitment, I want to point out that despite a growing economy some real structural problems have existed in different regions over decades, and certainly over the past decade. There are no easy solutions, but I will follow up the request personally and look at some of these regional issues. We are spending a great deal of time worrying about this.

Will the Minister indicate what proportion of the 1 million or so unemployed young people have families where neither the father nor the mother is in employment?

My Lords, I have actually forgotten that particular number, though I did know it. I will commit to writing with the precise number, which has fallen out of my head. I am sorry.

My Lords, the Bishops very much welcome the development of apprenticeship schemes. However, is the Minister aware that small businesses very often lose out on the major apprenticeship schemes? Is he aware of the Apprenticeship Training Agency in Liverpool that brings together the Chambers of Commerce, the city council and the colleges in providing apprenticeships for small and medium-sized enterprises? If so, would he like to replicate that model elsewhere?

My Lords, the point about the involvement of small and medium-sized enterprises is a very good one. Last week, we announced a subsidy to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to take on an extra 20,000 apprenticeships with an incentive of £1,500 a time. One of the issues with SMEs is that they need to have comfort that they can go on employing an apprentice for a long time. That is the key issue to get SMEs back into this particular support.

My Lords, as there is a real danger of a generation growing up without hope, would my noble friend discuss with his ministerial colleagues the desirability of having some form of national social service which all young people can undertake when they leave school?

My Lords, we are, as a priority, looking at how to help youngsters back into the workplace. That is what our youth contract, which was announced on Friday, is about. It is about trying to do the important things, which are work experience, apprenticeships and getting people work through a subsidy to employers.

My Lords, there will be time for both Peers if we have the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and then the noble Lord, Lord Walton.

My Lords, more than 50 years ago, when I was serving my apprenticeship, the industrial training boards had a levy and grant system that ensured that all small and medium-sized businesses produced apprentices or paid the levy if those businesses poached skilled men from the big companies. Why should we not reintroduce that system?

My Lords, we clearly need to rebuild the apprentice structure in this country—or at least build it, as was never particularly strong compared with countries such as Germany. We are very actively looking at how best to do that.

My Lords, to follow up the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, is the Minister aware that the newspapers in the north-east reported over the weekend that properties to a value of £130 million owned by One North East, the regional development agency that is being abolished, are being sold and that the money derived from those sales will revert to the Treasury? Would not this money be better spent on doing something about youth unemployment in the north-east?

My Lords, we have just announced putting in an extra £1 billion boost to youth unemployment and that money has to be found from somewhere. The Autumn Statement may be examined with great interest as regards how the money has been shuffled to get that support for youngsters, within an overall spending envelope that it is vital to maintain in order for us to keep low interest rates in this country.

My Lords, will the Minister go back to his Government and look at the question of education maintenance allowances? In the 1980s, under a Conservative Government and amid high youth unemployment, Lancashire County Council was one of the first areas to bring in education maintenance allowances. In high youth unemployment areas such as Skelmersdale, the staying-on rate for further education and training increased by more than 30 per cent. We in Lancashire were complimented by a predecessor Secretary of State, Sir Keith Joseph, who allowed us to create more tertiary colleges to do this. Why are the Government ignoring tried and tested policy?

My Lords, there was about 90 per cent dead weight in EMA, and we replaced it with a bursary system on which we are spending £180 million. That started this September.