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Youth Unemployment

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 14 February 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the call in the report by the Commission on Youth Unemployment published on 6 February for action to address youth unemployment.

My Lords, the Government share a number of the concerns raised in the report produced by the Commission on Youth Unemployment. We are already taking action to address youth unemployment and have a clear strategy to support young people into work.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, as he will know, the analysis in the report not only scotches the myth that youth unemployment is being driven up by immigration or the minimum wage; it demonstrates clearly that the Government’s measures, welcome though they are, are wholly inadequate to deal with this rising crisis and prevent another generation of young people, as well as the country, paying a terrible price. Will the Government respond specifically to the report by front-loading the youth contract to double the number of job subsidies this year, extending the work programme beyond the 10 per cent only of young people who are currently on it, and bringing in a specially targeted approach for those 600 hotspots that, the report shows, now have double the national average of youth unemployment?

My Lords, the noble Baroness might have been interested in one of the annexes in that report that indicated that actually there is concern about the national minimum wage. The point that she makes is towards the end of the report. There are a lot of measures to solve youth unemployment. I will pick up some of those that the noble Baroness mentioned. The first one is rebalancing the youth contract, to which she referred. We are already front-loading the wage incentives that we are introducing in April. We are doing more than the average in that period. We are trialling a community action programme for people who have been through the work programme, and we are looking at how we work in areas in an equivalent way to the youth employment partnerships.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to tackle long-term, structural unemployment? In 2007, 2.4 per cent of our young people were designated as long-term unemployed. Now the figure has risen to 4.6 per cent, and it is going upwards throughout the world. What have we got to offer young people in the long term to deal with structural unemployment? Are we doing anything seriously about that?

First, long-term youth unemployment has not changed a lot. What changed is that youngsters were put on training programmes and, when they came off them, they were called newly unemployed. The underlying position has not changed very much in terms of long-term youth unemployment. I am not saying that that is not a real problem but I am saying that it has not grown as much as one might think, looking at the raw figures. Clearly we need to help youngsters in long-term unemployment, and one of the things that the work programme is specifically designed to do is to get support for youngsters on an individualised basis.

My Lords, what are the Government doing to improve careers advice in schools so that young people can be helped into appropriate employment?

My Lords, we are making it a statutory duty to ensure that schools take up their responsibility to provide careers advice, so that it is supplied at the point it should be, right where it is best received. Existing provision has been much too patchy.

My Lords, the International Labour Organisation has said that youth unemployment is facing the greatest crisis in a generation. The global crisis has added to youth unemployment here. As someone who taught in the Glasgow area in the 1980s, I saw young people leave school and met them 10 years later when they had partners and children, but they did not have a job. Is it not a crying social and economic shame that we do not do more for young people at this stage to ensure that they adapt to the workplace and play a full role in society?

My Lords, a point that I have made here in the past is that we have had a structural issue with youth unemployment for more than a decade, The number of youngsters inactive or unemployed has been growing steadily, right through to the end of the longest boom that we have ever had. My view—and the Government’s view—is that the best way to tackle that is to make sure that youngsters have education that gets them fit for the workplace. That is why this Government have taken on in toto all of Professor Wolf’s recommendations, because they deal with these core issues.

My Lords, on that point, does my noble friend not agree that one of the mistakes we have made over the past 15 or so years is to encourage youngsters to go for degrees at university rather than vocational courses that provide them with the skills that are demanded and, indeed, are in short supply in the labour market?

My Lords, the most shocking thing in Professor Wolf’s report was when he said—I shall quote it—

“as a society we are failing at least 350,000 of our 16-18 year olds, year on year”,

because we had been providing them with vocational education that did not lead them anywhere. That is why our strategy to increase apprenticeships and get vocational training back under control is so important for this generation.