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Unemployment: Young People

Volume 746: debated on Thursday 20 June 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking with other European Union member states to tackle youth unemployment.

My Lords, the Minister for Employment attended a ministerial meeting on youth unemployment in Madrid yesterday under the European initiative for growth and jobs. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will attend a follow-up in Berlin on 3 July. Youth unemployment is on the June agenda of both the European employment and social policy council and the European Council, and UK experts are members of the team reforming the Greek public employment service.

I think I thank the Minister for his Answer. He is telling us what is going to happen, but does he agree that with nearly a quarter of under-25s in the European area unemployed, the only way we can solve this is on a European-wide level? To tackle this crisis, should he not join Lib Dem MEPs and others who have called for the UK to make the most of the €6 billion EU youth guarantee scheme, which ensures that all under-25s receive continued education, a job, apprenticeship or traineeship? How would the Government use the money that would come from this European initiative?

My Lords, clearly there are various initiatives. Some €6 billion across Europe is not a huge amount, and we are spending a great deal on our youth unemployment issues with the youth contract. If it emerges out of these meetings that one of the aspects of the European scheme is to encourage SMEs to take on youngsters by offering loans, clearly that is something that we will look at.

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that talking to others might be helpful, but that generally they are pretty useless, especially in summits? Will he also accept that 1% growth at best over the coming years will be no way to help to increase employment among young people or anybody else?

My Lords, perhaps I should not comment on the uselessness or otherwise of summits.

One of the most interesting things about this current recession, or slowdown in growth—

We have had a recession and we are now having slow growth. One of the most interesting things is how the effects on employment have been nothing like what we have seen in previous recessions. One reason is the effectiveness of active labour market polices, particularly those that address youth unemployment, which has been coming down in the last year in particular in a way that it probably would not have done in previous recessions.

My Lords, will my noble friend remind the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that money that comes from Europe is our money, which has gone to Brussels, has had a large amount sliced off for its own purposes and waste, and has then been graciously returned to us? Can he also explain to me, because I do not understand, why so many young people are unemployed here but so many young people can come from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and find jobs here without any trouble at all? What is the explanation for that?

My Lords, the blunt explanation for that is that we have a welfare system that traps people in inactivity and makes it very difficult for them to pick up some of the jobs that other people find it easy to take. That is why we are reforming the welfare system root and branch, in particular why we are bringing in the universal credit, which will get rid of that trapping effect of our benefit system.

In the coming year, will more young people be taken on as apprentices in the Government’s apprentice scheme?

My Lords, one of the recommendations of the Wolf report, which, as noble Lord’s will remember, I am very enthusiastic about, is to underpin the importance of apprenticeships and vocational training. In the latest year for which I have a record, 2011-12, we had more than half a million apprenticeships—520,000. That is up 86% on the two years before. Clearly this is one of the most important ways in which to get youth back into the workforce in a sustainable way, and it is something that we are pursuing aggressively.

My Lords, the Minister might not realise that one consequence of our very, very slow growth is that 1 million young people are out of work. In the north-east, where I live, a quarter of young people are out of work. We now need something really radical. May I make a suggestion? Labour’s job guarantee would mean that any young person out of work for a year would be guaranteed a job and would have to take it. Will he match that?

My Lords, we have a huge number of programmes in our youth contract to encourage people into work. One thing I need to emphasise is that we have a long-term problem of disengaged youth, which we had right through the longest boom we have ever had. The real measure here is people not in education or work. In 2001, that figure stood at just shy of 1 million and it rose through the boom period. Since the election, we have pulled it down by 60,000. The figure currently is 1.3 million. It is a real problem that cannot be brought down with short-term programmes; it is brought down by fundamentally restructuring how youngsters are supported—through vocational education as a key underpinning to get these kids into meaningful long-term work.