To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to implement their commitment in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto to give a one-year National Insurance contributions holiday to firms that employ those from disadvantaged groups; and if so, when.
My Lords, we remain committed to delivering on manifesto commitments.
I am grateful for that Answer and delighted to hear that the noble Lord is “committed” to this. Small businesses very often bear the brunt of changes in our economy, so they know how to be flexible. The Federation of Small Businesses found that 95% have taken on an individual from a disadvantaged background in the past three years. With this small incentive, which is in the Minister’s own party’s manifesto, they would be encouraged to identify and utilise the talent that is sitting on their doorsteps. It makes good business, financial and moral sense. Will he and his party please consider carrying out that commitment and implementing their own policy?
The noble Baroness has looked at the Conservative Party manifesto, and I encourage her to read it all. On page 54, where this pledge is mentioned, it is under the heading, “More people in work”. Since the general election, 713,000 more people are in work— I call that quite a delivery.
My Lords, the noble Lord will have appreciated the rather derisive laughter that greeted his first comment that he was out to fulfil manifesto commitments. Since the general election the Chancellor, who the noble Lord speaks for in this House, has discussed two Budgets and two Spring Statements—the last of which was only a couple of weeks ago—with ne’er a mention of this fundamental commitment in the manifesto. The noble Lord is hoping to escape today without making any precise commitment for the future.
I thought I said in my Answer that we are committed to delivering the manifesto commitments. The noble Lord talks about manifestos, but I do not want to remind him of his party’s commitments on student debt, which did not seem to survive the election campaign. The reality is that we are significantly increasing employment: employment is at record levels and unemployment is at a historic low; more young people are in work; and the rate of youth unemployment has been halved. These are all steps in the right direction.
My Lords, setting aside the irony that this is a unfulfilled manifesto commitment, does the Minister recognise that small businesses, which are often the best place for someone from a disadvantaged community to start work because of the support available, often find it costly to take on someone who needs that kind of additional support? For those firms, this critical amount of a one-year holiday from national insurance contributions, which might not matter to a big company, is absolutely pivotal in making it possible for them to take on this extra load. Therefore, will he push for this element of the manifesto to be carried through?
The noble Baroness will recall that, when we were in coalition Government, we introduced the employment allowance, which effectively said that the first £3,000 of national insurance contributions for small businesses did not apply. We have also abolished national insurance for those on apprenticeships under the age of 25 and abolished national insurance for those under the age of 21. We are doing a significant amount in this area, but I accept that we need to do more.
Is it possible to include people who are banged up at the moment? If we can actually get them into work when they get out of prison, as a disadvantaged group, the knock-on effects are enormous. People who have a job when they leave tend not to reoffend.
That is absolutely right, and the noble Lord has done more than probably anyone else to improve the chances of people in those circumstances. That is one reason why we announced the rough sleepers initiative and why we have this new education network, which is being trialled with governors. But we cannot get away from the stark statistic that although care leavers represent only 1% of 19 to 21 year-olds, they represent 24% of the prison population. That has to be an area that we all focus on, on a cross-party basis.
Does my noble friend accept that there are perils in store for parties that do not honour their manifesto obligations? He himself is probably far too young to remember “solemn and binding”; we all remember the terrible fate that awaited that particular pledge. But would he accept that, if both the Labour and Conservative parties failed to honour their commitments given in the last manifesto to respect and implement the will of the people—noble Lords knew I was going to get around to that—they would then run the severe danger of ending up in total parliamentary irrelevance, just like the Liberal Democrats?
I was going to finish on a harmonious cross-party basis with the noble Lord, Lord Bird. However, manifesto commitments need to be honoured. The Prime Minister has been very clear about our manifesto commitment in relation to leaving the European Union. She was also incredibly clear that she wanted to create a country where everyone had the opportunity of work—that worked for everyone. That is a pledge that we all have to work towards.