HC Deb 27 January 1981 vol 997 cc762-4
9. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on progress made towards a solution of the problems of youth unemployment.

Mr. Prior

We have massively expanded the youth opportunities programme, which is designed to help unemployed young people gain the training and work experience they need to get jobs. This means that up to 440,000 young people will be helped in 1981–82 compared with 216,000 in 1979–80. The two undertakings will also be improved, so that those young people who leave school this Easter or summer will be offered a place by Christmas and not the following Easter as was previously the case; and all other 16 and17-year-olds unemployed for three months will be offered a place within three months. A long-term solution to youth unemployment is a matter of sticking to correct economic policies.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there has been a dramatic rise in youth unemployment in the past 12 to 18 months? Will he confirm that while that rise has been taking place there has been a dramatic fall in the number of vacancies for them? Will he convey to the Prime Minister and to other Ministers that it is not enough to say that these young people must wait until there is a change in the economic situation? Is it not the case that youths will have no prospect of a job for years to come as long as the present policies are continued.

Mr. Prior

Yes, there has been a rise in a number of unemployed and a reduction in the number of vacancies. That is why we have increased the number of youth opportunity programme places. Indeed, we have doubled them in two years. We have also brought forward guarantees and increased the amount of training that takes place within the programme. All that helps to prepare young people for a better future.

Sir William Elliott

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the youth opportunities programme in the Northern region is being used effectively, and that no fewer than 19,000 young people have been through the scheme in the past two years?

Mr. Winnick

Where are they now?

Mr. Robert Hughes

They are still on the dole.

Sir William Elliott

However, is my right hon. Friend also aware that employment experience positions are unfilled, and that co-operative employers find that difficult to understand? Will he do his best to cut through the Opposition-engendered gloom and suggest to young people that unemployment is not inevitable and that training is available for those who are ready to be trained?

Mr. Prior

Yes. I shall ascertain whether we are able to give more publicity to our schemes in the North-East. The figures that my hon. Friend has produced demonstrate clearly the great concern on the Government Benches about the level of youth unemployment and our determination to do something about it.

Mr. Barry Jones

Does the right hon. Gentleman concede that under his Government teenage unemployment has reached crisis proportions, especially in our major cities? Does he know that in Wales, in Scotland and in the North unemployment now exceeds 500,000? Does he understand that that means a bleak future for our young unemployed? Does not this represent a breakdown of Government economic policy?

Mr. Prior

No. I do not think that it represents anything of the sort. However, it indicates the great difficulties that Britain has got into over a period of years and our determination to adhere to economic policies which, at the end of the day—

Mr. William Hamilton

Which day?

Mr. Prior

—are more likely to get Britain out of the difficult problem of unemployment than anything that has been done before.

Mr. Alan Clark

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that figures released today show that the youth opportunities programme in the West Country is proving outstandingly successful, and that so many firms have subscribed that there is a waiting list for trainees? Does he not think it encouraging that local companies are prepared to go out of their way to help young people in this manner?

Mr. Prior

Yes. I am grateful to those employers in the West Country who are giving this help. I appeal to employers throughout Britain to come forward, in larger number to provide places and to help young people in what is, admittedly, a difficult time both for them and for young people.