HC Deb 30 June 1981 vol 7 cc685-6
5. Mr. Hicks

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he has any proposals to update the weekly payment of £23.50p in respect of young people participating in the work experience programme to take account of current living costs; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Prior

The Manpower Services Commission has written to me requesting additional resources for the youth opportunities programme. I am giving the request urgent consideration.

Mr. Hicks

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the present figure, which was fixed in November 1979, is updated to retain its purchasing power, it would be in excess of £29 per week? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present figure has a detrimental effect, particularly in rural areas where the £4 transport claim often leads to problems? Does not the present payment dissuade people from joining the scheme?

Mr. Prior

We have no evidence to show that the £23.50 dissuades people from joining the scheme. More than 8,000 young people join the scheme each week. The Government intend the money to be treated as a training allowance rather than payment for work. We can help young people by getting them to understand that they must price themselves into, not out of, work. This scheme is an important way of trying to get a better relationship between training and adult working life. Broadly speaking, the figure that my hon. Friend quoted is correct. However, I should not want him to deduce that it would be possible to bring the amount up to that figure.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are to give young people a sense of dignity in their work—even if they are on such schemes—they should receive a reasonable level of remuneration? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the needs of young Londoners on the scheme, as they are almost the only London workers to be without London weighting? Justice demands that that, at least, should be put right.

Mr. Prior

I cannot accept that. It is important to give young people the opportunity to gain a much greater degree of training. That is what counts and that is what we intend to do. Labour Members do not do any service to young people by constantly saying that they should be paid more.

Mr. Colvin

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the heavy burden of transport costs that falls on young people taking part in the youth opportunities programme? Some young people spend between £3 and £4 per week, or even more, on transport. Will my right hon. Friend consider lowering the threshold of £4, above which the taxpayer picks up the bill for transport, to the lower threshold of £2, which has been recommended by some of the MSC's area offices.

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. The £4 figure has been in operation for several years and has slightly improved its position in relation to the cost of transport. I can see no way in which I can meet the growing obligations towards young people with the resources that are available to me.

Mr. John Grant

Will the Secretary of State stop dodging the question? Will he recognise that hon. Members on both sides of the House are worried about this issue, just as employers and trade union representatives on the MSC are? Indeed, the MSC has urged him to raise the allowance. When will the right hon. Gentleman get to grips with the issue, raise the allowance and avert the mounting charge that too many people use the youth opportunities scheme as a method of cheap labour?

Mr. Prior

I am amazed that anyone should think that I have tried to dodge the question. I maintain that Labour Members do the dodging.