HC Deb 18 November 1986 vol 105 cc420-1
2. Mr. Pike

asked the Paymaster General if he will make a statement on the Restart programme.

The Paymaster General and Minister for Employment (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

The restart programme has been making good progress and by 9 October 366,451 people had already been interviewed. A worthwhile offer that might lead to employment had been made to about nine out of 10 of those interviewed.

Mr. Pike

Will the Paymaster General accept that the programme is not leading to people getting real jobs and that the main purpose of the exercise is to reduce the unemployment figures by false means, which is resulting in many people losing the benefit to which they are legitimately entitled? Is that not a disgrace?

Mr. Clarke

No. That is, first, a wholly unjustified allegation, and it is also a harmful one to make because it damages the morale of our staff who are seeking to help long-term unemployed people whom they invite for interview. It also tends to put off the long-term unemployed people from going in. When people are interviewed we offer advice on how to get into a job, training, subsidised self-employment, a job club or our new job training programme—all ways of helping longterm unemployed people back into the growing number of vacancies and jobs available in our economy.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the restart scheme has been widely welcomed in Britain as evidencing the Government's humanity and practical determination in their approach to the distressing and important problem of long-term unemployment? Will my right hon. and learned Friend clarify what proportion of those coming for interview have subsequently been placed in jobs?

Mr. Clarke

We have no means of knowing exactly, and we never will unless we go in for a large-scale survey of everybody who has left the count. At the moment, 86,211 people have ceased to claim unemployment benefit and we trust that they are in work or in training or have been placed in some way. Unless we go out and pursue them all and have a full survey, we shall never know. It is quite wrong, as my hon. Friend says, to muddle all this up with the routine administrative work of checking on fraud and availability for work, which, obviously, we must continue with as well.

Mr. Leighton

Does the Paymaster General recall telling the House on 28 October that each person would have an hour-long interview? Does he know that staff have been asked to conduct at least 45 interviews a week, and that that, with various emergencies, means that the average person has an interview lasting only 25 minutes? If they are sent to a job and do not get it—less than 1 per cent. in most areas get a job—that is the end; there is no follow-up interview. As a result, many of the staff are becoming cynical and are wondering whether their purpose is to police the benefit system and chase people off the register.

Mr. Clarke

We are only providing an hour-long interview and have greatly increased the number of staff available to do that. That is the service that we are seeking to provide. We are also, in the few pilot areas, seeking to extend the service to those who have been unemployed for six months. We are offering them a range of opportunities from the many that I described a moment ago. The hon. Gentleman has no justification for his assertion that less than 1 per cent. are getting a job. It must be more than that, but without surveying them all we have no means of knowing exactly how many.