HC Deb 16 January 1990 vol 165 cc142-4
2. Mr. Bowis

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the pilot project in job clubs designed for people with severe literacy and language problems.

The Minster of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Tim Eggar)

My right hon. Friend announced on 22 November last year a pilot programme of 15 job clubs that give extra help to people with severe literacy difficulties or with very limited command of English. All 15 pilots are now in operation. There will be a review of results achieved in late spring this year.

Mr. Bowis

I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that a significant number of people with language and literacy difficulties cannot benefit from the job markets without this form of assistance. I welcome the work of the job clubs and of the series of pilot schemes. However, will my hon. Friend assure me that once the review has been carried out, the good practice in those schemes will be spread to other parts of the country, including south London?

Mr. Eggar

My hon. Friend is right to praise the contribution that has been made by the job clubs. More than 200,000 people have found jobs as a result of taking part in the job club scheme. I assure my hon. Friend that if the pilot projects go well, we shall consider extending them to other parts of the country.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Minister assure the House that his Department will work closely with the Department of Education and Science in this matter? He will have seen in today's papers the reports of the campaign, which is headed by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, for improving literacy throughout the country. Millions of people are unable to play a full part in society because they cannot read or write adequately. We need a co-ordinated campaign across the Departments. Will the Minister ensure that it is a departmental priority this year?

Mr. Eggar

I assure the hon. Gentleman that my Department is well aware of the problems of literacy. For that reason, we teamed up with the Department of Education and Science and with the BBC to launch a major new remote learning literacy scheme, and there are several other initiatives on that front. I shall be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about what we are doing in that area.

Mrs. Currie

Does my hon. Friend agree that the adult illiteracy to which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred is a result of trendy and silly education policies, which have now been discredited? Does my hon. Friend recognise that in a constituency such as mine, which is approaching full employment, the small number of adult illiterates and young people leaving school whose literacy is not adequate have become unemployable, which is a tragedy for them and for the country? Does he agree that we should do everything that we can to reduce that problem?

Mr. Eggar

Certainly, I agree with my hon. Friend on that point and that is why we have the job clubs' pilot project on literacy. If my hon. Friend has specific suggestions for her area, I hope that she will tell me about them.

Mr. McLeish

No one would dispute the need for a modern employment service to be sensitive to issues such as literacy, numeracy and language. Is the Minister aware that that idea emerged from an internal strategy document from the Department of Employment, which also suggested that benefit sanctions would be applied to job clubs, to employment training and to restart? Will the Minister reassure the House that there will be no attempt to use the measures contained in the Employment Act 1988 to designate those schemes as training, or to use the actively seeking work regulations of the Social Security Act 1989 to bring more pressure on people to adopt such programmes? Does he accept that in this day and age, when there are still almost 400,000 people who have been unemployed for more than two years, there is a need for positive consideration, rather than punishment and coercion?

Mr. Eggar

The Government's schemes are designed to assist people to get back to work. That is why we have an extensive employment training provision, why we continue to seek to make it as flexible as possible and why we are giving increasing priority to literacy and numeracy skills. Together with the training and enterprise councils, we shall continue to seek ways to enhance people's capability to find jobs.

Mr. Rathbone

Will the pilot project embrace those who are suffering from dyslexia? If the pilot project turns out correctly, will my hon. Friend ensure that it embraces such people?

Mr. Eggar

I am sure that the pilot project will cover people who suffer from dyslexia and I am delighted that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the problem. I had an Adjournment debate on the subject myself, back in 1981.

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