HC Deb 16 March 1993 vol 221 cc158-60
10. Mr. Steen

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what research her Department is currently undertaking into workfare; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

We are considering a range of options to help unemployed people to use their time constructively.

Mr. Steen

Does the Secretary of State remember that in 1975 I, with Sir Leon Brittan, wrote to The Times advocating that the young unemployed, while waiting to join the work force, should be encouraged to become a force for good by being given opportunities to provide personal service in the community for the benefit of people less fortunate than themselves and should be paid a wage equivalent to their unemployment benefit? Eighteen years on, the situation has not changed. Young people should be given an opportunity to do something, rather than take taxpayers' money and do nothing in return.

Mrs. Shephard

Of course, I remember my hon. Friend's letter very well. I know that his interest in these matters goes back a considerable time. He has always argued that the principle of mutual responsibility should be applied in the designing of schemes for unemployed people—particularly young unemployed people—and I agree.

Mr. Cryer

Is not it the job of the Government to avoid mucking about with marshmallow schemes like workfare to create fake jobs and instead to adopt an economic policy that will encourage manufacturing industry to provide proper jobs for all our people? While the right hon. Lady is about it, will she condemn those people who take taxpayers' money but do nothing in return, such as Tory Members of Parliament, who take their salaries and also line their pockets with the proceeds of outside job after outside job?

Mrs. Shephard

Some hon. Members take two lots of money from the taxpayer. I refer, for instance, to those who have a dual mandate in Europe. Conservative Members know that people want real jobs. That is why our policies have been aimed at producing the lowest inflation rate that we have had for 25 years, the lowest interest rates in the European Community, a competitive exchange rate, the lowest level of business taxation, and non-wage costs at 61 per cent. of the level of those in Germany. That is what we mean, but not what the hon. Gentleman means, by the right framework for real jobs.

Mr. Paice

When considering workfare, will my right hon. Friend look behind the hype of exploitation and all the other adjectives that are used to describe the scheme? Will she recognise that, for many people, doing something useful in return for the money that they receive as benefit is a means of retaining some pride in themselves and that there is a sound and valid argument for the introduction of the widest possible opportunity for this to happen?

Mrs. Shephard

It is certainly desirable that unemployed people be helped to keep in touch with the world of work while they are being assisted to seek and to train for work. My hon. Friend will be aware of employment action and of the range of opportunities that are thereby made available. As I said earlier, we intend to build on success of that kind.

Mr. Galbraith

May I congratulate the Minister of State for rebuking the Prime Minister's ideas on workfare? In the 5 February issue of Today, the hon. Gentleman said: I have seen workfare, and it does not work. Can the Secretary of State confirm that her Minister of State and her Department will continue their opposition to workfare and not simply use it as a cheap form of labour or as another means of fiddling the unemployment statistics?

Mrs. Shephard

For the hon. Gentleman's information, I can say that the Prime Minister, in his Carlton club speech, did not suggest that all-embracing, large-scale schemes should be introduced to require people to work in return for benefit. Nor, indeed, did he use the word "workfare". Given the close attention that the hon. Gentleman pays to these matters, I am surprised that he did not notice that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), condemned some of the schemes that he had seen in the United States as being costly and ineffective.

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