HC Deb 04 April 1995 vol 257 cc1510-1
2. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what new proposals he has to increase the percentage of young people in full-time work.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Paice)

We will continue with the policies that have reduced unemployment among young people under 25 by 200,000 in the past two years, and that give the United Kingdom an unemployment rate for that age group that is among the lowest in Europe.

Mr. Flynn

In the paradise of Britain in 1979, 66 per cent. of young people were in employment; the figure is now less than 50 per cent., and three quarters of those people are in part-time, low-paid work. Is not the Minister ashamed that the deserted generation of young people suffer the daily rejection of unemployment or under-employment when they should be enjoying the best years of their lives? Is not the cruel choice for young people in Tory Britain to be fully educated and unemployed, to be fully qualified and partly employed, or, as is the case for 1 million people, to be in full-time work but earning part-time wages?

Mr. Paice

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is casting doubt on the International Labour Organisation unemployment figures, which show that the unemployment rate for under 25s is 16 per cent., or whether he is somehow trying to use the percentage of young people in education. Of course, fewer people in that age group are in work than in 1979 because far more are staying on in education and going on to gain further qualifications. At present, 73 per cent. of 16-year-olds are staying in full-time education, compared with just 42 per cent. in 1979.

Sir Michael Neubert

Is not it the case that, were the UK to have the misfortune of a minimum wage, young people would be the first and the worst to suffer? Cannot that be seen by comparing our country, where we do not have a statutory minimum wage, with France and Spain, which do?

Mr. Paice

My hon. Friend is right. If one considers the youth unemployment statistics across Europe, a clear similarity exists between countries with high levels of youth unemployment and those with a statutory minimum wage. Compared with the youth unemployment level in the rest of the Europe, our level is exceptionally low. It stands at 16.5 per cent., whereas in Spain it is 38 per cent., in Italy 30 per cent., in Ireland 26 per cent., in France 23 per cent. and in Belgium 9.2 per cent. I could go on. The European average is 19.6 per cent.

Mr. McCartney

Perhaps the Minister would like to comment on the independent report that will be highlighted in tomorrow's press and that will show that, in the past four years, youth unemployment has risen by 24 per cent. Nearly 1.3 million young people are economically inactive and looking for work, and the Government will not provide them with work because of their economic policies. Will he also comment on the fact that eight out of 10 young people in work are earning less than £2 an hour? Is not that proof that the Government are prepared to let young people in Britain work eight weeks full time to earn what Sir Iain Vallance, the British Telecom chief, earns in one hour of one day, and that the Conservative party is the party of low pay, privilege and exploitation?

Mr. Paice

The alleged research to which the hon. Gentleman refers does not bear very much examination. The reality is that the unemployment level for the under-25s has fallen over the past two years, both as a number and as a proportion of the age group. The number of 16 to 17-year-olds defined as unemployed by the ILO has also gone down in the past two years.

As for wages, the important thing for young people is that they are developing, learning and training. What matters are the jobs for which they will be suited as adults, which is why to consider their wage levels at a very young age is to take account of only half the problem. If we had a minimum wage, there would be no jobs at all for them.