HC Deb 11 December 1997 vol 302 cc1165-6
1. Mr. Alan Simpson

If all young people will have a choice of all options in the new deal programme; what entitlement there is for progress from one option to another; and what is the maximum period that the unemployed will be able to be part of the programme. [18746]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Disability Rights (Mr. Andrew Smith)

All young people will have a choice of options in the new deal, although there will not in every case be a choice of every option. For example, those who are already well qualified may not be eligible for the full-time education and training option. Most participants will stay on one option, but where it clearly meets a young person's needs, people will be able to move to a second option. Although most people are likely to spend less than a year in the programme, the maximum period will be 16 months, and longer if we take account of the follow-through support for those who need it at the end of the option.

Mr. Simpson

I am grateful for the Minister's answer. Is he aware that one in four young unemployed people in the east midlands are in Nottingham? Many of them have been around the magic roundabout of short-term fraudulent schemes that the previous Government offered them and are deeply cynical about the concept of training. Does he accept that, for some, securing a regular attendance record over six months would be a major achievement; that we ought to be considering repairing the damage done to those whose cynicism about previous employment initiatives may have been well placed; and that we should allow longer-term continuity to bring them sensibly, and with skills, back into an employable work force?

Mr. Smith

Yes; the new deal will bring new hope and opportunity to my hon. Friend's constituents, as it will to others. The crucial importance of the gateway in the new deal programme is that it provides for young people a period of counselling, advice, assessment and the chance to try out subsequent options before choosing what they will go on to do. They will have a personal adviser who will help them not simply during the gateway period but while they are undertaking work under the option and subsequently when they so need it. Such continuity, the richness of provision and the quality that is available under the new deal will set it clearly apart from schemes that went before, which, as my hon. Friend rightly said, damaged so many young people.

Mr. Keetch

The Liberal Democrats welcome the new deal, although, as the Government know, we would fund it differently. What will the Minister say to people who will not qualify for the new deal because they take national insurance credits instead of, for example, jobseeker's allowance, or are on invalidity benefit? Is it not true that, for such young people, the new deal is no deal? What will the Government do about them?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We have new deal programmes not only for those in receipt of jobseeker' s allowance but for people who are disabled or have suffered long-term sickness—all from the extra £195 million, which the Chancellor made available from the windfall levy in the Budget.

Our approach to welfare to work offers opportunities not simply to the young unemployed, but to the long-term unemployed, the sick and disabled and lone parents. It is a world of opportunity better than anything that was on offer under the previous Government, and anything from the hon. Gentleman's party.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

Bearing in mind the high unemployment in rural areas and the lack of public transport in many such areas, what special arrangements will the Minister put in place to enable the scheme to work in rural areas?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the particular needs of rural areas. Those are being addressed by partnerships in each area, which match opportunities that will be made available locally to the needs of local participants, in conjunction with local business. We have negotiated at a national level substantial discounts through transport operators such as National Express and Stagecoach. The Rural Development Commission is working with local authorities to see how the new deal can extend transport availability in rural areas.

Mr. Beggs

We welcome the new deal and the new opportunities that will be afforded to those young people who have hitherto been unemployed. What emphasis will be put on ensuring that young people gain qualifications through the new deal?

Mr. Smith

That is another aspect which sets the new deal apart from schemes that went before. Quality training is a part of every option of the new deal because it is essential, not merely to rebuild the motivation and self-esteem of so many of the young unemployed, but to provide the means to help them get jobs and stay in jobs. I wish to place on record our thanks for the work of the Northern Ireland task force in developing the new deal there.