HC Deb 26 June 1997 vol 296 cc972-4
6. Mr. Healey

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what proposals he has to move young unemployed people on welfare into work. [4095]

13. Ms Ellman

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what are the Government's plans to assist the young unemployed. [4103]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

I refer my hon. Friends to the reply given earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) by the Minister for Employment and Disability Rights.

Mr. Healey

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will be glad to know that there are already projects in operation and plans in the pipeline in the Rotherham area which offer real training and job prospects to the young and the long-term unemployed. How do the Government plan to draw on such experience, good practice and ideas as they draw up the precise details of the new deal programme?

Mr. Blunkett

I am delighted to hear that action is already being taken in my hon. Friend's constituency to prepare for the announcement to be made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer next Wednesday, and for the subsequent programme in which we shall engage.

The record of attainment of those born in my hon. Friend's constituency has been considerable. The Leader of the Opposition greatly benefited there from past practice of investing in education and employability. Our task will be to ensure that all children in the constituency and across the country enjoy quality programmes and quality education backed up by quality training. That will give them a real chance to earn their own living and lift themselves out of dependence on the state.

Ms Ellman

Is the Secretary of State aware that my constituency has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. with recorded male unemployment reaching 26.7 per cent. and nearly a third of the unemployment in Riverside being among young people? Can he confirm that, in effecting a good programme of opportunities, jobs and skills, the new deal will work with the many examples of community and co-operative enterprise that are already operating successfully in Liverpool, Riverside along with the private sector?

Mr. Blunkett

I recognise the enormous problems that affect my hon. Friend's constituency. Our programme must tackle not just the quality of the offers and choices being made but the lack of hope and the desperation which generational unemployment has brought to my hon. Friend's area and many others. That is why our programme will prepare young people by giving them education, social skills and real opportunities. It will build on the initiatives of community and voluntary groups by drawing together such programmes and enfranchising such agreements locally. In that way we can build on the best already in existence and invest in the future of the young people who were written off by the previous Government.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Apart from munching a croissant and drinking his coffee at the breakfast meeting at No. 11 Downing street, did the right hon. Gentleman have time to listen to any of the guests? If not, will he consult the speech by Sir Ian Prosser, chairman of Bass, in which he made it quite clear that labour market flexibility and low non-wage labour costs meant that we had better employment figures than the rest of Europe? By contrast, the right hon. Gentleman's policies will choke off people's ability to take on employees. They could end up subsidising them under the welfare-to-work scheme, which will lead to folly and substitution.

Mr. Blunkett

I am sure that the right hon. Lady knows more about croissants than I do. Unfortunately, although I was there on time I did not manage to get one. It just goes to show how much I am likely to get out of No. 11 in future. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I was just testing whether Conservative Members were still awake.

The right hon. Lady will of course be aware that the level of unemployment among young people in Germany is lower than it is in the United Kingdom. It is lower because of Germany's investment in skills and training—its vocational investment—through which people can take up apprenticeships and opportunity. That is why, at the business breakfast, the employers present, small as well as large, have overwhelmingly committed themselves to joining us in partnership. In return, we said that we would listen to their concerns and join them in ensuring that the programmes that we set forward have universal support, so that we can build a consensus to rid ourselves of hopelessness and end the exclusion of a whole generation of people. Given the right hon. Lady's background and her commitment in the past to overcoming poverty, I expect her to join us in that endeavour.

Mr. Willetts

Will the Secretary of State confirm that unemployment among young people is falling strongly and has fallen by 400,000 in the past four years? How much better than that does he expect to do in the next four years?

Mr. Blunkett

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position.

I want the target to be to reduce unemployment among people under 25 to the same level as that among adult workers—rather than its being double or treble that level—so that we ensure that young people become accustomed to being at work in the morning and to being able to earn their own living, rather than depending on others. Any civilised society will be judged by what it does to give young people a real drive to enterprise and the ability to earn their living in a civilised fashion.

Ms Hodge

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the tremendous progress that he has made in a mere eight weeks, even without breakfast, as compared with the disastrous 18 years that preceded them. As part of the welfare-to-work programme, is he considering using some of the resources to expand child care facilities, particularly for mothers and lone parents who want to work but cannot because they do not have access to affordable child care?

Mr. Blunkett

We as a Department, with the Ministry for women, will ensure that we co-ordinate education, child care and family learning. It is critical that those who enter full-time education and training in particular have facilities that enable them to take up that option. Above all, it is critical that they are able, during the programme and afterwards, to earn a living like other families, and that the widest possible choice of under-fives facilities is available.

Mr. Roy Beggs

I welcome the Government's commitment to assist employers to take on young unemployed—and perhaps some long-term unemployed—persons, but does the Secretary of State agree that, when there has been subsidy, some unscrupulous employers have exploited it and, instead of creating full-time posts, have continued to take on subsidised employees? Will he monitor the scheme closely to ensure that there is no abuse?

Mr. Blunkett

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is always a danger in such circumstances. Employers and the Employment Service agree that they should assist us in monitoring the situation. Obviously, as Winston Churchill once pointed out, if the worst employer is undercut by the very worst, no one gains.