HC Deb 22 May 1997 vol 294 cc834-5
Miss Oona King

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what estimate he has made of the number of young people who have been unemployed for over six months who will be helped off welfare and into work. [202]

Mr. Andrew Smith

At present there are 178,000 people aged between 18 and 24 who have been claimants, unemployed for longer than six months. In addition, on current trends, we envisage that each month around 25,000 young people reach the six-months threshold. The Government's commitment is to get 250,000 young people off benefits and into work.

Miss King

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, which is most welcome. Nowhere is that news more urgently needed than in my constituency, Bethnal Green and Bow. Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituency has the highest number of under-25s in Britain, and also one of the highest levels of youth unemployment, with more than one quarter of the unemployed being under 25? The situation is particularly bad for the ethnic minority community: 36 per cent. of Afro-Caribbeans and 48 per cent. of the Bangladeshi community are suffering from unemployment. Does my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that Bethnal Green and Bow in particular, and east London in general should receive immediate assistance from the scheme?

Mr. Smith

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her question and the passion with which she rightly speaks about the needs of the young unemployed in her constituency. We shall carry forward the programme with jobs with private sector employers, work with the voluntary sector, places on the environmental task force and the option of full-time education and training to address basic skill needs. We shall carry the programme forward as quickly as possible to ensure that my hon. Friend's constituents and others who are unemployed get the help that they need, which they have been denied for far too long, so that they can make the most of their potential.

Mr. Nicholls

No one would doubt the hon. Gentleman's commitment to helping the young unemployed—a commitment that is shared on both sides of the House. However, his problem is that, on the one hand, he has that aspiration and, on the other, his party is committed to a national minimum wage that will destroy low-paid jobs. All experience shows that the low-paid jobs often sought by the unemployed will disappear first. Does the hon. Gentleman feel comfortable with that?

Mr. Smith

Experience from elsewhere—including the United States, which has implemented the minimum wage—shows that it does no such thing: it is perfectly consistent with increasing the number of people in employment. If the hon. Gentleman genuinely shares our concern for the unemployed and our commitment to providing opportunities for them, he would listen to the electorate and what the people said in the recent general election campaign and get behind our drive to get people off welfare and into work.