HC Deb 29 January 1998 vol 305 cc488-90
6. Mr. Dawson

If he will make a statement on the progress of the new deal in pathfinder areas. [24184]

Mr. Blunkett

I commend all those who have involved with the 12 pathfinder projects for the new deal. In the first three weeks alone, 5,300 young people were invited for interview. Three thousand young people entered the gateway, of whom half have been placed for jobs, and hundreds of young people who are not yet entitled to enter the new deal have presented themselves at jobcentres wishing to be part of it. That is a tremendous start, of which we can all be proud.

Mr. Dawson

I thank my right hon. Friend for that most encouraging response about this excellent scheme.

Can my right hon. Friend assure me that young people entering the new deal scheme will be offered a real choice of quality training and work placement? Can he further assure me that vulnerable young people, who are in so much need of this scheme, will receive the counselling and emotional support that they require to enable them to continue in ways that were previously denied to them>?

Mr. Blunkett

I am happy to give that assurance. The gateway, with basic social and educational skills provisions, the specific advisers and mentors for the young people concerned, and the commitment that every young person will get education and training to an approved qualification, all demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that this is not just a makeweight scheme but a real programme that equips young people to take their place in the labour market and helps to meet the skills shortage referred to earlier.

Mr. Rowe

Have the pathfinder areas thrown up for the Secretary of State the people who are paying the real cost of the new deal? Will he explain to older people in my constituency, many of whom have made 200, 300 or 400 applications for jobs, why they are now told that their job clubs are to be cut back because of the costs of the new deal? Given that unemployment is falling, is not the money originally set aside for the new deal more than ample? How does he explain to my constituents that they are being sacrificed to the Chancellor's need to build up a war chest to win the next election?

Mr. Blunkett

I should like to inform the hon. Gentleman's constituents why they have been unemployed for so long under a regime that the hon. Gentleman helped to prop up. I should like to explain to young people in his area how we shall ensure that they do not become the long-term unemployed adults of the future and that they have the opportunity that has been denied to middle-aged people. I should like to explain, as the Chancellor said, and as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Disability Rights said on 5 January, how we shall extend the scheme to older unemployed workers, giving them the qualifications and skills that they need.

Above all, we shall ensure that no young person ever again faces, at the age of 18, the prospect of not having a job year after year. They must learn to get out of bed, get themselves into a job and earn their own living for the future rather than depend on the state.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Has it yet been possible to evaluate the adequacy of the allocation for the gateway period? Will my right hon. Friend keep that matter under review, as £260 for up to four months seems a small amount?

Mr. Blunkett

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall keep the matter under review. It is important that the gateway is a quality entry into the new deal and that we let no one down in terms of evaluating the first 12 pathfinder programmes. It was appropriate to pilot the programme first to ensure that we learn the lessons and apply them when we roll the programme out for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Willetts

Let me return to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). Does the Secretary of State not recognise that, in the past week, many hon. Members on both sides of the House will have received a letter from their local employment service telling the same story about the cuts in job club placements and in job plan workshops for people who are not eligible for the new deal? Is it not clear that there will be two different categories of unemployed people: those with the extra expenditure of the new deal; and more than a million people who will receive less assistance in the future than they received in the past?

Mr. Blunkett

The hon. Gentleman's last assertion is incorrect. A higher proportion of adult unemployed will have access to job clubs and similar measures than is the case now. Unemployment dropped by 28 per cent. in the past year; job clubs are being reduced by only 15 per cent.; and the take-up at job clubs has been only 87 per cent. With the 750 remaining job clubs, it is therefore possible to do a better job more effectively and in the best interests of unemployed people, so that they get a job rather than attend a club.