HC Deb 22 October 1998 vol 317 cc1390-2
10. Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

If he will make a statement on the progress of the new deal in (a) pathfinder areas and (b) the rest of the country. [55100]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge)

I am pleased with the early progress of the new deal. Already we have seen more than 145,000 young people invited to start on new deal; 32,000 of them are in the pathfinder areas; 23,000 have moved into jobs and 9,000 have moved into other options.

Dr. Turner

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment to the Front Bench. I am sure that she is already aware that in my constituency and in the rest of Brighton we have a considerable problem of homelessness. Many of the homeless are young people who have been failed by the education system and have a bleak future in employment because, from a position of homelessness, access to employment is doubly difficult. Will my hon. Friend tell the House the ways in which the new deal will help such people?

Ms Hodge

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I am aware of the problems that are faced by some young people in linking homelessness to joblessness. In Brighton it is a particular problem. We have funded a mediation project under the new deal as part of the gateway scheme so that we can provide counselling to young people who are homeless and put them into a secure environment. There are a number of projects around the country that link homelessness to joblessness. That is an integral part of a unique scheme under the new deal. The scheme is not about managing unemployment figures but about creating real and lasting opportunities for the young people of Britain today.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Having had the pleasure of working with the hon. Lady on the Select Committee on Education, I, too, congratulate her on her appointment to the Front Bench. From that Committee's deliberations, she, like me, will be familiar with the provenance of the new deal, its having been introduced at a time when unemployment was falling sharply under the previous Government's policies. Now that the economic circumstances are somewhat different and growth forecasts have been revised sharply downwards, what plans do she and her colleagues have to revise the implementation of the new deal, in particular to take account of job losses in manufacturing in the north and the midlands?

Ms Hodge

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Despite his remarks, nearly 400,000 new jobs have been created since the current Government took office. Furthermore, since the general election, youth unemployment has fallen by 15 per cent. and is about 13 per cent. less than it was in early 1979, when the Conservative Government first took office. The new deal's record of success speaks for itself.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment to the Front Bench. From my experience of working with her on the Select Committee and, previously, on the numerous child care projects with which she has been involved, I know that those working in the world of child care will welcome her appointment as much as I do.

May I bring to my hon. Friend's attention, and ask her to congratulate with me, Angela Ashman, who is 24 and is the 100th young person to go to Doncaster college under the Government's new deal? Five years ago, Angela began her training in hairdressing and, having stopped to begin her family, she is now taking a national vocational qualification in hairdressing. I quote her comments, printed in the Doncaster star: Without New Deal there's no way I could have got back into training as I just couldn't afford the child care, but now that's been paid for it's great to be back at college. Does my hon. Friend the Minister share my view that child care combined with education is the best way in which we can help young mothers, rather than telling them, Get thee to a nunnery"?

Ms Hodge

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words. As she spoke, I was reminded of the occasion on which we visited a further education college together and looked in on a course in hairdressing. There were seven lone parents present, all of whom were returning to work through education and the facilities for child care that had been created. It is a vital part of the new deal, both generally and for lone parents, that we make affordable, accessible and high-quality child care available to those women who need it if they are to gain access to the labour market.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

I, too, welcome the hon. Lady to her new position. I thought that we were not going to hear from her this afternoon, but she has been allowed out on the new deal.

The Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) was remarkably complacent—as complacent as the answer we heard yesterday from the Prime Minister to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The fact is that, throughout the summer, we have heard worrying announcements of factory closures and job losses; meanwhile, the Minister's Department is closing job clubs and putting all its effort into the new deal, which is a monumental irrelevance. It does absolutely nothing to help the people who are currently losing their jobs thanks to the Government's economic policies. Why will the Government not treat all unemployed people fairly and shift some resources towards the people who are losing jobs because of the Government's policies?

Ms Hodge

I do hate to blur with simple facts the rather boring and tedious political rhetoric that we are hearing from Conservative Members. The simple facts are that, under our new deal, at this very early stage, more than 23,000 young people who would otherwise have been unemployed are now in work. We are extending that new deal to those who are long-term unemployed—those who have been unemployed for two years. From November, we are piloting the new deal for those who have been unemployed for between 12 and 18 months. That is the proper way to tackle unemployment—with a scheme that is not about massaging unemployment figures, but about creating real opportunities with the gateway and ensuring that we improve employability so that people can go into real jobs.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

On behalf of my colleagues, I, too, congratulate the hon. Lady on her promotion. I welcome the fact that the Government have allocated £140 million to Northern Ireland over the next five years for the new deal. Will the hon. Lady join me in urging those who have been disadvantaged to increase their qualifications and upgrade their skills so that they can benefit from the new employment opportunities being created in Northern Ireland?

Ms Hodge

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words and support for the innovative and important new deal introduced by the Government. This is the first time that we have tried to link job opportunities and schemes to training and employment. We know that good skills, education and qualifications matter for the wealth of Britain, so the new deal is a vital scheme which should be supported across the House.

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