HC Deb 26 October 2000 vol 355 cc365-7
1. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

What action is being taken to increase the support offered to young people in the new deal gateway. [132585]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell)

I know that we will all want to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker.

I can announce today that 244,000 young people have moved from benefit into jobs, helped by the new deal and the Government's sound economic management. That means that there are now more people in work than ever before. The new deal is equipping young people with the skills to take up the jobs that are coming up all over the country. We will continue to improve and intensify the support for the increasing numbers of disadvantaged young people, tackling their problems of numeracy, literacy and basic employability, so that they can not just get a job but enjoy the prospect and opportunity of staying in work for the rest of their lives.

Helen Jackson

Welcome, Mr. Speaker.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the hallmarks of the Government was the speed with which they moved when they came to power in 1997 to get young people off the dole and give them a life with some hope? Some 477 people in my constituency are now in work and off the dole. What further steps will the Government take to continue that programme, so that allowing youngsters to spend years on the dole becomes a part of history?

Ms Jowell

I thank my hon. Friend for the support that she provides to the new deal in her constituency. When we came to office in 1997, 80,000 young people had been out of work for a year or more. The figure is now 6,500. However, the challenge is getting greater. About one in five young people comes to the new deal with barely the reading age of a seven-year-old. There are other types of disadvantage which mean that, as unemployment falls, so we must intensify and increase the help available to young people not just in my hon. Friend's constituency but throughout the country. The new deal will do that.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

I welcome and congratulate you, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Minister familiar with the Industrial Society's critique of the new deal, published in two reports over the past few weeks? Is she aware that the society criticised the new deal in a number of ways, and revealed that 40 per cent. of jobs gained by new deal participants last less than 30 weeks? It also revealed that in the 20 areas of worst joblessness, unemployment is twice the national average. The society suggested, in particular, that the crucial gateway phase of the new deal is chronically underfunded. Is the Minister going to refute or disregard those findings from an independent and well-respected body, or does she have detailed proposals to deal with those particular problems?

Ms Jowell

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his first outing at the Dispatch Box. I have studied the Industrial Society report closely and I know that it has been selectively quoted by the hon. Gentleman. We are used to that from the Opposition, who offer no solution to long-term unemployment among young people, but only attack them and their right to opportunity. The Industrial Society praises the new deal, identifies the unique contribution of personal advisers, and praises the benefits reported by young people themselves. We recognise that in areas of low employment, the new deal must do more and work harder, which is why it is working with action teams, established by this Government, in the 40 districts where unemployment is at its highest.

We will take no lessons from the Opposition on how to manage unemployment. Under the Conservatives, on three occasions the claimant count rose to 3 million in the 1980s and early 1990s. They failed to deal with unemployment, whereas we are tackling it. Long-term unemployment among young people is down by 70 per cent. since the election. That is a tribute to young people and we are proud of that.

Mr. Speaker

That was a full and frank answer, but we have to get through the Order Paper.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

My right hon. Friend will recall the meeting that I had with her and her civil servants about my proposals for a new deal overseas programme to allow thousands of our young people and 50-plus new dealers to go overseas to work and train in third-world countries. Is there any progress on that front?

Ms Jowell

I hope to be able to write to my hon. Friend very soon about his interesting and constructive proposals, and to build his ideas into the flexibility and diversity of help and support that we intend to continue to provide through the new deal.

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