HC Deb 10 December 2001 vol 376 cc590-1
16. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

What plans he has to help people back into work in areas of acute social deprivation.[19157]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown)

Our welfare-to-work initiatives are helping people into work in all parts of the country. The new deals have already helped well over 500,000 people into jobs. We have also introduced action teams for jobs and employment zones, which, between them, have helped more than 32,000 people into work in the most deprived areas. Through Jobcentre Plus, we will work closely with local partnerships and other agencies to ensure our services focus appropriately on areas of acute social deprivation. On 28 November, we also announced the introduction of step up, and one of the pilot schemes for that programme will be run in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Cunningham

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He said that one of the step up pilot schemes would be run in Coventry. Can he assure me that not only young people but people over 50 will benefit from that scheme? He is probably aware of the many debates in the House about ageism, and I hope that he will give me an assurance on the over-50s.

Mr. Brown

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. The scheme is aimed at the long-term unemployed, at people who have found the labour market intractable and even at people who have previously been on one of the Government's schemes. We want to prevent churning, which is why the new scheme will provide intensive work with those who have found the labour market intractable, with a view to getting them into permanent employment.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

Is the Minister aware not only that his policies are not working, but that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), the shadow Secretary of State, said, it is revealed in the report published today that more families are classified as very poor now than in the last full year of the Conservative Government? In the light of that, will he urge the Secretary of State to apologise to Conservative Social Security Ministers in previous Parliaments, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), for his outrageous attack on our successful policies?

Mr. Brown

That is the first time I have heard the hon. Gentleman use the word "apologise", although I accept that he has been out of this place for some time. The Conservative party has a lot to apologise for. It could start by apologising to the 3 million unemployed and to those who were told in the 1980s that there was no place for them in the economy of this country and who had to be shifted on to incapacity benefit to get them off the unemployment register. If we extended beyond them the list of those who are due an apology from the Conservative party, it would be a long list.

No one on the Government Benches owes an apology—certainly not to the poor and the dispossessed, whom we are setting out proactively to help. They include the long-term unemployed, whom we are determined to help back into the labour market and keep there.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

My right hon. Friend will know that the reports on the disturbances in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford earlier this year will identify unemployment in areas of social deprivation as one of the problems. Recognising that unemployment is a problem in areas of deprivation and poverty, will the Government look again at possible ways of tackling the problem, particularly where there is perceived unfairness of job opportunities between the different groups?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend makes some good points, and I can give him the assurance that he seeks. I hope that the step up pilot in his constituency will go some way to addressing the problems, particularly as they relate to the long-term unemployed and to his constituents who have already been through Government programmes. However, we need to keep a close eye on how the pilots work and to pay attention to the reports, which will be published tomorrow, so that we see what more we can do. As my hon. Friend suggested, some pretty intractable issues lie behind the difficulties that his constituents have faced.