HC Deb 15 October 2001 vol 372 cc920-2
13. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)

What plans he has to enable the hardest-to-help unemployed people find work. [3588]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown)

The range of new deals helps disadvantaged groups to move from welfare into work. We are increasing the number of action teams for jobs and extending employment zones, which help people in the most deprived areas. The sum of £40 million has been allocated to the progress-to-work initiative, to help unemployed drug users, which will start early next year. Further funding is also being arranged through the new deals to pilot further specialist help for others, including homeless people and ex-offenders.

Brian White

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, in a city such as the one that I represent, which has benefited from the ONE pilot scheme and where unemployment is now less than 1 per cent., employers are having to recruit from as far afield as Nottingham and Derby. There is a small group of people who employers will not employ, even though they have been through most of the options that the jobcentre can provide. Such people have lost out on national vocational qualifications and so on, and cannot gain employment even in areas such as ours. Will the Minister ensure that, under new procedures and when Jobcentre Plus is rolled out, the plight of that small but vulnerable group is addressed and that there is more flexibility in the system so that they do not lose out further?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I passionately believe that we should not overlook a group of our fellow citizens who are disadvantaged in the labour market. It is the role of the second wave of new deals to help such groups, and we intend to do so regardless of changing labour market circumstances.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

To follow the question asked by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), does the right hon. Gentleman agree that some of the most difficult people to get into employment are those who live in very rural areas and that the biggest single impediment that they face is transport—to either employment opportunities or vocational training? Will he speak to his colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills to make it easier for people to get to vocational training centres where public transport is not available? Will he reject the present moped scheme restrictions, which do not include large parts of my very rural constituency simply because people live in towns—towns where there are no vocational training opportunities?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are special features to social exclusion in rural areas. There are a range of reasons for that. It is too simplistic to say that it is just about transport problems, although they are clearly part of it. It is the Government's hope that a more proactive approach—through Jobcentre Plus and action zones where they apply—will carry with it a range of local flexibilities that are tailored to address precisely the problems that the hon. Gentleman identifies.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

My right hon. Friend may be aware that one of the 15 pathfinder Jobcentre Plus programmes is in my constituency, in Greenock. Does he agree that to tackle residual and long-term unemployment it is important not only that the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency work together, but that all the other agencies in the field, chiefly the Inland Revenue, the careers service and local authorities, also work in partnership?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is essential that public services work across departmental boundaries toward a common objective—helping those who are most disadvantaged in the labour market.