HC Deb 01 July 2002 vol 388 cc11-2
6. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

What plans he has to offer a one stop service for those people who are out of work. [63389]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks)

In April this year, we created Jobcentre Plus to bring together the Employment Service and those parts of the Benefits Agency that deal with people of working age. Jobcentre Plus provides an integrated, work-focused service to people who are out of work.

Fifty-six new Jobcentre Plus offices are already up and running. We intend to roll those out across Great Britain over the next four years. We have already announced that we plan to open around 225 more offices by April 2003.

Roger Casale

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which I welcome. Does he agree with my constituent, Charlene Kuye, who is a single parent engaged on a teacher training course, and with organisations such as Gingerbread, which speaks for lone parent families, that the complexity of the benefits system can be one of the major barriers to helping young people return to work? Will he continue to listen to benefit recipients and their representatives as we continue to improve the benefit system so that it is possible for people to make a seamless transition from taking maternity or paternity leave to going back to work or from training back to work?

Malcolm Wicks

Yes, we must learn from our constituents. Our advice surgeries are our most important seminars in this respect. Although large numbers of lone parents are being enabled to get back into work, a significant proportion are still not in work. The interface with skills and education is critical. From local office level through to ministerial level at Whitehall, we have good connections with those in the world of education and skills.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Can the hon. Gentleman clarify the enigmatic answer given by the Minister for Work a few minutes ago and say which of the statistics regarding young people is correct? Are 4,500 young people out of work or 244,000? Which is right?

Malcolm Wicks

Because of the need to be absolutely accurate about these statistics, I think it best to write to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), who raised the point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The crucial thing, which the Opposition often do not want to hear, is that the new deal for young people has been a great success. With just a few exceptions, we have virtually eradicated the problem of long-term youth unemployment. People should celebrate that, because it involves a lot of work from young people, my colleagues in the Department and employers. It is a cause for celebration, not cynicism and sarcasm.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

One frustration for some of my long-term unemployed constituents is that they seem to be precluded from entering courses to reskill and retrain them that are for longer than one day a week. Will my hon. Friend examine the situation, and will people who have been put on a course that they discover is not meeting their needs be able to change easily to another, more suitable, course?

Malcolm Wicks

Yes. As I have indicated, we need to learn from our constituents. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would write to me with individual experiences. In all sorts of ways, not least with our basic skills initiative, which deals with the fact that too many adults struggle with literacy and numeracy, we have a very joined-up approach with the Department for Education and Skills. We are screening people in jobcentres to test their literacy and numeracy. We are trying in all sorts of other ways to put the rhetoric of lifelong learning into practice. I repeat that we need to learn, and I am happy to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

The Minister will recall from earlier exchanges that not only do we not have a jobcentre in the Vale of York, there is no prospect of a Jobcentre Plus. Will he take up the case of Mr. Potter, who has been sent from pillar to post through a variety of offices? He lost his job in the farming industry in the autumn of last year and it has taken two months for a letter to be transferred to the Minister's Department from another. Will he try to help Mr. Potter to obtain unemployment benefit from the day that he lost his job?

Malcolm Wicks

I apologise for any delay. I will take up the case of the hon. Lady's constituent. We have not yet announced all our plans, but in those rural areas that may not have a Jobcentre Plus, we need to think hard about how to provide an adequate service. We can do that through the telephone and through the Internet for some. We need to join up with other local agencies to provide the service and must be sensitive to the needs of rural areas. Although there will be a large number of Jobcentre Plus offices throughout the country, some areas will not have that facility as such, and we are thinking hard about how to ensure that the hon. Lady's constituents and those in similar areas receive the service that they deserve. Meanwhile, I will take up her constituent's case.