HC Deb 17 March 2003 vol 401 cc609-10
1. Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)

If he will make a statement on the impact of new deal 50-plus on getting older people back into work. [102943]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith)

New deal 50-plus has been a success, and nearly 92,000 people have moved into work while claiming employment credit. Evaluation has shown that it is also helping people by giving them the increased motivation and confidence they need to find jobs. New deal 50-plus is also making a good contribution to our wider campaign to tackle age discrimination and improve the prospects of older people.

Jon Trickett

I congratulate the Government on their work in this difficult area, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the acute problems in former coalfield areas such as my constituency, where one household in four still has no one in work? That is a frightening statistic. Many are older people, former miners who were thrown on the scrap heap by the Tories when the pits were closed. Will my right hon. Friend pay particular attention in any further rolling out of the new deal to blackspots such as the one I represent?

Mr. Smith

Yes indeed. New deal 50-plus and the Government's other programmes, including the excellent work done by the coalfields taskforce in partnership with local communities, is making headway in tackling pressing social concerns. The gap between the employment rate among those over 50 and the average rate has been narrowing as fast in the more deprived regions as in the less deprived, if not faster. There is more to be done, but we are determined to build on the progress that has been made.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

When will the Government do something to help people such as my constituent Jill Lambard-Brown, who has been sacked from her job as a swimming teacher by Eastbourne borough council simply because she is approaching the age of 65—although she is as fit as a fiddle, popular with families and children and very keen to carry on?

Mr. Smith

I have a great deal of sympathy for people like the hon. Gentleman's constituent. That is why we are committed to legislating to outlaw age discrimination, and why the Department of Trade and Industry is consulting on the ending of mandatory retirement ages. An important aim of our Green Paper is to encourage people who want to continue working for longer. We should make the most of the talents of all in our community, regardless of their age, and that includes the hon. Gentleman's constituent.