HC Deb 12 January 2004 vol 416 cc509-10
1. Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab)

If he will make a statement on the future of the new deal programme. [146781]

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

The new deals have helped cut long-term unemployment by three quarters and guided nearly 1 million people into work, including 1,180 in my hon. Friend's constituency. We will build on the success of the new deals so that those who are unemployed or economically inactive receive the help that they need to get into a job, which will help Britain to achieve full employment in every region.

Mr. Grogan

Will my right hon. Friend continue to develop the new deal programme, especially for lone parents and older people? In North Yorkshire, it has become the mark of a civilised society, helping to find jobs for almost all the county's long-term unemployed youth, many of whom previously thought that they had few prospects and little contribution to make.

Mr. Smith

Indeed we shall develop the new deal. As my hon. Friend says, it is the mark of a civilised society, not only in North Yorkshire, where it has helped nearly 9,000 people into work, but throughout Great Britain. For the future, we need to ensure that it works even more effectively. We are therefore examining how we can introduce more consistent criteria for entry across different groups, more flexibility and responsiveness to the varying needs of individuals, and even closer partnership with the private and voluntary sectors locally, as well as introducing a new deal for skills by investing in employability and working closely with Business Link and the Learning and Skills Council.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con)

If the Secretary of State is right when he says that the new deal for young people has been such a success, why has the number of economically inactive young people—those who are neither working nor studying—risen in the five years since it was introduced?

Mr. Smith

Our contention is that all the new deals have been a success. All those young people helped into jobs had wasted lives under the disastrous policies of the Conservatives, and to abandon the new deal would damage the lives of people who need help, harm the economy and bring back all the social ills of mass unemployment that the new deals and this Government's policies for economic stability have put behind us. The Conservatives should support those measures, including those to help inactive younger—and older—people.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab)

I warmly welcome the comments of my right hon. Friend. He will no doubt be aware that 920 people in my constituency would be unemployed without the new deal. Is not the Tories' suggestion of scrapping the new deal a kick in the teeth for young people, lone parents and disabled people, and should not that policy be given that verdict in the strongest possible terms at every opportunity?

Mr. Smith

Any proposal to abandon the new deal would be disastrous, not only for my hon. Friend's constituents but for the whole of our society. The programme has brought real benefits to individuals and to whole communities, so that we can put behind us the culture of hopelessness and welfare dependency that the Conservatives did so much to deepen—and as they would do again.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

I tabled a question on this issue last month and was told that the figures were available from the Library. I now have the figures and, from the inception of the new deal to September 2003, start-ups numbered 926,190. Of those, only 328,140 ended up in unsubsidised, sustained employment. How can the Secretary of State justify the new deal on those figures?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Lady belittles the considerable success that the figures that she quoted reveal. Of course, the programme has a wider and more enduring impact, including on those people who start a job and then leave it. The evidence shows that they are subsequently more likely to take another job. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research showed that the new deal saves the country £500 million a year in benefits to the economy and that the new deal for young people saves the Exchequer £40 million a year. As well as the human costs that the hon. Lady and her party would impose, their policies would have an economic cost for the country.