HC Deb 21 October 2002 vol 391 cc108-9W
Mr. Russell Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what policies he is pursuing to assist the long-term unemployed in rural areas. [73090]

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Since 1997 long-term unemployment in rural areas has been cut by 78 per cent. Our policies, based on the foundation of a strong and stable economy, have played an important part in this success.

The New Deals have helped nearly three quarters of a million people in all parts of the country move off benefit and into work. They have performed particularly well in rural areas. For example, nearly 60 per cent. of those leaving the New Deal for Young People in rural areas have moved into jobs.

Employment Zones and Action Teams for Jobs are helping people from the most deprived areas of the country move into work. The Action Teams and Employment Zones operating in predominantly rural areas have between them helped over 11,500 people into jobs.

With the introduction of Jobcentre Plus, we aim to make our services more accessible to a wider group of people. We are building on the services we already offer over the telephone and internet such as Jobseeker Direct and Worktrain. We are also developing new ways of bringing Jobcentre Plus services to those who need them through, for example, mobile offices covering remote areas.

We have introduced a number of initiatives to help unemployed people in rural areas overcome the transport barriers they may face. The New Deal can, for example, help participants meet the costs of travelling to their work or training placement. The Adviser Discretion Fund, which we introduced in July 2001, allows New Deal Personal Advisers to spend up to £300 to help individuals overcome barriers to work, including transport difficulties.

Employment Zones and Action Teams for Jobs are also helping overcome transport problems in rural areas, for example, by giving grants to clients for the purchase of scooters, bicycles or other vehicles to help them get to work. They can also help with the cost of taxing or insuring vehicles. In addition, they have helped to set up and subsidise bus routes to take jobless people to areas where work is available and run car lease schemes.

To build on this success, in April we launched the Transport Projects Fund, worth £5 million a year. Action Teams can bid for additional money from the Fund to support innovative transport projects that will benefit the local community.