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Social Exclusion

1.28 pm

Mrs. Helen Clark (Peterborough): Back in May 1997, the new Government pledged to get 250,000 young, unemployed people off benefit and into work. The target had been more than reached by September 2000, when more than 254,000 young people had been brought into work through the new deal programme. Young people, employers, private and public sector providers, environmental and voluntary organisations and the Government's Employment Service worked in partnership to achieve the objective—vital for a fair, inclusive society and economic growth—of cutting youth unemployment.

The achievements of the new deal were celebrated in November 2000 at a conference in London that was attended by Ministers and an invited audience of new deal participants, personal advisers—they are central to the delivery of the programme—employers, taskforce members and delivery organisations. Included in that invited audience as a representative of the new deal in Peterborough was Ken Shackleton of Shackleton Associates, who has long been involved in employment and training provision.

The day after the event, I was delighted to attend a ceremony in Peterborough where I presented personal advisers with awards for NVQs in guidance which they had successfully completed to develop their professional competence. Anyone who has met young people on the new deal scheme knows what a difference one-to-one skilled advice can make. "He was the father I never had", one young man said. Even those with helpful parents may find them unable to give adequate help and guidance in today's fast-changing employment market. The most recent edition of the newsletter for new deal partners, Partnership Practice, points out that new deal programmes have been helped by the economic recovery and that the new deal is not a "job's worth", job-creation programme. It is designed to help unemployed people compete more effectively for available jobs.

Peterborough used to have an unemployment rate higher than the national average, but in July 1997 it fell below that average for the first time in a decade. Much of the growth over the past five years—comprising approximately 6,600 jobs—has been in five sectors: distribution and catering, financial and business services, public services, construction, and transport and communications. According to a report by Peterborough city council, there is a projected increase of nearly 8,000 jobs by 2006.

We are fortunate that large Government and quasi-Government agencies provide employment in Peterborough. Appropriately in one of the four environment cities in the UK, some of them are working together to promote a cluster of environmental businesses, which are due to be launched officially next month by Department of Trade and Industry Minister, Lord Sainsbury. I believe that the city will rightly be regarded as a centre of excellence, bringing new opportunities to its residents and those who travel into it from the surrounding region to work.

However, against that rosy picture must be set the less well known fact: three wards in my constituency—Central, Dogsthorpe and Ravensthorpe—are among

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the 10 per cent. most deprived in England. That is according to the Government's overall index of multiple deprivation, which combines indices of income, employment, health deprivation and disability, educational skills and training, and geographical access to services. Indeed, Central ward is the most deprived ward in the eastern region.

I recently asked Ken Shackleton for an update on the programme. I am glad to say that it is mostly positive. All the targets for the most recent six-month period have been met, sometimes by an extensive margin, despite the fact that most of the new deal 18 to 25-year-old trainees face a range of barriers that make it hard for them to get a job. Those barriers can include basic literacy and numeracy needs, lack of job skills, poor personal skills, debt problems, drug problems and, increasingly in the Peterborough area, lack of English, to which I shall return.

Most trainees have experienced only casual or part-time work, usually unskilled, and come from homes with little history of work and where the benefit culture is deeply embedded. Training and support must therefore tackle lack of personal skills and poor literacy and numeracy before it can tackle job-related skills. The programme needs to re-motivate people, giving them the belief that there is another way than benefit, in which they can begin to take responsibility for their own future.

The initial gateway stage of new deal, where advisers build a relationship with individuals to help them develop an action plan suitable for them, is therefore vital. That stage, as the Minister knows, can include literacy and numeracy training, training needs analysis, job-search, debt, drug or substance counselling and a gateway-to-work course. As part of the gateway programme, the course lasts for two weeks, usually occurring between weeks four to seven. It uses new situations and experiences, often based on outdoor activities. It involves employers at all stages and includes a two-day work placement. Individuals then have a choice of route, with placements in the environmental taskforce, the voluntary sector, full-time education and training. Trainees who find the transition to work particularly hard are matched with a mentor, whom they meet weekly. There have been teething problems, but a major redesign is due in April, which should address all the shortcomings.

The environmental taskforce has already been redesigned to be more individually based, with individual placements. The voluntary sector option, which is a placement and training in the voluntary sector for up to 26 weeks, has always proved successful and popular. I regret that the full-time education and training option, for up to 52 weeks, is not as fancied, perhaps because the £15.38 supplement does not apply. I understand that the Government are addressing the issue through the Learning and Skills Development Agency, fostering better links between colleges and new deal providers.

However, the most significant change reported by providers in Peterborough is a significant increase in the need for basic skills, and English for speakers of other languages—ESOL. In the providers' opinion, that means that many trainees may need longer than the 26-week gateway period. Although providers have

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increased staffing to cope with that need, there is no extra funding for ESOL. Those questions need to be addressed.

Shackletons emphasises that the success of the new deal to date has depended on partnership working, and the working relationship between it and the Employment Service has become very effective. They work together at all levels and operationally have a joint development plan for the delivery of programmes. There are joint training sessions, workshops and regular operational meetings. Shackletons believes that all the right building blocks and funding are in place, and that the action being taken now is the best ever in its professional experience of more than 25 years.

Success demands that all the relevant partners continue to work together to keep abreast of the always-changing employment market, whether in terms of the type of jobs or skills available. Almost by definition, those first into employment will be the easiest to place, and as new employment sectors develop, so new skills and training will be necessary.

Two weeks ago, my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions were key speakers at a conference in London entitled "Building Partnerships for Social Inclusion: Next Steps for the National Anti-Poverty Strategy". The Deputy Prime Minister began by recalling the appalling rates of social exclusion that faced the Labour Government in 1997. There was mass unemployment, with one in five children living in a family in which no one worked. There was more adult illiteracy than anywhere else in Europe. Yes, there were higher incomes, but there was also a larger gap between rich and poor. We had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe and almost 2,000 rough sleepers every night.

As the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out, those factors too often operate together and feed a cycle of deprivation: the poorest communities have the highest unemployment, the least access to public transport, fewer GPs per head of population and the lowest achieving schools. As he said, that situation was a direct result of the wrong economic and social policies. Previous Tory Governments did not address or take responsibility for the causes and consequences of poverty; the trickle down from economic growth was supposed to be the answer. According to that theory, people who do not succeed have only themselves to blame. That is an eccentric and increasingly minority view.

For the Labour Government, combating poverty and social exclusion has been a priority from the start. A range of initiatives besides the new deal is designed to do so in a variety of ways. The new Connexions service provides a personal adviser for every young person—the focus of this debate. That means a single point of access to advice on careers, health, education, benefits and so on. Other programmes focus on younger age groups to give them a head start in life. That ambitious long-term strategy involves much creative thinking and cross-boundary working by people in government and out of government.

I should like to call attention to the contribution that voluntary sector organisations can make in targeting the groups most in need of help and in fine tuning

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Government programmes to have maximum impact in particular and individual circumstances. I shall focus in particular on the varied and extensive work of the Prince's Trust, which enables 14 to 30-year-olds to develop skills that help them to move forward with their lives. It offers a range of opportunities including training, personal development, business start-up support, mentoring and advice. It focuses on unemployed and under-skilled young people who are in or leaving the criminal justice system or care, who are disabled, parenting alone or facing discrimination. It operates in every constituency in the United Kingdom and has three country offices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, nine regional English offices and numerous local offices.

Since the trust was founded by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales 25 years ago, it has provided funding and support to more than 400,000 young people, including more than 47,000 who have been helped to set up in business. More than 10,000 volunteers and 700 staff, including secondees, work to deliver programmes across the United Kingdom.

I am particularly impressed by the work of the trust with minority groups. As we know, belonging to certain minority groups can lead to higher levels of disadvantage. I am glad that Government financial support for the Prince's Trust is considerable. The Department for Work and Pensions provides substantial financial support for the business programme. However, the trust is keen to work with Government to develop and pilot new services for disadvantaged young people. The Government could make better use of the trust as a source of expertise and, where appropriate, for piloting new initiatives.

The Prince's Trust can do things that the Government cannot easily do. It is well placed to reach out to the most excluded who are often alienated by the so-called official channels. The trust is able to engage with people because it is not seen as part of the Government machine, and has a network of staff and outreach workers who remain close to the ground and to those young people who are hardest to reach. The trust targets specific groups that are more likely to be at risk of exclusion.

The trust also has the freedom to try out new, innovative ideas. It is an informal, enterprising organisation that conducts regular research with young people to initiate new ideas and programmes. That means that it can sometimes be quicker off the mark than Government, and offer speedy solutions to emerging issues or problems. If piloting programmes are successful, they can be taken up by Government. The core work of the Prince's Trust to start business and support personal development has been acknowledged as the inspiration for parts of our new deal, as well as for other things.

The trust pioneered study support centres that became part of Government policy. The new opportunities fund now has a target of 8,000 such centres across the country. More recently, the Excel network of clubs and schools reaches out to year 10 and year 11 pupils at risk of exclusion and aims to reintegrate them into the learning process by offering them an alternative way to learn. Excel is a good

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example of a way in which the Government could partner the trust in delivering supplementary education services.

I welcome and applaud the achievements to date of national and local government and their partners in the business and voluntary sectors in combating the causes and effects of social exclusion, and particularly in tackling the barriers to employment for our disadvantaged young people. I reinforce the message from both sides that future progress depends not only on our thriving economy, or on well designed programmes and funding for them, but on a readiness to recognise one another's strengths and contributions. As in so much innovative policy implementation and development, partnerships are key. Through effective working partnerships between all experts in the area, any initiative can be swiftly modified and adapted to suit local and changing conditions.

We have been good at partnership working in Peterborough; it is part of a proud tradition. I am sure that it will continue in the development of important programmes to assist young disadvantaged people who are such an important plank of economic and social policy. The benefits of our predicted economic growth will then be shared by them, and that includes the residents of Central, Ravensthorpe and Dogsthorpe wards in my constituency.

1.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Clark) on securing a debate on an important subject. Although, as she said, unemployment in her constituency is below the national average, she is right to have sought this debate and to have highlighted issues relating to a particular group of disadvantaged people in her constituency. Her remarks of course resonate far wider than Peterborough, but I understand her natural inclination to comment on the city and in particular the three wards to which she referred.

My hon. Friend hit the nail on the head when she said, towards the end of her remarks, that partnership is the key. We agree it is the key to further progress. Let me make it clear that this Government believe in promoting equality and giving everyone the opportunity to reach their full potential. That includes the people in Central ward and the other two wards to which she referred who are still disadvantaged and cannot play their full part in society by obtaining the jobs and opportunities that they want.

We believe in ensuring that people in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Not having a job is one of the main reasons for low income among people of working age. That has to be tackled. Paid work is the best form of welfare for individuals and families and the most secure means of lifting people out of poverty and dependence. We are determined to continue to bear down on the causes of unemployment and inequality in this, our second term in government.

We have also set out a clear strategy to provide work for those who can work and security for those who cannot. Our goal is clear: to create and sustain employment opportunities for all during the next decade

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in every part of the country. Of course, that includes Peterborough. Our strategy is based around three main priorities. The first is building a welfare state that is active, making work possible and making work pay, rather than just being a passive doler out of benefits. The second is to encourage lifelong learning to ensure that people have the skills and education that they need to play an active role in a modern labour market. It is no longer enough to be able to get one job, because people no longer remain in one job for most of their working lives. They have to be flexible and able to move around. Lifelong learning ensures that they can do that.

Our third priority is to support those most at risk from discrimination and disadvantage by promoting equality and diversity in our work force. Rather than just passively paying out benefits, our task is to deliver a system that works in partnership with individuals, employers and local voluntary organisations, to get people back into the labour market and able to compete for jobs.

Sustaining a strong economy underpins everything that we do, and my hon. Friend referred to that. There are problems and uncertainties in the world economy, but the UK is coping well, not least because we have given huge priority to sustaining a strong economy. The economy is growing, and although the labour market has weakened a little since last summer, activity continues at a high level. Employment is at a record level, with 28.2 million people in work—an increase of 1.3 million during the past four years. Unemployment is at its lowest level for 30 years. That is a real success story, and it has not just happened. This Government have made it happen.

With the support of the new deal, more than 600,000 people nationally have been helped into work. We must remember that the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats opposed the new deal. We should not let them forget that. We now have the right policies in place to deal with change so that those who lose their jobs can return to work quickly, and those who have been out of work for some time or who are disadvantaged can have the chance to reconnect with the world of work.

The measures that we are taking not only help break down the barriers to work but ensure that, when people take up work, work pays. The working families tax credit is part of our first stage of the modernisation of the tax and benefits system to ensure that work pays and that we tackle child poverty. By August last year, the working families tax credit was helping nearly 1.3 million families. The national minimum wage has benefited around 1.3 million workers, of whom 70 per cent. are women. The combination of the national minimum wage and the working families tax credit guarantees that a family with one person in full-time work has a minimum income of £225 per week, or almost £12,000 a year. That is what we are doing to make work pay.

We recognise that more needs to be done, and we have made clear our commitment to increasing and improving the support available to families to make work pay and to tackle poverty further. The working families tax credit is a decisive step towards those goals. The introduction of new tax credits in 2003 is the next stage of reform because it will allow the Government to make further progress in delivering our objectives. The new credits will integrate child support into one

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payment, delivering a simpler, seamless system for all families, in and out of work, and it will extend the principle of in-work support to those without children.

My hon. Friend talked a lot about the new deal for young people, and it is something of which the Government are proud. In the 1980s and 1990s, generations of young people were abandoned to unemployment with little help; what a betrayal of our future that was. Since 1997, we have tackled the waste and damage that comes from youth unemployment. The new deal is giving young people the skills, confidence and motivation to help them find work and improve their prospects. It has already helped 345,000 young people into work nationally, including nearly 700 youngsters in Peterborough.

My hon. Friend made it clear that Peterborough has been doing well. Because we have built a strong economy and introduced measures such as the new deal, claimant unemployment in Peterborough currently stands at 2.2 per cent., which is 1 per cent. lower than the national average. The number of young people unemployed in that constituency has fallen by 35 per cent. to just 421. Of those, only 77 people have been unemployed for six months or more. We are doing well in Peterborough. Overall, unemployment has fallen by more than a third, and long-term youth unemployment has decreased by an average of nearly 60 per cent. The latest figures show that in Peterborough the numbers are becoming very small because there are only about 80 young people who have been unemployed for more than six months—although that is of course 80 too many. We are determined, even in areas like Peterborough that are doing well, to provide a personal service to all those who want to work, and we will join with partners to achieve that.

My hon. Friend referred to two voluntary organisations, Shackleton Associates and the Prince's Trust, that have experience of the local labour market and that are especially active in her constituency. We value partnerships between the Employment Service and such organisations because they can take innovative approaches and know what can be achieved locally. We want to work with them, and we do. For example, we have a valuable partnership with the Prince's Trust in delivering the new deal. It currently holds more than 200 contracts to provide for young people options either as lead contract holders or as sub-contractors. Lead contracts are in place in 136 of the 142 Employment Service new deal delivery units.

Under the new deal options, the Prince's Trust is, for example, involved in delivering a 12-week team challenge programme involving team-building activities, an outdoor residential week, work experience and team projects in the community, and a further 14-week individual challenge programme designed to provide opportunities for further skills development through work experience in voluntary or environmental work. My hon. Friend referred to people who are not job-ready, and that type of work builds confidence and self-esteem, which are essential prerequisites to success in the labour market. It can help people who are at a disadvantage and do not believe in themselves to realise that they have what it takes and should believe in themselves.

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More widely, the Prince's Trust business division is helping young disadvantaged people to set up in business by providing business advice, grants, loans and on-going mentoring support. By giving grants and loans, it offers an invaluable source of start-up capital to young people who cannot find finance from other institutions. More than 47,000 young people have received finance, mentoring and support from the Prince's Trust since 1983, creating more than 41,300 new businesses, and around 60 per cent. of trust-supported businesses are still trading in their third year. That is a fine record and a tribute to the energy and skills of the young people involved and to the professionalism and hard work of the trust.

My Department is match funding the programme. We contributed £5.8 million last year and in the current year our commitment is even greater at £7 million. We are committed to assisting with what works and to making the partnerships work properly at local level. Our agreement with the trust aims to help up to 35,000 disadvantaged young people into self-employment over seven years. We are also working with the trust to promote its programme more intensively to lone parents and disabled people wishing to enter self-employment. We realise that for many of them self-employment is a viable and attractive option, if only they can obtain the start they need.

We are determined to take our strategy forward during our second term of Labour government. We shall not rest on our laurels because we are determined that everyone who can work should have the opportunity to do so, not just those receiving jobseeker's allowance. The majority of lone parents say that they would like to work, with the right support, and the Disability Rights Commission quoted the labour force survey, which shows that 1 million people with disabilities are not in work but would like to be. We want to ensure that those aspirations become reality, and we must build on the new deal to do so. We must provide a personal service to help young people and those at a particular disadvantage to overcome the problems that they face in their communities.

Our new jobcentre plus service, which is operating in 56 pathfinder offices, will give all benefit claimants the opportunity to find out about the help and support available to help them to move into work with work-focused interviews, intensive help from personal advisers and follow-up assistance once they are in work. We are building on the success of the new deal, providing more help for those who need it most and more individually tailored support, and engaging further with employers to ensure that their needs are met.

We also aim to provide more help for those who face the greatest barriers in the labour market. That includes the labour market in places such as Peterborough that are generally doing well. We must ensure that disadvantaged people who are still unemployed are not forgotten because they happen to live in an area that is doing well, and that they can access the help that they need and make a success of their lives by getting into work.

We are aiming to provide more individually tailored support for young people—for example, through more flexible use of the new deal options and more use of subsidised employment, which is the most successful

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route back to work—and allowing them to enter the option on the day that they join the new deal instead of making them wait. We want to encourage even greater employer involvement in the programme, including the introduction of specific new deal provision for the information technology, retail, construction, security and hospitality sectors, and to test the provision of transitional jobs as a stepping stone for long-term unemployed people through the StepUP programme that we announced last November.

My hon. Friend referred to the Connexions service. We continue to roll out the service, which is of particular help to teenagers who are at risk of social exclusion or of being marginalised. It offers integrated advice, guidance and personal development opportunities to all 13 to 19-year-olds in the country and helps them to make a smooth transition to adult and working life. The service also helps young people to review their strengths and weaknesses, to boost their confidence, to recognise their potential and set their goals, and to receive advice on planning to achieve their educational and life goals. It also helps them to obtain impartial careers information and, when required, information and advice on health, lifestyle, housing, financial support and other personal issues, as well as information and access to personal development opportunities such as volunteering, community service activities, sports, arts

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and recreational activities. Fifteen of the planned 47 Connexions partnerships are up and running and the whole of England will be covered by 2003 with Government investment of £420 million for that year. We expect a further 19 partnerships to begin operations in April, including one in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. It will be interesting to see how that proceeds in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Our objective is to ensure that everyone who can and wants to work has the opportunity to do so. Not enough was done in the past and too many people found themselves written off. We shall not put up with that in future. We are offering more support through jobcentre plus and the new deals, tax and benefit changes to make work pay, more help with work preparation and training. Our new approach, backed up by jobcentre plus, will provide a major contribution to tackling exclusion, combating poverty, and providing more opportunity and choice for all. That must be good for Peterborough and vital for the future of the country.

I hope that my hon. Friend will return in due course with an update on what happens in Peterborough, and will be able to say that no young people in her constituency are without jobs and hope.

Question put and agreed to.

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