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Employment Initiatives

11. Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of initiatives to get people to move from temporary to permanent employment since 1997. [160846]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): Since 1997, the number of people in permanent jobs has risen by nearly 2 million while the number of people in temporary jobs has fallen by 250,000. Temporary work as a share of total employment in the UK is the lowest of the major EU economies, at around 6 per cent. compared with, for example, 13 per cent. in Germany, 15 per cent. in France

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and more than 30 per cent. in Spain. That achievement provides further clear evidence of the success of the Government's labour market policies, built on the principles of creating a framework of macro-economic stability; designing legislation to protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged; ensuring that work pays through the national minimum wage and tax credits; creating an adaptable productive workforce with the skills employers need; and encouraging and supporting economic activity.

Mr. Wright : I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that response. I congratulate the Government on the initiatives that have certainly decreased unemployment levels in my constituency of Great Yarmouth. Long-term youth unemployment has fallen by 75 per cent. since 1997. However, one of the feeder sectors for employment are the training providers, and the great concern at present is that the initial success is gradually fading away. We need more encouragement for employers, who have been marvellous in bringing forward some of these initiatives.

Would my hon. Friend offer some comfort by telling us whether further initiatives might be set up to encourage employers to participate in both training and the new deal programme that has already been so successful?

Maria Eagle: I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is well known for the efforts he makes to reduce unemployment rates in his constituency and for the interest that he takes in the matter. It is true that although there has been a massive fall in long-term youth unemployment in his constituency, there is still a problem in the area. I hope that the roll-out of Jobcentre Plus in his constituency, which has taken place over the last year, will mean a better and more sensitive engagement with local employers to ensure that they are properly matched with local young people who want jobs, so that employers have staff with the skills they need and the remaining unemployment problem in my hon. Friend's constituency can be dealt with further.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a particular problem for those who go back to work after suffering a bout of mental illness? Is my hon. Friend likely to reconsider the relationship between the therapeutic earning rules, part-time paid work and the eventual move to a permanent wage, so that if things go wrong at any stage, people will not completely drop off the face of the earth but can come back into work? Will my hon. Friend consider that?

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend refers to the permitted work rules under incapacity benefit. I can assure him and other Members, who have written to me on the subject in some numbers, that we are evaluating the impact of those rules and will be considering whether they have achieved what we hoped for when we changed them. There is no doubt that we shall be looking into whether more can be done, so I hope that will assist the people to whom my hon. Friend referred.

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12. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What plans he has to help people make informed choices about their retirement. [160847]

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): Last month, we set out the Government's strategy for informed choice. I mentioned earlier the importance of combined pension forecasts, another aspect of which is to maximise membership of existing schemes. It is particularly sad when workers have the right to join occupational schemes but do not make use of their right. We are thus exploring options for that, including auto-enrolment, active decision making and a commitment to save.

Mr. Cunningham : I noticed that, as part of my hon. Friend's proposals, he intends to use the national curriculum. Can he tell us how that will work?

Malcolm Wicks: Obviously, I could do so in great detail. Drawing on my knowledge as a former Minister for Lifelong Learning, I am aware of the importance of citizenship as an aspect of what is known as personal, social and health education. In the teaching of mathematics we should do our best, without over-egging the pudding—we shall not turn every 14-year-old into a pension expert; otherwise I should ask them to join the Conservatives—to raise concerns about financial literacy and the importance of saving.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): Surely, to enable people to make informed choices, the Government must spell out in greater detail the impact of their massive extension of means-testing. For example, I am sure it is not well known that the already miserly 25p allowance for the over-80s is—astonishingly—subject to means-testing in relation to the pension credit. We need more information about those astonishing and shameful positions adopted by new Labour.

Malcolm Wicks: The hon. Lady just has not got it, has she? Why draw on the history books to talk about 25p? Why not use this opportunity to inform her constituents about the importance of the extra £100 for all Scots in households where someone is over the age of 80? In fairness, the hon. Lady should present a balanced picture. What we are doing on pension credit, winter fuel payments and television licences is of great benefit to hard pressed people in Scotland—and in England and Wales, too.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage) (Lab): What measures is my hon. Friend taking to maximise the financial literacy of carers—especially women carers—to inform them about the benefits of the state second pension?

Malcolm Wicks: For several decades, home responsibilities for young children, for example, have been recognised. We are now making advances for carers. It cannot be right that people who might have to give up work completely to do the job of being a carer—where would we be without the army of carers?—may face as a consequence, not a reward, the possibility of poverty in their own old age. The state second pension,

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which will benefit some 20 million people in total, and especially those on low pay, will be of particular benefit to an estimated 2.5 million carers. Carers need more rights. We have done a lot as a Government, but perhaps we need to do more. However, the state second pension is a major development.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I speak as a person who defines youth as anybody who is younger than a year older than I happen to be, but who recognises that time is racing ever faster. Do the Government intend to give help and advice to those of us who are voluntarily not seeking re-election about informed choices on retirement? If they do, may I suggest that it would be helpful to have confirmation that the next election will be held on Thursday 5 May next year?

Malcolm Wicks: I have been told the date, but I have not brought my diary with me, so I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I cannot believe that he is even thinking of retiring. I urge him to be age positive, to have an active old age and to take part in voluntary activity—the local Labour party always needs some help.

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): I highly commend the efforts that are currently being made to help people to make informed choices, but does my hon. Friend share any of my concerns about a group of married women who assert that they were unable to make informed choices when they moved on to the small stamp many years ago? They say that their husbands encouraged them to think that they could always rely on their stamp, and that they were encouraged by bosses to think that that was right. The money that they paid out then was wasted, and of course they would need it for their day-to-day outgoings. Does my hon. Friend have some sympathy for, and any proposals to help, women who find themselves in a bad way on pensions because of that lack of information?

Malcolm Wicks: If there is any evidence that people were deliberately misled and did not sign the form, we will examine individual cases. The women who signed up to pay the married woman's stamp, as it was then called, now feel a sense of grievance. However, if we took action on that, I ask my hon. and learned Friend to consider what other married women who also write to me would say. They did not have that money in the purse or the pocket, but they paid the married woman's stamp, so there are difficulties. Many of our policies are designed to address the impact on hard pressed women in old age, which is why the state second pension will be important for a new generation and why pension credit is important now. The credit goes to the older elderly, and two out of three people to whom it goes are women, because of the inequalities that they faced during their working lives.

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