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The hon. Lady asked about the advancement and careers service, and it does refer to the same concept. My view was that the idea of a careers service sounded
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much narrower than the practical support that many people want, which will also address child care support, disability access issues and housing issues, all of which may be as significant an obstacle for an individual as the obtaining of a qualification.

The hon. Lady raised some good questions about the design. As I said in the statement, I want to see about 10 prototypes across the country, because I do not want to prescribe the approach from the centre. We will need to link up Jobcentre Plus with colleges—but different areas have different patterns of local voluntary sector advice services, for example. I hope that local authorities will make various proposals for the best way to achieve an integrated service, and I am sure that they will involve the voluntary sector.

On the issue of accreditation, vocational qualifications are moving towards a system of unitised credits, so it will be possible for someone to put together a vocational qualification having done part of a course here and part there.

That is attractive and sensible. However, it is not sensible for us to start putting a lot of money into completely unaccredited courses that cannot contribute to an overall training or qualification record for the individual. Despite what is often said by advocates of unaccredited courses, there is little evidence that they are helpful in enabling people to get into work or stay in work.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): During the Queen’s Speech debate on training, Cabinet Ministers said that every young person would have a legal right to an apprenticeship. Today, my right hon. Friend said that increasing the number of apprenticeships in England from 250,000 to 400,000 would be subject to high quality employer places being available. Will he assure me that if not enough apprenticeships are available in the private sector the numbers will be made up in the public sector?

Mr. Denham: I can certainly tell my hon. Friend that we want significant expansion of public sector apprenticeships. Some parts of the public sector, including the Ministry of Defence, have a tremendous record in providing high quality apprenticeships; others, including some but not all local authorities, the health service and so on, provide relatively few. We shall want to encourage such provision in any case. We hope to achieve the legal right for young people by 2013. However, I do not want to mislead the House; we could achieve the 400,000 England total without actually reaching the full number we would need to meet the young person’s guarantee—that will take longer on any trajectory. I do not want to achieve the numbers of apprenticeships at the cost of quality, so it is right that we always caveat the target. We have put aside the money, a major review of apprenticeships is going on and a draft Bill on apprenticeships will be published later this year setting out our plans. All that will be aimed at ensuring we get the number of apprenticeships we want as well as high quality. There is no point in giving young people a guarantee if it is not a guarantee of something they actually want.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Earlier, in seeking to dismiss the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), the Secretary of
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State significantly did not mention the number of advanced apprenticeships. Can he inform the House of the number of advanced apprenticeships over the last few years and tell us what plans he has for those schemes? A lot more people will reach level 2 qualifications, but if we are really serious about building skills for the future we need a lot more people to do an awful lot better than they do at present.

Mr. Denham: We need to remember that this is all relative; there were only 75,000 apprenticeships when the Government came to power, but there are 250,000 now. The completion rate for level 3 apprenticeships was not good and we have massively increased and improved the completion rate for level 2 apprenticeships. One of the issues the apprenticeship review will examine is options for an increase in apprenticeships at higher level. As a step in the right direction, in our recent guidance to the Learning and Skills Council we asked for 30,000 new apprenticeships—10,000 a year—aimed specifically at over-25s who want to retrain or up their skills to a higher level. I think that will be the first time provision has ever been made for a dedicated apprenticeship service for over-25s.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May I ask the Secretary of State about one of the most excluded groups in Britain—teenage mums? As he knows, we have the second highest level of teenage pregnancy in the world and the highest in Europe. All the evidence suggests that girls who underachieve at school are the most likely to get pregnant under the age of 16 or 18 and that those who become teenage mums are the least likely to complete their education. Will my right hon. Friend consider launching a particular effort to try to cut teenage pregnancies by increasing educational opportunities?

Mr. Denham: I am sure my hon. Friend is right. It is an issue that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls), is pursuing with the Department of Health. It is enormously important. It is also important that there is the possibility of a second chance for teenage mothers so that, having started a family much earlier than they had planned, or possibly wanted, they can still get back into the world of work. One of the reasons why we want the new advancement and careers service to reach into places such as Sure Start children’s centres is to make it clear that there are options to go back and train and to have a second chance to gain the skills and qualifications that were missed at school. We must make sure that such advice is available in the places that young teenage mothers are likely to go and where they are likely to be with other people who can support them to take up a training option even if they missed out at school.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Does the Secretary of State not accept that his Prime Minister actually appreciates the achievements of the Thatcher Government despite what is said by those on the Government Benches? It is important to understand that.

Does the Secretary of State not also accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) that secondary schools underplay and underestimate the importance of vocational training,
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which is now provided in the main by colleges? What extra money is therefore being given to the colleges of further education, such as Macclesfield college, that do so much to provide the skills that are required by the industrialists and the commercial companies of this country?

Mr. Denham: Vocational training should obviously be properly recognised in every part of the education system. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has brought forward proposals not only to introduce but to extend the range of diplomas, which for many young people will be able to bring together academic and vocational studies. It is also one of the reasons why the machinery of government was reorganised to give the Department for Children, Schools and Families a clear focus on 0 to 19-year-olds and particularly on 14-to-19 policy. It is very important that there is a coherent plan in each area for the different routes available to young people at 14 and that must include the option of a good vocational education, including the option of a pre-apprenticeship in school and going on to an apprenticeship at 16. I hope that the effects of these reforms overall will be to ensure that all children receive guidance that a vocational course is a very good course to take if it is right for their skills, aptitudes and ambitions.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): My constituents in Blackpool will very warmly welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the abolition of the 16-hour rule, about the extra help for small and medium-sized businesses and particularly about the support for lone parents, of whom there are high numbers in this country. However, does he agree that the reskilling of older workers in particular is as vital as upskilling? To that extent, will he confirm that, as part of the overall approach, the Government are looking to have an all-age strategy for advice and guidance and, in so far as they are able to do so, they will make it clear to local authorities with budgetary considerations that they should do likewise?

Mr. Denham: First, I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done on the issue of skills, particularly as part of his leadership of the all-party skills group.

Of course, this is not purely a strategy for younger members of the work force. Everybody will recognise why a priority is given to lone parents and to under-25s because of the long-term costs to them of being locked out of the world of work and becoming totally dependent on the benefits system. However, the overall approach has to apply right across the work force. That is one of the reasons for creating apprenticeships aimed directly at the over-25s, and it is another reason for changing the “train to gain” system so that it can include those people who already have a level 2 qualification if their employer is taking part in “train to gain”. The advancement service is clearly there for them as well.

The challenge of getting the work force that we need in this country by 2020 means raising skills right across the work force. Some 70 per cent. of that work force have already left school and the grim truth for our economy is that we cannot achieve the skills levels that we want by focusing solely on those who are currently in school or have left school in the past few years.

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Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Are the Government going to withdraw benefit if someone refuses a training place or a job on offer?

Mr. Denham: We have said today—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has said it—that it has been agreed that there will be pilots for mandatory training. That will come in after six months if a personal adviser is, first, convinced that somebody should undertake a skills health check and, secondly, that it would be directly relevant to them to get training. Although the details have to be worked on, I suspect that it will also take place after somebody has refused to take up the offer of extended support, such as up to eight weeks of full-time training with a training allowance. Most people in the House would take the view that the system should operate to provide people with every possible bit of advice, encouragement and support to go back into training, but there is a point at which somebody has to say, “If you haven’t taken the opportunities, you can’t expect not to do anything about it.”

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North) (Lab): I welcome the thrust of my right hon. Friend’s statement, but I take exception to one point. There is absolutely no evidence that moving lone parents to a JSA regime will produce the effect that has been mentioned. His last words, about encouraging people to participate, reflect the right approach—not being punitive. Is he aware that the big four supermarkets employ 600,000 people and 200,000 a year leave—most of them are women and a large percentage are lone parents—because they are given no skills, no encouragement, no training and no prospect of advancement? What does that say for the skills pledge that all those companies have signed?

Mr. Denham: The detail of the proposals to lower the age—the children’s age—at which lone parents can continue to claim income support, and other changes to the JSA regime, were consulted on in the summer. The Department for Work and Pensions has just come to the end of the consultation period and will deal with the detailed issues that my hon. Friend raises when the results of that consultation are announced in due course. However, there are things that most people will welcome in today’s announcement—particularly the roll-out of the employment retention allowance, part of which is aimed at dealing with the sort of short-term problem that can force a lone parent out of the labour force, when otherwise they would keep their job. It is sensible to get lone parents to focus on their skills needs well before the time when they might potentially lose their entitlement to income support. So there is a period of two years during which, by definition, the children will be at school—there will be extended schools to cover the hours—and the lone parent will have time to gain qualifications. Those changes to the regime are sensible and will have a positive effect on the lives of many lone parents.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party welcome, in particular, the changes to the 16-hour rule. Any further investment in skills is very much welcome too. The Secretary of State said that claimants will be helped to gain core skills, including English language skills where needed.
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Welsh language skills are occupational qualifications for many jobs in Wales. Will the Government make extra, consequential help available to the National Assembly to take on this extra burden?

Mr. Denham: This is one of those moments when my gratitude for the fact that this is a dissolved responsibility— [ Interruption. ] Not dissolved, devolved. This is one of those moments when my gratitude for that fact knows no bounds. However, I will draw the matter to the attention of the relevant colleagues.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): The statement contains a number of useful initiatives, but will my right hon. Friend say a little more about the 16-hour rule? That rule has been a barrier not only to young people, who have not been able to fulfil their potential by getting back into education, but to people who have lost their jobs. Up until now, we have sent out a ludicrous message by telling them to retrain and then cutting their benefit if they do. How are the changes intended to work, not just for those on incapacity benefit, but more broadly?

Mr. Denham: First, on incapacity benefit—an issue on which many Labour colleagues have campaigned for a long time—we have said that we will remove the 16-hour rule in relation to housing benefit completely for short-term recipients of incapacity benefit so that they, like long-term IB claimants, will always be able to take up the training they need to return to work. We will consider whether it might be practical to define limited exemptions from the 16-hour rule for specific groups such as young people living in supported accommodation—an issue that has been pushed strongly by the Foyer movement. In addition, under the JSA regime, there will be the possibility that after the six-month point has been reached, the DWP or the Jobcentre Plus advisers will have greater discretion to offer a training allowance for up to eight weeks of full-time training, where that is judged clearly to be what an employer needs to get an individual back into work.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State clarify whether it is still the case that people who have enormous difficulty in reading, writing and counting can still be in receipt of JSA for six months without any requirement that they receive help in upgrading those skills? Is that not a real worry, given that two thirds of all JSA claimants each year—around 1.6 million people—are making repeat claims, so many claimants are going in and out of work before the six-month period, with very low skills?

Mr. Denham: One of the reasons for ensuring that the initial skills check is more rigorous than the current check is to ensure that those whose basic numeracy and literacy problems have not been tackled in the past are correctly identified and directed towards the areas where they can receive assistance. We have also said, and I said this afternoon, that further down the process, we will pilot mandatory training for those whose personal adviser judges that that is the major obstacle to getting somebody into work. In doing that, we will look at the experience that we have gained from a prior attempt to pilot the scheme, which did not
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produce a big return to work. We believe, though, that particularly with the development of the employability skills programme that was introduced jointly between my Department and the DWP just this August, we are clearer about the type of work-related training that can successfully deliver the very skills to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and therefore make the piloting of mandatory training more plausible than it may have been in the past.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): In the Westbourne ward in my constituency, 83 per cent. of all children are growing up in workless households only a mile from the west end, not because those people lack ability or because they lack motivation, but because of the multiple challenges of high housing costs, high child care costs and a mismatch between skills and the labour market. Will my right hon. Friend consider areas such as that being used as a prototype to test various measures, and in particular to examine the issue of job sustainability? It is not entry into the labour market, but keeping work that is the problem. Will he undertake to examine why some areas and some groups of people face particular problems maintaining themselves in work?

Mr. Denham: I pay tribute to the high level of work and sustained commitment that my hon. Friend has given to this area of interest. I cannot say this afternoon where the prototype areas for the advancement service will be, but I am sure that if the right group of people could be put together locally, we would certainly be interested in proposals coming from her area. She rightly identifies the complex set of issues that individuals often have to face in moving successfully into work. Rightly, I have emphasised to the House this afternoon the importance of skills, but I have also emphasised that often it is not skills alone that will make the difference to somebody’s ability to progress.

It is worth my reinforcing what I said in my statement about our overall aim—that is, we will ensure that long-term unemployed lone parents and those on incapacity benefit are better off in work, even after reasonable transport costs. That will be done by ensuring that long-term benefit claimants moving into work will see an increase in their income of at least £25 per week for, I think, a six-month period. That commitment and the changes that will be made to implement it will be significant in my hon. Friend’s area.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): I understood the Secretary of State to say that there would be up to 500,000 improved and more rigorous skills health checks a year. Can he, in conjunction with his Secretary of State colleague, assure us that there will be sufficient people with the ability and skills to carry out those skills health checks, that the checks will be rigorous, appropriate and not peremptory, and that they will be supported by people and advisers who know not just about job placement, but about careers development and the educational attainments that are appropriate to the scheme? If there is to be a single skills result, there must be a multi-skills offer for those people.

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman has made a constructive point, which relates to one of the reasons for having a number of pilot or prototype areas. There
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will be different ways of bringing together in local areas people with the various skills that he has described. We need to invite people to suggest the best ways of achieving the aim that I have set out this afternoon.

To be clear, two types of skills checks are being talked about. One is the original, simple—although hopefully more rigorous than it is today—skills check for the new claimant to identify their basic skills needs. The 500,000 skills checks or health checks for those in work and the other 500,000 for those out of work are the more comprehensive assessment, which would look at everything—existing vocational qualifications and skills needs other than basic numeracy and literacy. Rather more will be taking place than the hon. Gentleman took from my earlier statement.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): The Secretary of State’s announcement this afternoon, with all its meaty proposals, stands in stark contrast to the lightweight proposals on the skills agenda that have come from the new Scottish National party Government in Scotland. Like many others, I welcome the abolition of the 16-hour rule in housing benefit; that was acting as a real barrier against people with disabilities getting back into the workplace and into training.

Has the Secretary of State looked at the physical barriers against disabled people going into training? There is an excellent access to work scheme that helps disabled people going into work to get adaptations or equipment that they need to access the workplace. Is it time for an equivalent access to training scheme, which would help disabled people to get into college or university for whatever training they need, so that they can upskill and get into the workplace?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend has made a good point. With others, my Department has to publish a single equality strategy, and I assure her that as part of that we shall look again to ensure that we have identified the issues that she has raised and to see whether further things should be done. My hon. Friend has made a valuable point and she is certainly right to pay tribute to the access to work programme, which has helped many people.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a great deal of difference between an inability and a disability, and that British citizens who do not speak the English language have an inability, not a disability? If he agrees, what progress does he think he will make on the issue in the next 12 months? What target has he set himself for getting people who do not speak English, and who are unable to work as a result, into the workplace?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman will know that we have recently made a couple of important changes to the English for speakers of other languages arrangements. First, we want to ensure that the budget, which is three times as big as it was just four or five years ago, is better targeted and that those who can afford to pay, and should reasonably be asked to, make a contribution towards the cost of their training. We want to do that to make sure that we target those in greatest need.

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