Previous Section Index Home Page

Yvette Cooper: I am obviously very happy to look into the individual case that the hon. Gentleman raises. Across the country, we have provided increased support for training. He is right, I think, to raise the case of a constituent who has been out of work for six months, because the longer people are out of work, the harder it can be to find new jobs. Although new vacancies are being reported all the time, if someone does not have up-to-date skills or recent work experience, it can be
29 Jun 2009 : Column 8
harder. That is why we have provided additional investment in training to help those people. I shall look into his individual case.

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): The Secretary of State has just said that the longer people are out of work the more difficult it is for them to get back into work. Is that not particularly true for young people? Unemployment rates have doubled in Cornwall over the past year. Does that not mean that help, such as training, needs to be introduced and to be available to people before they have been unemployed for a year, so that they do not get trapped in a vicious cycle?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Lady is right that we need to provide help for young people in particular. We saw what happened not only in the early ’80s, but the early ’90s, when effectively we lost a generation to work because of the long-term unemployment among young people. That is why, as well as the future jobs fund, which will provide more than 100,000 additional youth jobs across the country, we want training at an earlier stage. Young people can also benefit from the additional training provided at six months that was introduced in April. It is an additional help to people who need support at this time, in the middle of a recession.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I welcome you to your new role, Mr. Speaker? May I also welcome the Secretary of State to her new position, albeit that I note that she is the fourth Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in two years? May I also note that Lord Freud has been introduced into another place this afternoon, which we welcome?

The Secretary of State talks about more help after six months, but in an economy with rising unemployment and falling vacancies, many people need to be able to retrain immediately. When will the Government adopt our proposal and allow people to retrain, full time, from day one of their claim for jobseeker’s allowance?

Yvette Cooper: I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words. She and I were on the Select Committee on Education and Employment together 12 years ago. It is good to see that she has maintained her interest in these issues. On the question of what training support is provided from day one, people who have lost their job can already get up to 16 hours of part-time training and support from the skills for life qualifications and from the employability skills programmes. Last year alone, Jobcentre Plus referred just over 1 million people for skills and training in the first six months of their claims. A lot of support is provided already for training for people in the early months when they lose their jobs. She asks why we cannot introduce her policies. She would not be able to introduce her policies or most of ours because she opposes the £5 million additional investment that we are putting in to support the unemployed this year.

Mrs. May: The Secretary of State makes all these claims about the amount of help available for unemployed people but they ring hollow, given that, as from today, no new referrals to the new deal will be made across half the country, including in major cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. Why are the Government abandoning the unemployed in half the country?

29 Jun 2009 : Column 9

Yvette Cooper: I do not think that the right hon. Lady understands what the employment programmes are. We have already introduced additional support that is stronger than the new deal in many areas since April. After someone has been unemployed for six months they can get additional job subsidies and additional training support; they can get all kinds of further help that is better than the new deal for adults, which was offered across the country. We are going further; we are introducing the flexible new deal. I must say to her that she can talk as much as she likes about “hollow words”, but the hollow words come from her party, which will not fund additional help for people whom it previously abandoned. We are determined to help these people get back into work, whereas she simply opposes the funding for them.

Jobcentre Plus

6. Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of staffing levels in Jobcentre Plus. [282352]

The Minister for Employment (Jim Knight): As announced in the Budget, Jobcentre Plus will be recruiting up to 10,000 more staff this year, on top of the 6,000 new staff already announced in, and recruited since, the pre-Budget report. Jobcentre Plus is coping well with the increased work load, paying benefits promptly and seeing people quickly to discuss help in finding them work. Every working day, its advisers see 50,000 people to support them in looking for work.

Jessica Morden: Extra help to support hard-pressed staff is welcome, but may I ask the Minister to examine the staffing of phone lines? Many constituents have complained to me in recent months that they have tried for days to get through on phone lines without success and have ended up frustrated at Jobcentre Plus when they have subsequently been told that they cannot have an appointment there and then because they have to call a phone line in order to get one.

Jim Knight: I have had some concerns relating to anecdotal stories such as the ones that my hon. Friend rightly raises with me. I am advised that about 95 per cent. of such calls are answered in our contact centres that deal with them, and that is a good figure by any commercial comparison. However, I am keen to look at this area in more detail to see whether or not we can improve the systems to ensure that people who are claiming can obtain a referral and get an appointment as quickly as possible with Jobcentre Plus.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Perhaps I can help the Minister with his puzzlement as to why these people cannot get through. Since 2002, 520 jobcentres have been closed by this Government—one a week has closed in the past 12 months while the number of unemployed has been rising. Why is that?

Jim Knight: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the jobcentre closures have been suspended in response to what is going on in the jobs market as a result of the global recession. He will also know that those closures were part of efficiency changes designed to make public money go further. If he is saying that jobcentres should be reopened or should remain open, he would need to
29 Jun 2009 : Column 10
find the money for that. Given that his party opposed the £5 billion extra that we are spending to get people back into work, his claims ring hollow.

Child Poverty

7. Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of progress towards meeting the Government’s 2010 child poverty target. [282353]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): We expect to lift about a further 500,000 children out of poverty with the measures announced in and since Budget 2007. We have already lifted 500,000 children out of relative poverty and halved the number living in absolute poverty since 1997.

Mr. Gauke: The question was about the Government’s 2010 child poverty target. Is it not time that they came clean and admitted that it will not be met?

Helen Goodman: Everyone, even the hon. Gentleman, must understand that in the current economic circumstances meeting the 2010 target is a real challenge. However, in the middle of a recession we are continuing to take action, which is why we published the Child Poverty Bill this month. Our approach contrasts starkly with the policies that his party pursued. Had we continued with those—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that we have heard enough about Opposition policy for one afternoon.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): The increase in child poverty in each of the last three years would seem to justify the Treasury Committee’s belief that the Government will miss their 2010 target to halve child poverty by a significant margin. Many of us were hoping to debate the Child Poverty Bill today, but can the Minister tell the House how it will foster enterprise in those areas in which more than half of the working age population are not in work, and what it will do to strengthen families, given that we know that the children of parents who separate are more than a third more likely to be unemployed themselves?

Helen Goodman: As the hon. Gentleman must be aware, the Child Poverty Bill includes the scope for strategies with local authorities to deal with the regional differences to which he referred. It would be helpful if he could indicate whether he intends to support the Bill, which will make a significant difference to children in this country.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What steps are the Government taking to co-operate with the Governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh in respect of their equally ambitious anti-child poverty programmes, especially given that those Governments face cuts, by some accounts, of several hundred million pounds over the next few years?

Helen Goodman: The strategy that will be written under the Child Poverty Bill will be UK-wide, but of course the devolved Administrations are free to make their own choices in the areas of health and education. The decisions they make are a matter for them.

29 Jun 2009 : Column 11

Jobcentre Plus (Over-50s)

8. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): What support and training Jobcentre Plus offers people over 50 years old to assist them to re-enter employment. [282354]

The Minister for Employment (Jim Knight): We are increasing the range of back-to-work help for unemployed people of all ages, to meet every jobseeker’s individual needs. This support includes the Jobcentre Plus rapid response service for those facing redundancy, and extra help after six months of unemployment. For those who are still unemployed at 12 months, we are introducing individually tailored help via contracted providers.

Shona McIsaac: Is my right hon. Friend aware that last Thursday Corus announced substantial job losses, which include 500 managerial and technical staff at their works in Scunthorpe? What will be done for people in that sector, given that they tend to be a little older, to help them to get back into the workplace? Has he considered devising some sort of apprenticeship scheme for older workers?

Jim Knight: Clearly I am aware of the sad news for those individuals of the Corus job losses, including the 500 at Scunthorpe that come on top of 93 already announced. I am aware that the profile of many of those jobs is professional, technical and managerial. Through our rapid response service, we have made contact with Corus in Scunthorpe and we will go in to offer help, including signposting older workers into training so that they can refresh some of their skills prior to becoming redundant, so that they can get back into work as quickly as possible. Apprenticeships for older people are an interesting idea. I am meeting the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs later this week and I will have a chat with him about it.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): So many more people are now going through jobcentres that the personalised service for people over 50 seems to be getting lost. What is the Department doing specifically to ensure a focus on getting the over-50s back into work?

Jim Knight: My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable in this area, and she knows that it is important that we pay particular attention to the problems that older workers may have in getting back into work and to any age discrimination that may exist. We need to work with employers to break down some of their misunderstandings about the business gain that may result from employing workers from the rich pool of talent of those aged over 50. Part of the more personalised approach that we are taking to advice in Jobcentre Plus is to understand what talents are available in individuals and how some niche training can help them. That can be available from day one, but it is certainly available as part of the six-month offer, in which we offer a training allowance to all workers. That is a vast improvement on the situation under the new deal.

Future Jobs Fund

10. Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): What estimate her Department has made of the proportion of future jobs fund jobs that will come from the third sector. [282356]

29 Jun 2009 : Column 12

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): We are strongly encouraging the third sector to make bids to the future jobs fund. We believe that there is great potential in the third sector to deliver good jobs that help the community and provide important training and work experience for young people.

Mr. Borrow: Last month I arranged a job summit in South Ribble with a number of partners. We are seeking to make a bid in the first round of the future jobs fund at the end of this month. One of the issues raised at the meeting was the fact that many voluntary sector bodies, charities and small businesses employ only a handful of people, and therefore would not be eligible to apply individually to the future jobs fund. South Ribble seeks to bring a number of partners together to support small businesses and bodies in the charitable and voluntary sector that employ people in ones and twos. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that bids made by such partners will be acceptable?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. May I congratulate him on the work that he does on the subject, to support jobs in his constituency? We want partners to come together to put forward proposals. That includes drawing on not only small businesses but small charitable organisations and other kinds of small groups that may be able to provide help. We set up the programme as we did in order to be able to deliver very rapidly more than 100,000 youth jobs, with a further 50,000 for the most deprived areas. It is an ambitious programme, but we think it is the right one, given the need to support people through a difficult time as a result of the world recession.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): What response will the Secretary of State make to the Centre for Cities report, published last week, which shows that the future jobs fund is quite inadequate for dealing with the likely number of youth unemployed, which will rise to approximately 350,000 by the end of 2011? That rise will have a big impact in places such as Sunderland, Barnsley, Swindon and Peterborough. What action is the Department for Work and Pensions taking to ameliorate the concerns raised in the report?

Yvette Cooper: It is exactly in order to prevent long-term youth unemployment, and long-term unemployment across the board, that we are investing in measures such as help for people who have been out of work for six months, and additional support for people from the very day they lose their job. If we can start bringing unemployment down faster than it came down in the early ’80s and early ’90s, it helps not only families who would otherwise be scarred by long-term unemployment but the wider economy and the public finances. That is why it is right to make that investment. The hon. Gentleman’s comments would be rather more credible if he and his party supported the £1 billion future jobs fund, which is so critical to giving opportunities to the young people he mentions.

Employment Programmes

11. Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of her Department’s programmes aimed at assisting people into work; and if she will make a statement. [282357]

29 Jun 2009 : Column 13

The Minister for Employment (Jim Knight): Over the past decade, the new deals and employment zones have led to a major transformation in employment support for long-term jobseekers, helping more than 2 million people to move into work. Our active labour market policies have helped to reduce the number of lone parents on income support by more than 290,000 since 1997, and the number on incapacity benefits by 160,000 from its peak in 2003. Our benefit reforms and the success of our employment programmes mean that the numbers of people on benefit are not escalating as they did in the last recession.

Mr. Hepburn: Although I appreciate all the efforts that the Government have made on the issue, the Minister will appreciate that in certain parts of the country, such as Tyneside, there are areas where persistent and stubborn unemployment is far greater than in other parts of the country. Will he tell us what he intends to do to try to solve that ingrained problem?

Jim Knight: My hon. Friend makes sure that I do not forget the particular problems that his constituents face in Jarrow, and those faced in the area around his constituency. Through the working neighbourhoods fund, and particularly through the future jobs fund, I hope he will be able to engage with us and continue to act as a strong advocate for his area. I hope he will ensure that we take advantage of the £1 billion future jobs fund, which Labour Members are supporting, to make sure that we get as much activity going as possible, and get real work—real sustainable jobs—in his area.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister will have seen, I hope with alarm, reports in The Observer newspaper suggesting that there is widespread fraud among those in the private sector who are supposed to be assisting people into work. He will perhaps know from constituents, as I do, of job creation schemes that are frankly job substitution schemes. What action is he taking to root out that fraud wherever he finds it? Will he ensure that we think very carefully before there is any further privatisation of that service?

Jim Knight: Naturally, we take any incident of fraud extremely seriously. We have robust systems in place to discover incidents of fraud, as has happened in the majority of cases that are being reported. One provider was highlighted by The Observer yesterday, and I am aware of another. To my knowledge, there is no evidence of any systematic fraud on the part of those providers. Indeed, the private sector providers have got 250,000 people into work. Those are individuals with whom Jobcentre Plus has been working for a considerable period and has not managed to get into work, but thanks to payment by results, we are getting good results from the private sector providers.

Jobseeker’s Allowance (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

12. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): How many jobseeker’s allowance claimants there were in (a) the UK and (b) Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. [282359]

Next Section Index Home Page