Previous Section Index Home Page

29 Jun 2009 : Column 14

The Minister for Employment (Jim Knight): In May 2009, there were 1,516,921 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Great Britain, and 1,416 in the Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency.

Mr. Crabb: Unemployment in my constituency has gone up by more than 100 per cent. in the past 12 months. One piece of good news is the new RWE gas-fired power station, which will create 2,000 jobs during its construction phase at the site in Pembroke. My constituents well understand that Ministers cannot guarantee jobs for British workers, let alone Pembrokeshire workers, but what steps has the Minister taken through his Department and through Jobcentre Plus to ensure that people in my constituency are at the front of the queue for the construction and engineering jobs being created at that site?

Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman is clearly right: as a result of the global recession—the first global recession for many years—unemployment has risen, but he will of course have noted that long-term unemployment has fallen by 94 per cent. in his constituency, and long-term youth claimant unemployment has fallen by 73 per cent. in his constituency. The important thing for us is that we have a sufficiently active welfare state to turn people around when they become unemployed and get them back into work as quickly as possible. Thanks to the welfare reforms that the Government have put in place, we have made good progress on that. As for getting his constituents to the front of the queue, I continue to meet my colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and work through some of those interesting issues.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): In constituencies such as that of the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) and in mine, where technology has removed many jobs from the petrochemical sector, there have been structural changes over recent years that have required a change of approach by everyone—local authorities, the Department and employees in the community. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he works closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the structural changes that are going on are supported by the Government, and that we see moves into the new kinds of jobs as quickly as possible?

Jim Knight: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that reassurance. In my new role I will be working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government. One of the things that I am particularly keen to pursue is the opportunities created by bringing together skills and business in a single Department so that we can ensure we are keeping pace with the sort of changes that my hon. Friend mentions, and linking them into the employment work that we do in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Jobseeker’s Allowance (New Forest, West)

14. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): How many jobseeker’s allowance claimants there were in (a) the UK and (b) New Forest, West constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. [282361]

29 Jun 2009 : Column 15

The Minister for Employment (Jim Knight): In May 2009, as we have just heard, there were 1,516,921 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Great Britain, and 963 in the New Forest, West constituency.

Mr. Swayne: That figure of 963 has increased faster than the comparable figure in almost any other constituency in the land, principally because of the large number of small businesses that are located in the New Forest, many of which have very good order books but have cash flow problems. Were the zombie banks able to lend to them, they would have survived. Does the Minister agree that if the Government had got on the case and had a much more impressive loan guarantee scheme on the books earlier, those businesses would have survived?

Jim Knight: Certainly I am aware of the increase in the claimant rate in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He can give statistics based on proportions that start from a very low base; I can give him back statistics based on the actual numbers, which make the picture look slightly better. On his substantive point, it is important that the Government support small businesses. I, myself, ran a small business for 10 years before entering Parliament, and he will of course have noted and been pleased that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs helped more than 100,000 businesses by allowing them to delay their payments to it. That is far more effective than what he has talked about—and probably does not have the money to fund.

Mr. Speaker: Ms Keeble.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Question 15, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I was calling the hon. Lady on Question 14.

Ms Keeble: In relation to people in the building industry claiming jobseeker’s allowance, real problems have been raised in my constituency about their ability to obtain it because of their special employment status. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that and agree to meet me to discuss their problems further?

Jim Knight: It is always a delight to meet my hon. Friend, and I should be very happy to do so in this case; it will be a relief not to have to talk about the problems of the schools in Northampton when I do. There is clearly an issue for large numbers of construction workers who are self-employed and have chosen to pay class 2 rather than class 1 national insurance contributions. That decision removes their right to some entitlement-based jobseeker’s allowance, but I am happy to discuss the issue with her. She will understand that there is a basic principle involved, but I hope that her constituents understand also that, thanks to the Government’s accelerated introduction of capital spending, the public sector is doing a lot to help the construction industry.

Topical Questions

T1. [282370] Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

29 Jun 2009 : Column 16

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): Tomorrow marks the end of the first round of bidding for the £1 billion future jobs fund. The information that we currently have leads us to expect several hundred bids from a range of organisations: local authorities in particular, heritage organisations, third sector organisations and other groups. They are proposing jobs in a range of sectors, including green jobs, public services and housing. We are also seeking further bids over the summer because we want to create 150,000 jobs throughout the country. Shortly, the Prime Minister will set out in his statement further steps that we are taking to ensure that young people are not left behind and that another generation is not lost to work.

Mr. Hollobone: At a time when businesses have enough on their plate, is it not unethical, underhand and an abuse of taxpayers’ money for the ethnic minority employment task force in the right hon. Lady’s Department to send out false job applications with foreign-sounding names to try to smear businesses with allegations of racism?

Yvette Cooper: That is simply not an accurate description of what is happening. In fact, the task force has funded a research project to look at whether there is discrimination in particular areas as part of its work to ensure that people from all ethnic minorities get on, find jobs and have proper opportunities in work.

T3. [282372] Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Speaker.

People with disabilities are very keen, even in this challenging job market, to be able to continue to look for jobs, and the welcome that they receive in job centres is central to that. Will my hon. Friend assure me that people with disabilities are dealt with properly, and that access issues are dealt with, so that wheelchair users achieve access and are dealt with as we would expect to be dealt with?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): I thank my hon. Friend for that question. There are disability employment advisers in each job centre, and they are able to advise potential employees about a range of support programmes, including the access to work programme that I referred to earlier, which will double over the next few years. There is an additional £8 million this year. Indeed, we are striving to assist people who are furthest from the labour market, including people with mental health issues and learning disabilities. There will be no let up in helping disabled people to get into work.

T4. [282373] Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Minister for Employment will be aware that, according to last week’s figures, the rate of unemployment is growing twice as fast in Scotland as it is throughout the UK. Indeed, in my constituency, we have seen a 74 per cent. increase in 12 months. Does he agree it is absolutely crucial that Governments in Edinburgh and London work together to tackle the growing problem of unemployment in Scotland? What contact has he had with Scottish Government Ministers to tackle it?

29 Jun 2009 : Column 17

The Minister for Employment (Jim Knight): The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right: we need to ensure that the Government in Westminster work closely with the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, to tackle unemployment. He will be pleased to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be in Scotland next week. She will meet Fiona Hyslop, the Minister, to discuss those matters.

T5. [282376] Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): In June, the director for enterprise and business at Remploy invited senior managers to a hotel in Leeds for a brief training course, lasting from 12 until 4.30, followed by a black-tie dinner, an overnight stay at a hotel, a non-business speaker and a race evening. Would it not have been more appropriate for that public money to have been spent on helping unemployed disabled people in constituencies such as mine, which has a Remploy factory, rather than on jollies for Remploy business managers?

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. It has been alleged that the event cost £50,000, but she will be aware that that is not the case—the cost was more like £14,000. The hotel fee was about £120 a night, which I think hon. Members would consider a reasonable amount. MPs and others have been requesting that the sales team improve; the event brought together all the work force and sales team so that they could get additional sales. That was the purpose of the day.

At the end of the evening, there was a non-business speaker—a Paralympian motivational speaker. The focus of the day, however, was on improving sales. That is what my hon. Friend wants in Bridgend and what we all want in Remploy factories across the board. It is right that the company should focus on improving sales; if it was not doing so, I am sure my hon. Friend would have other words to say.

T6. [282377] Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected, on the basis of DWP figures, that expenditure on social security and tax credits will increase by 1.7 per cent. per year between April 2011 and March 2014. Do Ministers accept those assumptions? If they do not, do they have alternative numbers?

Yvette Cooper: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the IFS does its own analysis. As he will also know, we do not set forecasts for unemployment. However, we are clear that the more we invest at this stage to help people back into work, the faster we can bring unemployment down. That will cut social security bills in future and allow us to provide more investment in important public services—unlike the Conservative party, which would prefer to make public sector cuts.

T7. [282378] Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): This year, Conservative-controlled South Ribble borough council has cancelled its apprenticeship programme, and I have been trying to persuade it to reverse the decision. Is there anything that my right hon. Friend can do to help me to provide the council
29 Jun 2009 : Column 18
with some incentive to help young people in my constituency into apprenticeships, perhaps through the future jobs fund?

Yvette Cooper: I am disappointed to hear that from my hon. Friend. We hope that not only his local council but councils across the country and organisations in the private and public sectors will work with us to help young people into training and employment at this critical time. We want to expand the apprenticeships scheme and we are working to get as much support as possible for it and for the future jobs fund. I shall be happy to talk to my hon. Friend further about the issue because the Local Government Association generally supports the future jobs fund. It is working to support additional bids for the fund and for apprenticeships across the country. That makes South Ribble borough council’s pulling out of apprenticeships all the more disappointing. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is quite a lot of chuntering going on, mainly by people who have just entered the Chamber.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Ministers will be only too sadly aware that the United Kingdom has the highest level of youth unemployment in Europe and that the figures are likely to be added to during the summer, as many thousands of graduates leave university and look for work. Can the Minister help me to tell my constituents what advice and help will be available to them as they try to find a place in the job market?

Jim Knight: As I said earlier, young people, like others, are affected by the worldwide recession. It is worth noting, however, that long-term youth claimant unemployment is still 56.6 per cent. lower than it was in 1997. We are being successful in quickly turning around people, including young people, who are becoming unemployed. The hon. Lady will be aware that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, he announced an internship scheme in order to help graduates leaving university. Over the summer we will be talking more about that, as well as other opportunities for school leavers, including the September guarantee, which the hon. Lady’s party opposes.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I think those on the Front Bench are well aware that the biggest problem is pensioners’ entitlement to allowances and benefits, millions upon millions of which, however it is dressed up, go unclaimed each year. What more are Ministers going to do to ensure that those pensioners get the money they are entitled to?

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Angela Eagle): Take-up of pension credit is close to 70 per cent., and that has taken 900,000 pensioners out of poverty. Since 1998-99, there has been a reduction from 29 to 18 per cent. in the proportion of pensioners on relative low incomes. We continue to do all we can to encourage take-up of pension credit among those who are entitled to it. I would be happy to assist my
29 Jun 2009 : Column 19
hon. Friend in doing what he can in his own constituency to get every single pensioner who is entitled to claim pension credit claiming it.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment. Will she agree to receive the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who I am delighted to see on the Front Bench, and me to discuss the plight of the 70 Equitable Life victims whom we met at a meeting in my constituency just two weeks ago?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman will know that as a result of the Treasury’s response to the parliamentary ombudsman’s report, Judge Chadwick is looking into the circumstances around the events at Equitable Life in order to be able to provide additional support for the people who have been affected by them. I am sure that the Treasury will keep the House informed.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): It seems that more and more of my constituents who were previously employed full time are getting new jobs with employers but on a self-employed basis. That puts the employer at a great advantage and the employed at a severe disadvantage, especially if they become sick or seek jobseeker’s allowance. What are the Government doing to stop this nonsense?

Jim Knight: Clearly it is important that those individuals are well represented if they are being forced to do things against their will, and I hope that they are members of trade unions so that they can receive that kind of representation. Those who are self-employed need to take good advice on whether they could volunteer to pay class 1 or class 2 contributions. Those who opt for class 1 contributions should then pay in so as to be able to claim if they need to as a result of becoming unemployed.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): Will Ministers agree to meet a delegation from Cambridge to discuss the deeply disappointing result of the broad market rental area review for Cambridge, which means that hundreds of Cambridge residents will continue to be in a position whereby their housing benefit is forcing them to move out of the city—a situation that the valuation office says results from the state of the legislation, not any discretion on the part of that organisation?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): The hon. Gentleman may be aware that we will shortly be publishing a Green Paper on housing benefit. When we do, we will look at
29 Jun 2009 : Column 20
how to create a system that combines efficiency with maintaining work incentives and is fair to people across the country.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of the jobseeker’s pledge that my hon. Friend the Minister for the West Midlands launched today in Stoke-on-Trent to create 250 apprenticeships in the public sector in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire. Will he give me an assurance that the Department for Work and Pensions and jobcentre staff will do everything possible to ensure that we get local apprentices in those local jobs?

Jim Knight: I certainly did note the announcement by the Minister for the West Midlands, and I pay tribute to Staffordshire county council, Stoke-on-Trent city council, Staffordshire fire and rescue service and Keele university in particular for coming forward with apprenticeship pledges. It is crucial that we integrate skills and employment more, and I hope that the bids for the future jobs fund—the £1 billion fund that the Conservative party opposes—will include bids for apprenticeship places as part of that integration.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The jobcentre in Macclesfield is working exceptionally hard to get people back into work. Would that HBOS, a bank bailed out by the taxpayer, would do the same. It appears to be more interested in taking in administrators undertaking the liquidation of companies, because of the big fee that they get, and working in cahoots with an asset-stripping company. Will the Government do something about getting banks such as HBOS to be more sympathetic and understanding about saving jobs rather than losing them?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government did a lot to ensure that the major banks did not crash in the autumn, which would have put people’s savings at risk and would of course have had major job consequences and wider, catastrophic consequences for the entire economy. He will know, too, that regional Ministers and the regional development agencies are continuing to work with the banks that are going through restructuring, to support jobs in every part of the country.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the work of Jobcentre Plus, which he will know is doing considerable and laudable work across the country in advance of redundancies being made, as well as to help people who have unfortunately been made redundant and need help and investment to get them back into work.

Next Section Index Home Page