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House of Commons

Monday 19 October 2009

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Work and Pensions

The Secretary of State was asked-

Youth Unemployment

1. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): How many young people between the ages of 18 and 24 were unemployed on (a) the latest date for which figures are available and (b) the equivalent date in 1997. [293496]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): The youth claimant count rate for September 2009, in the middle of a recession, stands at 5 per cent., the same rate as in September 1997 when the economy was growing. The latest figures show 469,600 18 to 24-year-olds on jobseeker's allowance and 9,800 of them on it over six months. The equivalent figures for September '97 were 385,000 on JSA and 65,000 on it over 12 months, and for September '93, in the middle of the last recession, the figures were 805,000 on JSA and 209,900 in receipt of it over 12 months.

Mr. Robathan: I am not entirely sure that the Secretary of State's figures add up. My memory is getting a bit hazy as I get older, but I seem to recall one of the Labour pledges in 1997 was to reduce youth unemployment through the new deal. That figure is now up to almost 1 million, which is the highest rate ever-the Secretary of State has failed to mention any numbers in that regard. In fact, youth unemployment has been rising since 2005 when I thought we were booming, and not bust as we are now.

Yvette Cooper: If the hon. Gentleman wants to discover what the figures are, I refer him to the Office for National Statistics. I should also like to point out to him the situation in the 1990s, before the introduction of the new deal for young people, when more than 200,000 young people were on the dole for over a year at the peak of the then recession. Today, that figure stands at fewer than 10,000 young people. Youth unemployment is rising in the middle of a recession, as young people are being affected as a result of the world recession and because of that problem we are increasing support, including an investment of £1 billion in more than 100,000 youth jobs, which the hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench colleagues oppose.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing forward schemes such as Backing Young Britain, as we need to focus on that. However, may I ask her to look carefully at some of the schemes that restrict entrance to new jobs to young people who have been employed for a certain amount of time, and which may therefore prevent young people who have not been unemployed but who have been working very hard picking up specific skills, such as in sport and leisure, from taking up key jobs? Will she make sure that such children are not disadvantaged?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right that part of the purpose of the Backing Young Britain campaign is to provide young people with support from the very moment they leave education or lose a job, so we can get them back into work as quickly as possible. A range of support is available for young people at all stages. I think it is also right to provide additional support for young people who have been out of work for many months. We have therefore introduced a guarantee to ensure that no young person should be out of work and on the dole for more than 12 months, because we need to prevent long-term unemployment that could scar them for many years to come.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I have to say to the Secretary of State that her complacency about youth unemployment is breathtaking. Under this Labour Government youth unemployment has reached a record high. One in five young people cannot find a job and we have the highest level of youth unemployment in Europe. At the beginning of a person's working life, any period of unemployment can be devastating. Young people need help to get them into a job, so why are the Government making them wait 12 months before giving them that help?

Yvette Cooper: The right hon. Lady's claim is nonsense. As I made clear in answer to the previous question, we are increasing support by providing additional help for young people from the very moment when they lose their job or leave education. We are expanding the amount of available training and support, and we are investing more than £1 billion in youth jobs, which Opposition Members still oppose. Their stance is baffling. Councils and housing associations across the country all support creating jobs for young people so that they are never again abandoned to long-term unemployment, as they were by the right hon. Lady's party in the '80s and '90s. We think it is right to keep investing to help young people get back into work; her party just wants to pull the plug.

Mrs. May: The Secretary of State talks about extra help being given to young people at an earlier time in their unemployment, but the take-up figures for the young person's guarantee show that only one in 136 young people is taking up the six-month offer; that is 1,550 out of 207,000 young people who have been unemployed for the requisite period of time. Is it not the case that this Government announce idea after idea to grab a headline, but are failing to give the real help that young people need? Is not now just the time for the Government to accept that the real help young people need will come from the Conservatives through our policy of referring young people to welfare-to-work providers after six months?

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Yvette Cooper: I think young people should be terrified at the prospect of help from the Conservatives, when the right hon. Lady's party continues to propose cutting £5 billion from the support for the unemployed and wants to cut funding to the economy in the middle of a recession, something that Professor Blanchflower, formerly of the Bank of England, says would push unemployment up to 5 million. That would be devastating for young people. We should offer support early on and throughout any young person's unemployment, and month after month keep increasing that support. That is what will get young people back into jobs.

Jobseeker's Allowance

2. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): How many people were receiving jobseeker's allowance in Vale of York constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. [293497]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): At September 2009, there were 1,186 jobseeker's allowance claimants in the Vale of York constituency. In September, 285 went on to JSA, but I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that 315 people came off it.

Miss McIntosh: Does the Minister accept that this is a record number of unemployed in the Vale of York, particularly in the 18 to 24 years category? May I remind him that when the Conservatives left government in 1997, youth unemployment was falling? He will have to fight an election on rising youth unemployment-what is he going to do to solve it?

Jonathan Shaw: I think the hon. Lady welcomed the fall in the September unemployment figures in her constituency. As I have said, the off-flow was 315 and the on-flow was 285, and I think that 315 is more than 285. I hope that she will welcome the future jobs fund in her area. The Yorkshire and Humberside tranche has £19 million to support young people in her area, helping them to get jobs. It would be a blank sheet of paper when it came to the Tory policy.

Miss McIntosh: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Owing to that wholly unsatisfactory answer, I would like to apply for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady and the House will be aware that as a consequence of that point of order being raised, any further exchanges on this question are immediately brought to an end. They cannot happen, so we move on to the next question.

3. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): How many people in receipt of jobseeker's allowance subsequently entered employment in the most recent quarter for which figures are available. [293498]

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Jim Knight): In the quarter to September 2009, about 1 million people left jobseeker's allowance. We do not know exactly how many moved into work because there is no requirement for people to tell us, and it would not be cost-effective to use staff time to follow up every case.

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Mr. Cunningham: I appreciate that the Minister has to be cost-effective, but can he give us some idea of how many people remain on JSA and for how long, and what happens to them afterward?

Jim Knight: About 50 per cent. of people leave jobseeker's allowance within three months, about 70 per cent. within six months and more than 85 per cent. within 12 months. Naturally, the vast majority of those are getting into work. There is still plenty more to be done on unemployment, but this party will keep up the investment that has been successful so far in minimising unemployment levels during this recession.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Unemployment in my constituency has risen by more than 100 per cent. in a year and by some 80 per cent. since 1997. What figure is the Minister's Department contemplating as the peak of unemployment in this country, and when does it expect that to happen?

Jim Knight: As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows from his previous work in my Department, we do not make our own unemployment forecasts, but it is interesting to note that the independent forecasters have been downgrading their predictions. I read of one this morning predicting that it would peak at 2.7 million. Meanwhile, forecasters such as Professor Blanchflower are saying that unemployment under the hon. Gentleman's party, with the policies advocated by the shadow Chancellor, would mean unemployment rising to 5 million.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Are we keeping jobseeker's allowance, which is just £64.30 a week, at very low levels to encourage people to enter the workplace? If it had kept pace with earnings since 1980, it would be worth over £100, and if the link had been reintroduced in 1997 it would have been £75. Will he encourage the Chancellor in his pre-Budget report to re-link it to earnings, as the TUC, all the poverty organisations and early-day motion 543 are urging?

Jim Knight: I always listen carefully to my hon. Friend, as a critical friend, and I am sure the Chancellor will also be listening. It is important when considering JSA rates to consider also the entitlement to other benefits that go with it, such as housing and council tax benefit, so it would be untrue to say that that is the only money people have to live off.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Among the jobless in my constituency is a significant number of newly unemployed professionals who have a very long-term record of paying tax and national insurance contributions, and who find that the help available to them is minimal. What more will the Minister do under the newly unemployed professionals scheme, and how many people in this category have been assisted in my constituency?

Jim Knight: We will continue to look at what we need to do for the executive unemployed. As the hon. Lady knows, from day one of unemployment, they have the opportunity for referral to an executive recruitment agency to assist them with job-seeking skills and getting them back into work. In September, 408 people flowed off jobseeker's allowance but 393 flowed on, so the numbers actually fell in her constituency last month; but I cannot tell her how many of those were at the executive end.

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Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): Jobseeker's allowance is one of those benefits whereby when the Department has overpaid because of official error, it has written to people to try to claw the money back. That process has been ruled unlawful, so can the Minister tell us what the Department's practice will be in the future and whether it will be refunding money that has been unlawfully reclaimed from claimants?

Jim Knight: I am sorry to give the hon. Gentleman a dull answer-that is territory with which he is very familiar-by telling him that we are considering the judgment in that case.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Will it not have been depressing for a newly unemployed person to have heard the Secretary of State's response in today's exchanges? Her first response to the unemployment crisis is to reach for the history books and rewrite the statistics from the 1990s. May I take the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform back to the question that his colleague failed to answer about the young person's guarantee? Does not that guarantee take effect at 10 months-his policy and her policy is for 10 months-not 12 months, as she seems to think? [Interruption.] Is it not far too long for a young person to have to wait until they have been out of work for 10 months before they get the help they need? Would it not be far more appropriate for a young person to receive specialised individual help after six months?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have to say to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) that that question was too long as well.

Jim Knight: The hon. Gentleman will know that a range of things are available to people from day one, such as basic skills training and referral to experts in respect of CV writing and so on, and that the young person's guarantee comes into force at 12 months. The future jobs fund, which his party opposes, comes into play at 10 months-so, of course, the Secretary of State was right. He should know that the Tories are the party of unemployment; in this recession, they oppose measures that the International Labour Organisation says saved between 7 million and 11 million jobs worldwide-500,000 in this country-and they are proposing measures that would put the level of unemployment up to 5 million. Time and again the Conservatives have moved people off unemployment and on to incapacity payments-we are reversing that.


6. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Whether she plans to provide any additional financial assistance for pensioners this winter. [293501]

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): This winter, pensioners will again receive an additional payment on top of the winter fuel payment and be entitled to increased cold weather payments as part of a wider package of measures to provide real help to pensioners in the current downturn.

Mr. Hoyle: May I say to the Minister that I welcome that answer and the Government's commitment to support pensioners, especially as it will be a cold winter? Will
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she consider the reintroduction of the £60 winter bonus? Will she have a conversation with the Treasury about that matter?

Angela Eagle: I am always happy to consider any suggestion made by my hon. Friend. During the pre-Budget report period I will ensure that the Chancellor has his attention drawn to my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Many pensioners, including many veterans, qualify for disabled facilities grants from their local councils, but up and down the country far too many pensioners are being placed on waiting lists rather than being provided such facilities within six months, as is the mandatory requirement. Many pensioners are having to wait six months or longer to get facilities installed. Could her Department look into that, because many pensioners would benefit if the Government were to focus on that grant?

Angela Eagle: I am happy to make inquiries as a result of the hon. Gentleman's question. Although this sounds like an issue for the Department for Communities and Local Government, rather than for the Department for Work and Pensions directly, I shall look into it and drop him a line.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Would my hon. Friend pledge that it is not Government policy to revert to the situation that existed prior to 1997, when the only help that pensioners received with their fuel bills was the cold weather payment, whereby they had to be freezing for seven-not five or six-consecutive days and then perhaps £8 was given? We do not want to return to that under a Tory Government.

Angela Eagle: My hon. Friend is quite right. I hope that he will give this Government credit for increasing the cold weather payments last year and this year to £25 a week, because fuel bills have been high. I point out to him that, as I am sure he already knows, a mere £60 million a year was spent on winter fuel payments when we came into office. We now spend £2.7 billion a year.

Youth Unemployment

7. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What priorities she has set for reducing youth unemployment. [293502]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): Young people are being particularly affected by the world recession. That is why we are funding hundreds of thousands of new opportunities for young people to help get them into work, including more than 100,000 youth jobs and targeted training in those areas that are recruiting, such as the care sector. We are also providing more apprenticeships and further education places. The most important priority is to prevent long-term youth unemployment.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: A report from the Prince's Trust, which is widely valued and respected, found that young people without qualifications are twice as likely to seek jobseeker's allowance as young people with qualifications. Can the Secretary of State tell us how Government policies and plans will address that very serious problem?

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