I found the report fascinating for its comprehensive analysis of the array of issues arising from young people’s prospects for employment. Some of the statistics are clearly worrisome. Despite not having been a member of the committee—or, I confess, having read the report as thoroughly as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, clearly did—I should nevertheless like to take the opportunity to flag up two groups of young people that are of particular concern to me.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, said:

“I think it is probably the first time, at least since the Second World War, that a new generation faces the future with less confidence than the previous generation”.

The report also states that,

“as at February 2014 the seasonally adjusted rate of youth unemployment across the 28 EU Member States … stood at 22.9 per cent, more than double the overall unemployment rate of 10.6 per cent”,

although I believe that these issues do not arise just in the European Union states; it is a global phenomenon.

The report goes on:

“The current high levels of youth unemployment in the EU are not solely a consequence of the 2008 global financial crisis and the ensuing recession … For some Member States, it is due more to underlying structural issues in the youth labour market that have been accentuated by the financial crisis”.

It notes this welcome news:

“Youth unemployment in the UK is not as high as it is in some Member States”.

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The UK Government acknowledge that youth unemployment is “serious” but stress that it,

“has been consistently below the EU27 average”.

The report also points out that,

“Eurostat figures show that … the UK’s unemployment rate is above that of Member States with which it might traditionally compare itself economically, such as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands”,

as has been stated by a number of noble Lords.

I should have liked to see the report make some reference to the condition of minorities in the various European states. It would have been interesting to draw some comparisons—for instance, how Muslim groups experience access to employment, and how discrimination is a barrier to youth in employment, access to apprenticeships, mentoring and work placements. With that in mind, I flag up the consistently high unemployment rates among Bangladeshi men and women in the UK, even among graduates from that community, notwithstanding that many are living in the shadow of high-earning City high-flyers. From my brief reading of the report, it does not break down any details about the position of minority communities in the EU so it is difficult to form any opinions about the particular factors impacting on employment in certain communities. Although I am confident about the life chances for young people from minority groups in the UK and that they are likely to fare better in comparison, it would have been useful to have some context for the position of other European countries vis-à-vis people from minority groups—for instance, how the Turkish community fares in Germany and the Algerians fare in France.

The report makes a number of recommendations about funding streams, as has been mentioned, and highlights good practice. It suggests that the European regional development fund can provide support to small and medium-sized enterprises for innovation, new business start-up and entrepreneurship, which could be open to young people; it could support job creation for different skill levels, thereby increasing employment opportunities for young people; and it could support SMEs in taking on apprenticeships and training placements.

I agree entirely with the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, about the importance of mentoring projects. For about five years I led and chaired a group called the People into Management Network, which worked specifically to develop mentoring connections for graduates within the minority community. We worked for three years with 500 young women in particular, and that led to an amazing transformation of their lives. It enhanced their opportunities, and their confidence, to access employment that was available to them.

European Council funding for youth employment is also available. It is a specific and dedicated budget to address increasing opportunities for employment. The report suggests some reluctance from the UK to utilise some of the European funding available. Esther McVey MP, the Minister of State for Employment, has said that,

“the primary responsibility for tackling youth unemployment rests with the Member States”,

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while the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, argues that the problem of youth unemployment,

“should be addressed by people who live in an area, know it and understand it”,

and that such funding should be used where the unemployment rate is 25% or over. I agree with many of these sentiments. The unemployment rate among Muslim young people in particular is indeed above that threshold, so I hope very much that at least for this group some of the European provisions can be utilised.

I also note our own scheme, which has also been mentioned in the debate: the Youth Contract, the Government’s flagship programme, also aims to reduce youth unemployment and provide opportunities for education, training and work experience. Alongside these, there are many other examples of good practice across our cities, where local partnerships with businesses, local authorities and statutory and private sector programmes are providing opportunities to benefit young people and help them to find their feet in the workplace.

As we survey the sunny uplands of economic growth and some good news about rising employment, a dark cloud continues to hang over our many forgotten citizens. The statistics that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has celebrated belie the exclusion of vulnerable groups from the workplace, which we must address. It is a matter of economic literacy and social justice.

This brings me to the second group I should like to highlight. I refer specifically to people living with disability. Research suggests that only 15% of people with autism are in full-time employment. Two years ago the noble Lord, Lord Freud, eloquently lamented the hundreds of thousands of adults with autism who leave education wanting to work but are not given the opportunity, not,

“because they don’t have the skills, the commitment, or the drive, but because many employers just don’t understand the benefits of employing someone with autism”.

In response, he launched a business-led initiative to help autistic people into work. I ask the Minister exactly what progress has been made since he launched the Untapped Talent programme to increase employment among the one in 100 in this country with autism. The report makes disappointingly brief reference to the experience of people with a disability. Paragraph 89 states:

“The successful provision of support to young people to prepare them for work demands a holistic approach centred around the individual. Key issues specific to each individual, such as their access to transport, the need for a safe and welcoming environment at home and in their workplace, criminal records, learning difficulties and other personal considerations need to be taken into account”.

On many occasions in this Chamber we have heard that, as we educate more and more of our young people to degree level, the youth unemployment rate is persistently low. We also know that there are many parts of the UK where access to jobs, training and work placement remains patchy. Careers advice remains inconsistent and inadequate in too many schools. For disabled children, the situation is dire. Too many are written off before they have even had an opportunity to try. Will the Government commit to ensuring that

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disabled people are covered in any extension of the job guarantees offered by so many of our European counterparts?

However, I concede that work is not for everyone at all times. Regrettably, some in our society are not in a position to cope with full-time employment. I read with great sadness the case of Mark Wood, who died last year at the age of 44. He suffered from mental health problems and had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Unlike his doctor, Atos, contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions, declared him fit to work. His benefits were cut off, and four months later he was discovered, having starved to death. As benefits are cut, what will the Minister do to ensure that those with disabilities, including autism, are assessed correctly and, if able to work, supported into jobs? Will he reiterate his commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities who are able to work are fully supported to do so, and that they are helped into jobs by jobcentre staff who are adequately trained?

Individuals must be matched properly. Will the Minister assure the House that specialist support will be provided to vulnerable individuals such as Mark Wood, both at the point of their assessment and when moving those affected into work? We are wasting talent and we are stifling diversity. A diverse workplace is associated with happy workers and successful outcomes for all. Our economy and the fabric of our society will benefit enormously from action on behalf of all our citizens regardless of their colour, race, faith and disability.

9.24 pm

Baroness Hooper (Con): My Lords, as a new member of the sub-committee last year, I was pleased to be able to discuss the choice of subject for the latest report and agreed wholeheartedly that the issue of youth unemployment was the one that caused the most concern, affecting the whole of Europe, and that it was vital for all our economies to tackle this issue anew in the wake of the economic crisis. The inquiry has justified this decision. A focus at EU level has been worth while, even though most of the causes and solutions have to be dealt with at local level, country by country and often at regional or local level in each country.

Today’s debate has also underlined the importance of the issue as well as the extent of the problem. I agree with much of what has already been said. The process of preparing the report has been fascinating. I, too, congratulate my noble friend the chairman on the way that she outlined the background to the report and the main facts and conveyed the flavour of the discussions and debates that took place in the committee as a result of the many excellent sessions when we took evidence from a wide variety of witnesses. I also thank the committee clerks and our expert for their support and advice. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Shipley and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, who were not members of the committee, feel that the report is sufficiently comprehensive and wide ranging. I hope that it will make a valuable contribution to illuminating thinking on the problem.

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I wish to focus on two aspects. The first is the use and relevance of European Union funding. I draw attention to chapter 3, paragraph 48, which points out:

“EU funds are limited in comparison with the scale of the crisis”.

It therefore seems that it is of the utmost importance that funds are used effectively and efficiently, not to subsidise existing national approaches and national funding but to try something new and then to evaluate it in the way that we recommend in paragraph 52. Criticisms are sometimes made about the system for obtaining Brussels funding. There certainly are defects in the system, which is complex and slow. Much of this we can control ourselves, as applications for European Union funding, whether made by national or regional bodies or by the voluntary sector, start in this country. My experience as a Member of the European Parliament was helped by the fact that in those days we had single-member constituencies. Mine was Liverpool. The committee made a useful site visit to Liverpool, which has been referred to. It is detailed in appendix 4. My experience dates back to the establishment of the Social Fund in the early 1980s. There was an active voluntary sector in Liverpool—remember, this was just after the Toxteth riots—and I was already in contact with many organisations. There was also severe youth unemployment. It was before the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, did his stint at the European Commission. In fact the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was then looking after Social Fund issues. I was able to set up seminars, conferences and teach-ins which explained how to go about obtaining funding from the then new Social Fund. This was especially relevant for the voluntary sector. The result was that Liverpool projects received well over 50% of all the funding available to the whole country. Things have changed since then, but that proves the importance of the role of local bodies and decentralisation and that if people are well informed about how to deal with these applications, they can go ahead and achieve things. European Union funding may be available, but if we do not claim it, we will not get it.

The other area of the report which I wish to underline is skills mismatch and careers advice. On the former, the statistics have already been quoted by my noble friend Lady O’Cathain. She also emphasised the extent of the problem. Chapter 5 covers the ground very clearly. However, a number of our witnesses commented on the poor quality of careers advice at schools and universities. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Liverpool has just made a valuable contribution on this. It has always been a concern of mine. I attended a recent meeting in the City of London at which the issue of youth unemployment was raised as a major concern for the leading companies that were represented there. They also pinpointed the need for better careers advice as part of a solution. The role of school governors was discussed, and it was felt that more could and should be done to encourage business and industry to become more involved. In this context, it was suggested that middle management, as well as governors, could act as mentors to encourage school leavers to consider careers of which their careers advice teacher might have no experience. It was even suggested that this could form part of the key performance indicators programme, which struck me as a good idea.

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The whole issue struck a chord with me because the Education Reform Act 1988—which, as the then Lords Education Minister, I took through your Lordships’ House—was the legislation which first encouraged business and industry to become more involved in the governance of their local schools and universities. Clearly, legislation alone is not enough and there is a need to persevere in encouraging this to happen so that young people have contact with and advice from potential employers in their area. It is also important to be aware of what other European Union countries are doing to tackle unemployment and to share good practice. To be able to do this is an important element and benefit of our membership of the European Union.

For the many other matters that I would wish to refer to, I feel that I must leave the report to speak for itself. I commend it to your Lordships.

9.31 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity briefly to intervene and thank the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, her committee and the team for their work. This is one of the most important issues that we face today. We have a generation, not only in Europe and the UK but throughout the world, of young people unable to dream of or aspire to any particular career, but in many ways wasting their lives. It can be a cause not only of great despair to them but of great danger. Where we have unrest, we have what comes from that unrest, which is a danger to democracy itself. I thank the committee for this report.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has just mentioned careers advice. That is why I am intervening: to make sure that we realise how important it is to have the best advice possible in our own country. At a time when we are cutting school budgets and so on, we must in no way demote careers advice and the guidance and mentorship in our schools which comes from that. It is so important that we can somehow give every child the best possible advice—and not by simply sitting him or her in front of a computer. There must be somebody who cares and understands, and possibly has a family in the same sort of situation. That is vital. That could of course lead to Jobcentre Plus, and I would like to know exactly what the link is between that and careers advice in schools. We must put this at the top of the agenda.

We should look not only at youngsters but at young people who want a second chance at their careers—who perhaps took the wrong road in the beginning, thinking that it would be easy. I could say that of myself: in school I chose Welsh instead of French because I already spoke Welsh. It was the easy way out. So often, we can make those wrong choices in our lives.

There is a lot more to be discussed, but this report is a step in the right direction. As other noble Lords have mentioned, the unemployment situation is not a level blanket across the country. You have places in the north-east and the valleys of south Wales, even though they are not included in this list, where the need is far more desperate than elsewhere. I looked at this list and there is such a difference between Wolverhampton and Wokingham: in one area you have possibly three times the unemployment rate of the other. In the

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north-east we have 25% of young people unemployed, whereas it is 15% in the south-east—so we need to prioritise.

We must not forget the other areas. How we do it, I do not know, but John Wesley would say, “Go to those who need you most”. That is my sort of thinking on this issue, and I thank noble Lords for giving me the opportunity to join in.

9.35 pm

Lord McAvoy (Lab): My Lords, I would like to associate the Opposition Front Bench with the tributes paid to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, to all the members of the sub-committee and to the staff who supported the members in producing the report.

Youth unemployment is certainly a grave issue that confronts the entire nation. This report should remind the coalition Government of their obligations to our young people. In a way, it vindicates the proposals set out by the Labour Party on our compulsory jobs guarantee as a contribution to providing a proper solution to this blight.

However, that is probably the only party-political point that I will make—I do not promise and I use the word “probably”—because, once again, I am impressed by the work of the House of Lords and its committees. The independence shown by the committee chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, and the other members shows that it is completely counterproductive to try and force Ministers into a corner by making political points in this place. This place is unique, and I am coming more and more to appreciate its traditions because it works and I like things that work. In this place the style of operation works. The House of Commons, the other place, is a place for the heat; this place is the place for the light, and we have certainly got it in this report.

The problem is a stark one. While the fall in youth unemployment is to be welcomed, the current figure is still too high and large discrepancies exist among the different regions of the UK. Areas in the north-east and in places like Grimsby and Bradford are youth unemployment black spots—places that have been forgotten. To what extent, then, will the Minister take steps towards combating the regional disparities in unemployment?

This report highlights a number of significant recommendations which the Minister would be wise to heed. Hopefully, it shows him that the current approach stands accused of failing young people, not just in terms of employment, but in terms of their conditions of employment. The current strategy, while appearing to deliver results, does not reach far enough and the quality of work provided must be called into question. The report highlights the need to ensure proper conditions of work to prevent a situation arising in the labour market where an increase in casual labour among young people leads to exploitation.

A situation has been allowed to arise where there is a rising tide of insecurity at work. I totally condemn zero-hours contracts. I do not accept that there is anything good about them at all. I know some young people who are on zero-hours contracts and it makes them feel under-valued, unappreciated and at the

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beck and call of employers. It is not a good way of convincing young people to make a positive contribution to society.

The Government could be accused of making it easier for companies to exploit a young and vulnerable workforce. The proportion of young people in low-paid jobs has substantially increased, with the unemployment rate for low-skilled young people sitting at 37.2% in 2013. We have a pool of readily available, low-skilled, low-paid labour, which can be used and abused by dropping in and out of employment.

The effects of that type of employment cannot be underestimated. It may deliver “results” in the long term, but will leave a terrible scar in the minds of many of the young people involved in the long term. Can the Minister try to reassure the House that the fall in unemployment among young people is not in part the result of the large increase in precarious and casual labour contracts of the kind previously mentioned?

The report is also clear on the drawbacks of the Government’s Youth Contract in comparison to the Youth Guarantee. Here I declare an interest as a small—a very small—employer. The bureaucracy involved in trying to claim youth wages, which I am trying to do at the moment, is quite obstructive. If I am finding it difficult, other people must be finding it difficult, too.

The Government’s overall focus on the demand side of employment, on waiting for the market to deliver a solution, is affected by a dogmatic belief that the market alone can provide and that everything that comes from the European Union is bad. I have not been a great fan of the European Union myself, but we have to be fair—it seems that quite a lot of good ideas have come from it. In tackling youth unemployment, those ideas should at the very least be looked at.

It is also interesting to note that the report highlights a “mixed response” concerning the consultation with young people. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, already referred to the impact of speaking to young people. The British Youth Council highlighted the marked lack of engagement by the Department for Work and Pensions, noting that it was not as “diligent” in its engagement.

A far-reaching process, which takes a proactive and innovative approach, is required. I hope that my party is trying to produce a solution both nationally and locally. A shining example locally of such innovation can be looked to in Bradford. With the “Get Bradford Working” programme, Bradford Council is delivering on the ground, providing jobs, routes into work, apprenticeships and industrial centres of excellence, and providing training and education. Nationally, Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee would, I hope, lead to real change, especially in those areas left behind, which need change most. We cannot afford to see a generation condemned to the slag-heap by wasting fresh and vibrant talent both socially and economically. The type of local innovation seen in Bradford, coupled with Labour’s jobs guarantee, would deliver for people right across the country, showing that there is a better, fairer and more effective way of battling against the scourge of youth unemployment and providing a recovery not just for the few but for the many.

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I will comment in particular on what was, I am sure, the spontaneous pincer movement on the Minister conducted by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, and my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. I accept that it was spontaneous, but nevertheless, that is how this place works, and how it is working now. I add my voice to theirs in asking for the Minister to consider a small programme, using European Union money, which responds to the committee’s report. That would show the flexibility required to demonstrate that at least an effort has been made and that something different has been tried. Given that the suggestion comes from such weighty people as the noble Lords I mentioned—and, I hope, from all the members of the sub-committee—I hope for a positive response from the Minister.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, made four recommendations, on consultation, best practice, management schemes and a better approach to matching skills to qualifications. Again, I support those recommendations to the hilt. I hope that the perhaps surprisingly conciliatory tone of my speech has added to the pincer movement.

9.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): My Lords, as always, this has been a very high-quality debate, which I have very much enjoyed. I am very grateful for what has clearly been really hard work from this committee to put together a really interesting summary of these issues. I need to add my thanks to my noble friend Lady O’Cathain for running that work so well; I heard the tributes and the appreciation from the rest of her committee.

As noble Lords know, we have responded formally to this report and several noble Lords were able to pick out what we were saying, despite the fact—I need to apologise for this; I only discovered it this afternoon—that we actually sent out to colleagues a completely unformatted version of the response. I have taken steps to repair that so there will be something noble Lords can actually read. I am very impressed that many of them managed to do so anyway. I am sorry and I shall ensure that they get appropriate hard-copy versions. I do not know quite how it happened, but it did.

Let me start off by setting out where we are today. We have made really good progress on youth unemployment, and that has been particularly the case over the past year. As the economy begins to pick up, we are starting to drive out the cyclical rise in youth unemployment that we saw in the recession. The youth claimant count has fallen for the past 30 months and overall youth unemployment has been falling since last summer. Excluding students, it now stands at 565,000 youngsters. Of those leaving JSA—in response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel—about two-thirds go into work; others go elsewhere because the young move very dynamically.

We still face really big challenges. Long-term youth unemployment has risen in the recession and it remains at more than 100,000 people above the pre-recession level. We have, though, seen a welcome drop in that

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particular figure over the past seven months, but it is vital that we maintain the trend. Through the Work Programme and Youth Contract, we have put in place about the most comprehensive response to long-term unemployment that has ever been seen.

As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said this evening, this is actually a structural set of issues with really deep roots. Even before the recession, more than 1 million young people were neither working nor in full-time education. That is why we are addressing those long-standing structural issues through our reforms to education and skills and by improving access to apprenticeships.

As the report explains, unemployment among young people is a really serious problem in many pars of the EU. Clearly the source of this is diverse and is different in different countries, with origins in structural or cyclical effects, or some combination of the two. It is important, as many noble Lords said tonight, to recognise that the structural causes of unemployment are issues that are most effectively tackled by individual countries and not by a one-size-fits-all solution.

Just to pick up the related point on what is happening in different parts of Europe and the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on regional differences, 90% of the fall in the year that we have very happily seen in the youth claimant count has been outside London—so we are seeing some real regional responses.

There was concern, particularly from my noble friends Lord Liverpool and Lady O’Cathain about a skills mismatch. In 2010, we were left with a system that was simply not delivering what it should have for our young people. I know that noble Lords will have heard me talk about the Wolf report, which is one of the most interesting and disturbing reports that I have ever read about the situation in this country. It concluded that the system that was in place was,

“failing at least 350,000 of our 16-18 year olds, year on year”,

with substandard vocational training.

Improving access to quality training remains a key challenge, and it is one that we are facing up to. We are improving the standard of vocational training in this country and we are expanding apprenticeships. We are committed to tackling youth unemployment. Taken together, our package of labour market interventions, programmes and reforms tackles both structural and cyclical unemployment. This programme is supporting young people to equip themselves with the right skills to succeed. As the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said, we need to be more ambitious—and we are not complacent. We cannot be complacent at this stage. There is more to do to support young people into work, and we are committed to building on some pretty outstanding improvements.

On the numbers issue raised by my noble friend Lady O’Cathain, we now have 65,500 youngsters starting a job based on the work incentive programme. The payments come a little bit later. We have 275,000 young people taking part in our work experience and pre-employment training, with 146,000 taking part in work placements and 48,000 in sector-based work academies. Some 390,000 young people have joined the Work Programme, and 89,000 have now got sustained employment.

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On the point from my noble friend Lord Liverpool on entrepreneurs, the figures for that were just published today. There are now 8,280 18 to 24 year-olds with mentors on those schemes, and 3,370 are on the allowance.

Clearly, there is more to do. Universal credit, because of the way it is structured, will give young people under 25 in-work support for the first time and will encourage young people to try their hand at different jobs, while providing responsive and continuous support as they move in and out of work. That will become a really important support for youngsters as they do that necessary experimentation to find out what they enjoy and want to take forward as a career or job interest.

The Government will reduce the cost of employing young people by abolishing from next April basic rate employer national insurance contributions for people aged under 21. We are trialling new help for young people, including intensive support for 16 to 17 year-old NEETs not in receipt of benefits. We are piloting new, day 1 help for unemployed 18 to 21 year-olds to improve English and maths skills. To help schools to better meet their duty to provide independent careers advice, we are strengthening statutory guidance and developing the role of the National Careers Service. Ofsted will also be giving a higher priority to careers guidance in school inspections. We accept the point from my noble friend Lady Hooper that employers have an important role in course design by providing placements, sponsoring students and so on.

In response to my noble friend Lord Liverpool’s very pertinent point, the DfE is strengthening the teaching of digital skills in schools by replacing ICT with computing from September this year. We have introduced traineeships, which are available for young people aged 16 to 23 inclusive. These consist of pre-employment training, a work experience placement with an employer and English and maths training to GCSE level 2 for those who need it.

We have now got NEETs down to the lowest level since we started to count them in 2001, so the number now sits at 53,000 16 to 17 year-olds. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, wanted to get hold of that figure, produced by the ONS from the Labour Force Survey, and I am quoting the fourth quarter of 2013, which is the latest figure. There is a big change coming in that area. That young area has been a weakness as we raise the participation age. That is, in the spirit of new bipartisanship of the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, something that both sides have agreed on. Participation age goes to the end of the academic year in which people turn 17, and from summer 2015 this will be until their 18th birthday.

We are giving young people support when they need it most, referring 18 to 24 year-olds to the Work Programme early to keep them from becoming long-term unemployed. We have talked a lot tonight about apprenticeships, which already stand at 1.7 million with a goal of 2 million. I am not being complacent but we are not in the same situation as much of Europe. Our youth unemployment rate is well below the EU average and, for those who have left education, the UK has the second highest youth employment rate of the major EU economies, behind only Germany.

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I should point out that Germany does not have a Youth Guarantee but has developed its own approach. While we learn about good practice, a point made by several Peers, we know that member states of the EU with the lowest youth unemployment, such as Germany and the Netherlands, have good vocational training systems. We know from their experience that our reforms to apprenticeships and broader vocational training are the key to our reducing our youth unemployment in the longer term. That is why we are putting so much emphasis on that.

Let us look at the EU Commission’s proposed Youth Guarantee. Our view is that this is a response with its eyes too much on the past, dealing with the immediate consequences of the recession and not addressing the structural problems that it is vital we tackle now. That is why we do not believe that this is the way forward. The Youth Guarantee is the type of rigid approach that we have tried and has failed us in the past. It has not been fully implemented elsewhere—except, recently, in Finland—and it has not worked here when we have looked at schemes such as the Future Jobs Fund, which have performed no better than the work experience schemes but at much higher cost. Therefore, we are not clear that the guarantee represents good practice.

It is vital that we help young people to experiment in the labour market and try out different jobs. All our policies, from universal credit to the Youth Contract, embody this approach; the Youth Guarantee does not. It is not flexible and does not meet the test we set ourselves of offering the right help to the right people at the right time.

I assure noble Lords that the Government do not intend EU funds to subsidise existing national measures but to complement them by addressing local needs. In England we are allocating the majority of relevant EU funding to local enterprise partnerships—so the funding will be used locally—which we think are best placed to offer that tailored support to young people. I think there is common ground there between us and the committee’s report. We believe that this decentralised and flexible approach is the best way to target young people who are most at risk. Indeed, noble Lords will have heard me talk about our local support services framework, in which the DWP is working with local authorities to build the partnerships that will provide holistic support for people who need help before they can enter the workforce, particularly as regards their underlying problems. We are expending enormous effort in doing that and using funds from a variety of places, including the ESF.

The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, referred to Untapped Talent, our autism initiative introduced a couple of years ago, which she remembers so well. Our Disability Confident campaign, which she may remember, embraces a wider context and seeks to ensure that employers are aware of this valuable labour resource, which they may not have concentrated on enough in the past. We are ramping up support for the disabled within Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme. One of the things that I am most keen to get right is our support for people with mental health issues, and we have introduced a series of mental health pilots.

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I should like to take a moment to reflect on the EU Commission’s views of our programme. The Council of the European Union agreed to the Youth Guarantee recommendation in April 2013, one year after we had implemented the Youth Contract. We responded to this recommendation, setting out in detail how the Youth Contract and other policies address the important aim of reducing youth unemployment.

The European Commission recognises the success of our programme. In its annual draft country-specific recommendations this month, the Commission noted:

“The United Kingdom continues to address the challenges of unemployment and underemployment as well as the specific issues related to youth unemployment”,

and urged us to,

“maintain commitment to the Youth Contract”.

While I am not in the habit of looking first to Brussels for inspiration, I am happy to receive such an acknowledgement of the path we are taking.

I again thank noble Lords for their excellent contributions. I think that I have covered all the issues that were raised. I hope noble Lords agree with me that it is clear that we need to stay the course with our programmes to tackle youth unemployment. We have a long-term economic plan and it is working.

10.04 pm

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I thank everybody who has taken part in the debate. I particularly thank my noble friend the Minister. I gave him a slightly hard time—only slightly. I can be much more ferocious than that. His response was very good but, in listening to it, I reflected how confusing this whole issue is. We have so many different ways of looking at it. If I were 17 years of age with not much educational background, I just wonder how I would react having listened to this debate. Perhaps I would say, “There are the people in suits and dresses saying they are going to do this and that”. The Minister mentioned about 20 different and confusing areas that could solve the problem. Is it not just all too confusing? The final point that my noble friend made about the Youth Guarantee and the Youth Contract did not reflect the letter that I saw, which was much more along the lines of, “Oh well, okay, the Youth Contract is all right”, but people in Brussels were still saying that they really wanted the Youth Guarantee. Perhaps we should have another discussion about that.

In the mean time, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I certainly want to say to my noble friend Lord Shipley that I am sorry he thought that the report was depressing. The fact is that it is a depressing situation.

Lord Shipley: I am sorry but I said that it was an impressive report, not depressing.

Baroness O'Cathain: I am sorry. That is the second time “sorry” has been mentioned in this House tonight. It is nice to be able to say sorry.

The situation is actually depressing throughout the EU but there are shafts of light coming in. One of the great things about the report is that it is not political.

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We did not mention parties and tried to work for the good of the youth of the whole European Union. We should, in particular, use the experience that can be observed in the member states and test it out to try to solve our own horrific problem—because it is a horrific problem. I go back to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s analysis in his maiden speech the other day. We have to remember that.

The Minister neatly glided over the situation regarding local enterprise partnerships and did not say whether he was prepared to consider whether they should consult young people, in groups or individually. We received most of our really good evidence from talking to those young people. After all, it is the young people

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who count. That is why we are doing this and why I hope we have made a difference to the future of these young people by exposing a lot of the stuff in this report.

I thank again all our staff. There are so many thanks going around this Chamber but I could not have done any of this without the terrific support that we received, and the members of the committee have been ideal. If noble Lords want them as chairmen of other committees, look at all of them. They do an excellent job, and I thank them.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 10.08 pm.