Young People in the Recession
Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day]
Kevin Brennan (Minister of State (also in the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills), Department for Children, Schools and Families; Cardiff West, Labour)
I shall be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and a representative from his constituency, although as I have inherited a large backlog of meetings from my predecessor, it may not be possible before the recess.
I, too, offer my sincere congratulations to Nadine Dorries and to her daughter on her success in obtaining her degree. The hon. Lady expressed the view that a number of people should not be taking up university places, because of the drop-out rate. Her party's motion calls for us to provide more university places this autumn although we have already achieved a record level, but I accept the sincerity and seriousness of her contribution. What she said about the American system of credits was important, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property is dealing with the issue.
A number of issues raised by both Front Benchers and Back Benchers deserve further discussion, not least that of apprenticeships. Despite the impression given by the Opposition Front-Bench team, the Government have rescued apprenticeships from oblivion. In 1997, the number of apprenticeships was dwindling to next to nothing and only 23 per cent. of that small number were completed, but we have trebled the figure. In January the Prime Minister announced a further £140 million package providing 35,000 additional places this year, which will allow us to deliver more than 250,000 apprenticeship starts. As I said, in 1997 the equivalent number of apprenticeships was 75,000, with fewer than a quarter being completed. I do not think that we are about to take a lesson on that from the Opposition. Mr. Hayes mentioned level 3. In fact, the level 3 proportion of starts for 16 to 18-year-olds is rising, and the overall number has risen this year as a proportion of the number of apprenticeships being taken.
The subject of NEETs was also raised. We should bear in mind that people are not always in that position through no choice of their own. Some young people on gap years tend to be included in the count, as do young carers, people with disabilities, and people who volunteer. The fact is, however, that almost 80 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds were in education or training at the end of 2008, the highest ever rate. Six million are now working or in full-time education—the figure was 5.2 million in 1997—and the proportion of 16-year-olds not in education, employment or training is 5.2 per cent., the lowest rate for more than a decade. Obviously, because of the recession, the picture is serious. However, it is not entirely negative. As a result of the Government's commitment with the September offer and their commitment to apprenticeships, the number of 16 to17-year-old NEETs will fall, and more people will stay in education.
Time is short. Let me end by saying that there was a time when it was said that unemployment was a price worth paying, and that there was no such thing as society. That is no longer the case. This Government are committed to helping young people and helping people through the recession, and we will continue to do that.