I will crack on with my very short contribution. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this very interesting debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Jones on securing it. He is a hard-working advocate for his constituents and deserves considerable credit for his work. Like his good self, I have a young family, so we both have a vested interest in this topic. I know first hand the importance of experiencing the world of work. I grew up on a council estate in Poynton and left my local state school with few qualifications. My first job was stacking shelves in the local Co-op. I went on to get a job working on nimrods at BAE Systems at Woodford. I was able to study at night school and build a successful career in manufacturing. Tom Blenkinsop talked about opportunities in manufacturing. Under Labour, between 1997 and 2010, the number of people employed in manufacturing halved. In 1997, manufacturing’s contribution to GDP was 22%. In 2010, it was 12%.
It is a great honour to represent the people of Weaver Vale. That would not have been possible if I had not been able to get my first experience of work. We all know how vital work experience is for young people. The previous Labour Government acknowledged that and used it as part of their new deal. The evidence is even clearer now. Statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions tell us that 50% of all participants on work experience schemes move off benefits within three months. Obviously, work experience schemes can be a key weapon in the fight against youth unemployment, but why is that fight so important?
As I have said in recent debates on apprenticeships, there is a significant correlation between the eastern expansion of the European Union and the increase in youth unemployment from 2004 onwards. Despite repeated warnings from the Conservative Opposition at that time, the Labour Government decided against having transitional immigration controls. The impact on youth unemployment has been dramatic.
If someone wants to understand why youth unemployment has become such a problem, they should put themselves in the shoes of a prospective employer. Are prospective employers going to pick a school leaver with zero work experience or training ahead of a 30-something migrant who has extensive work experience? Would they take on the risk, costs and effort to train young people who are lacking any sort of work experience, and who therefore have no way of demonstrating that they are reliable, instead of older migrants who are already trained and have a CV demonstrating a strong work ethic? So it is screamingly obvious why work experience schemes can help to tackle youth unemployment, and I am delighted that the Government recognise that and are spending £1 billion on the youth contract to create incentives for employers to create an extra 250,000 work experience places during the next three years.
Given some of the utter nonsense that has been spouted in recent weeks about these work experience schemes, it is important to remember that they are voluntary. Furthermore, people have an opportunity to try out the scheme first before giving a commitment. In addition, it is absolutely ridiculous to assert that businesses are exploiting young people and getting free labour. There are significant costs for businesses that are taking part: to arrange the placements, to train the people, to mentor them and to provide equipment and uniforms. Businesses that take part should be applauded, not attacked. So all Members should get behind the Work Experience scheme and the Government’s—