Newham (Young Persons)

Orders of the Day — Family Law (Scotland) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 10:53 pm on 3rd June 1985.

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Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Neubert.]

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West 10:54 pm, 3rd June 1985

I have sought this short debate on the problems of youth in Newham because I have become disturbed by the amount of evidence that has been presented to me by various agencies and youth workers operating in the borough of Newham and the evidence before my own eyes daily as I live in my constituency. What is emerging is making me angry and considerably alarmed for the future.

On many occasions, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who has joined me here, have pointed out that the people of our borough face social, economic and environmental problems that are greater than almost anywhere else. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment — the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) — knows that from his own experiences, because all three of the Members who represent Newham have been with him on a tour of the borough. By his Department's assessment, Newham is second only to our neighbouring borough of Hackney as the most deprived local authority area in England. Whereas Hackney has partnership status, Newham is still denied it. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give us the good news which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South have been waiting so long to hear. What more evidence does the Under-Secretary of State and his colleagues require to convince them of the justice of our case?

In Newham, 11,000 households are without their own bath or inside toilet, 6,318 households are overcrowded; there is the highest percentage in the whole of London of children living in poor housing; 58 per cent. of children live in overcrowded accommodation; and 15 per cent. of children live in households containing at least one unemployed adult. For the first time, 30,000 people in Newham are on supplementary benefit. Sixty five per cent of the council's tenants receive housing benefit. With 17,000 people out of work, the unemployment rate approaches 20 per cent. The Under-Secretary of State knows these statistics, yet we still seem unable to convince him and his colleagues that we need that extra assistance that only his Government can give.

Youth unemployment is considerably higher than 20 per cent. A review citing the percentages of young people who were eligible to leave school at the end of the 1984 academic year shows that their destinations were as follows: 30 per cent. stayed on at school, 8 per cent. attended college, and 62 per cent. left full-time education. At the earliest opportunity, 62 per cent. left school. Of that percentage, 20 per cent. are known to be in permanent employment, 11 per cent. are known to be on the youth training scheme, 25 per cent. are registered for work at the careers office and the destination of 44 per cent. is unknown. Of the 62 per cent. of those who left school at the end of that academic year, 69 per cent. are either registered for work or seem to have dropped out of the system — 42 per cent. of the entire output of that academic year. That is a tragic comment on the state of the job market and the prospects facing youth in Newham.

High unemployment, a poor environment, housing stress, low educational achievement and a general lack of social amenities combine to brutalise people, especially the young. What sort of background is that for the youth of Newham to grow up in? Would the Under-Secretary of State want his children to face those miserable prospects? A whole generation is becoming increasingly dispossessed of those rights and opportunities that were established, improved or maintained during the past 30 years.

Youth as a group in our society is damaged far more by unemployment than others. The Government's blind and tragic refusal to assist any growth in the economy, together with the imposition of cuts in public expenditure and the insidious rolling back of the welfare state, hit the young disproportionately in Newham and elsewhere.

It is all very well to talk about voluntary redundancies, early retirements and natural wastage. They sound painless —perhaps for some of the workers involved they are— but for the young, these devices merely mean more jobs lost and further restrictions placed on their all-too-limited job propects.

In Newham, as elsewhere, the young are being continually bombarded, on television, in newspapers and in shops, with all the tempting luxuries that money can buy —if that money were available. In our acquisitive and materialistic society, the expectations and the needs of the young are being continually excited—but for so many of them the means to meet those expectations are being cruelly denied.

The Prime Minister is fond of talking about moral values, but, frankly, she gives no moral lead to the young in Newham or in the country as a whole. After all, her economic policies are deliberately geared to promoting self-interest, greed, selfishness and soulless materialism. If we add to that a concoction of mindless populism and a willingness to employ crude force rather then arguments, we have the creation of a social time bomb that could yet destroy what civilised norms are left in this country. The recent upsurge in violent behaviour among football crowds can and is being seen by some as a harbinger of future developments in the wider society that we all ignore at our peril.

At a recent meeting that I attended in Newham of young people in receipt of DHSS board and lodging payments — soon to be hounded out of the borough and moved around the country because of the Government's changes in regulations — one youngster said that he would be better off in jail. What an indictment of our times for a young person to say that in a meeting and get agreement from so many other young people. Yet this Government are busily creating among the young an ever-increasing number who adopt just that attitude. Those young people cannot see what stake they have in our society. Indeed, they have no stake. For them there are no social norms, about which the Prime Minister keeps talking. They feel that they have nothing to lose by turning to violence, drugs and crime.

It is a matter of some regret that Newham has a high crime rate. Tragically, it is growing fastest among the young. But in a society that rewards the strong and denigrates the weak, is it any wonder that so many of our young are being corrupted and led astray? Professional youth workers in Newham have told me of 18 and 19-year olds who are already long-term unemployed, gradually losing all self-respect and respect for others. Young people in my borough spend large amounts of time begging— this is 1985 — and it is tragic that that is becoming socially acceptable among the young. There is also increasing evidence that teenage prostitution is on the increase, and many young women in Newham are deliberately entering into disastrously early relationships and pregnancies as a way of trying to achieve some form of adult status and their own accommodation. They regularly come to my advice surgery. The borough already has more than 5,000 single-parent households.

Against that frightening social background, Newham council and the voluntary organisations working with young people are subject to increasing attacks upon their resources. Youth services have been forced to cut back on their provision and curtail badly needed building programmes while the Government deliberately redistribute support to the shire counties and pump money into face-saving and cosmetic training schemes — neglecting those experienced agencies that have tradition-ally supported the young people who have difficulty coming to terms with the adult world.

Many of the professional youth workers in Newham feel that we are approaching a situation where the majority of young people will be unable to take the normal steps to adulthood. It has been suggested—and I tend to agree from my experience — that inner-city areas such as Newham will eventually be reduced to battlefields of warring gangs of youth. Already the police in the borough are overwhelmed by the sheer level of street crime, racist attacks and burglaries. Householders in Newham, as in other parts of London, are being encouraged to employ private security firms to patrol the streets and protect their properties.

Inexorably we are moving towards no-go areas, where policing will either be absent or very limited—and that, of course, will be complemented by middle class enclaves where police effort will be concentrated. Those are existing or possible images of life in Newham in the 1980s and the 1990s, as ordinary, decent people in my community are gradually overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the problems confronting them. Those images are not the product of my over-stretched imagination but are based on statments made to me by responsible individuals who are growing both frightened and alarmed by what they see and hear around them in the borough of Newham.

Much as I have time for the Minister—although he has taxed me in terms of my patience and my sympathy on many occasions — I expect little, if anything from him or his Government, because it is his Government who are responsible for the the rapid pace of social breakdown in Newham. The youth of my borough, not surprisingly, want real jobs and decent pay. They want homes. They want social and recreational facilities into which they can channel their energy and exuberance.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the south of the borough, in the royal Victoria dock, the borough council has a lease with the London Docklands Development Corporation for recrea-tion on that mile-long stretch of water? But it is a lease for only five years with an unelected body. Does not that emphasise one of our problems—the existence of an unelected body which governs a very large area of the south of the borough?

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I could not agree more. The Minister and his colleagues are continually pointing out to us the success, as they see it, of the London Docklands Development Corporation, but the LDDC has been given resources and powers that the borough councils in the docklands area and the GLC can only have dreamt of in past years. The difficulty is that so many of the activities of the LDDC take place behind closed doors. I have to keep asking the Minister questions to find out what is going on in docklands.

The one thing we know is that after the next Labour Government are elected in a couple of years' time, the LDDC will be abolished, and the resources that it is currently squandering will be given to the docklands boroughs to deal with the problems of the people of Newham in the way that they would want them dealt with.

We want action from the Government. We do not want lectures from the Prime Minister, coming from her wealthy and privileged background, about the respon-sibilities of youth. There is no way that Newham borough council can provide out of our own resources the sorts of things that we want. We desperately need a Government who will recognise the social time bomb that is even now being primed in Newham and other inner city areas. We want such a Government to act with speed and determination to eliminate the economic and social deprivation which is the root cause of the problems that I have been trying to discuss.

I do not expect to see this Government being sympathetic or taking any action. I know that that can come only with the speedy election of a Labour Government. I hope that that Labour Government will appoint a Minister with special responsibilities for the young, since the young represent society's investment for the future. It is an investment that is being cruelly squandered in Britain at the moment. The signs of social collapse starting with the young are there in Newham and elsewhere in London for all who wish to see, but tragically that does not appear to include the Prime Minister and her Government.

Photo of George Young George Young Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 11:09 pm, 3rd June 1985

During the course of his remarks, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) accused me of taxing him and taxing his patience. For the past 12 months I have been answering the parliamentary questions churned out by his research assistant. I think that my patience has been taxed just as much as the hon. Gentleman's. On the LDDC alone, I have answered 102 parliamentary questions in the past 12 months. I think that the hon. Gentleman is running out of steam, because his four recent questions were identical to one that he asked me only a fortnight ago.

The hon. Gentleman has tabled some interesting questions about the number of paper clips purchased by my Department. Information that has been released to us from the GLC indicates that it is part of his campaign to try to destroy the stamina and the enthusiasm of my officials. I have to tell him that his campaign will not work. The hon. Gentleman is riding his hobbyhorse again. The reality is that the LDDC has produced action. Towards the end of his remarks he asked for action. There was little action before the LDDC. There was a great deal of talk. The GLC had access to all the resources that it needed, if it had wanted to make substantial progress in docklands, but it did not make use of them. There was a rather unconstructive dialogue between the GLC and the boroughs. Now there is action. If one goes around the docklands area one can see work being created and homes being built.

Although the hon. Gentleman wants the LDDC to be wound up, in other parts of the country where we have LDDC-type operations in the form of the new towns, each time that the Government want to wind one of them up we receive representations from his colleagues asking us to keep for another year or so that quango, appointed by Ministers, which is unelected and not accountable to local people.

I come now to the theme of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I welcomed the time that he and the hon. Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) took when they escorted me around the borough for a day last year. It made a great impression on me. I enjoyed meeting the people in the borough. I hope that some, if not all, of the decisions that my Department has taken subsequently have been of some help.

I want to assure the hon. Gentleman that the plight of young unemployed people is a matter of deep anxiety to me and to the Government. We are, of course, aware of the problems facing young people, about which the hon. Gentleman spoke so eloquently, many of them from disadvantaged groups and ethnic minorities who are living in inner city areas such as Newham.

In many ways, it is those young people who have been hardest hit by the recession. It is in recognition of that that the Government are pursuing some specific initiatives aimed at improving employment prospects and providing social and community support for young people. Young people in Newham want hope, self-respect and a job. In that they are the same as young people in Acton or anywhere else in London.

Our first priority must be to reduce the level of youth unemployment. I accept that the rate in Newham is among the highest in London. Some measure of the importance that we place on that is the £2·25 billion that the Government spent in 1984–85 on employment and training schemes, many of them aimed at young people.

The main initiative directed at improving the skills and training of school leavers is, of course, the YTS. In view of the figures that the hon. Gentleman deployed, that is of special relevance to Newham. However, it is important that young people take up that opportunity. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and those in the voluntary organisations with whom he is in contact will encourage young people to take up the places.

I was dismayed to find that only 82 per cent. of the YTS places in Newham were filled last year, despite the fact that nearly 80 per cent. of those who completed the training subsequently found jobs.

In 1985–86, 750 places have been approved at a total cost of £1·5 million. That budget is bigger than that for Hackney, Haringey or Southwark. It shows the priority that we place on tackling the problems in Newham.

I was encouraged to hear that Newham is sponsoring three schemes with over 90 places — a social services training workshop, a clerical and a building scheme. I was pleased to learn that there is a high ethnic minority participation in those schemes.

Apart from the council, Newham does not have many large employers to run schemes. I was interested to see that a successful project has been achieved by the Docklands and East London Training Agency, which is acting as a managing agent for a scheme sponsored by Grand Metropolitan Community Services. DELTA has links with 170 potential providers of training—mainly small firms covering a wide range of trades—and, when necessary, it can cater for trainees' individual preferences. Those have included locksmiths, glass blowers and Afro-Caribbean hairdressers. I believe that that shows a potential for providing training linked to local firms and the needs of young trainees.

In addition, as from April 1986, YTS will be extended to provide two years' training for 16-year-old school leavers and one year for 17-year-old leavers, thus ensuring that anyone under 18 who is not still at school and has no job has the opportunity to receive good quality training.

In addition to YTS, there are a number of MSC employment initiatives available to young people in Newham, of which the major one is the community programme. Under this, long-term unemployed over the age of 18 are provided with temporary employment on projects of benefit to the community. At the end of April this year there were in Newham a total of 249 community programme places, and I am glad to say the take-up here was 90 per cent. As with the YTS, young people must be encouraged to take advantage of the employment opportunities offered by the community programme, which is being expanded nationally from 100,000 filled places to 230,000 by the end of May 1986. Agreement has now been reached for an initial increase of 50,000 by December of this year, of which 13,500 will be in London. Additional places in Newham and other London boroughs are currently being considered.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the resources available to the local authority and complained about cuts in services. Between 1981–82 and 1984–85 the London borough of Newham's current expenditure increased by 30·8 per cent., ranking second to the London boroughs. The average increase was 17·6 per cent. The borough's 1985–86 target of £124·154 million is a 3·76 per cent. increase on the 1984–85 budget. The grant related expenditure of £544 per head ranks highest of the London boroughs and is to be compared with an average of £384. Some of the problems that the hon. Gentleman mentioned of deprivation and some of the client groups in the borough are recognised in some of the figures which I have quoted.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Can the Minister tell us whether Newham will be rate capped in the next year?

Photo of George Young George Young Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

No, I cannot. That is because the Government have not yet addressed themselves to the important problem of rate capping next year. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that a number of councils are still grappling with their consciences over decisions for this year. I think that he knows also what the timetable is for rate capping next year.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned, as I thought he might, the designation of the London borough of Newham under the urban programme. We provide extensive support for projects in Newham that are aimed at both improving the skills of young people and providing social and community support. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South have been consistent in their campaign for more Government resources to be directed towards Newham, particularly in their support of the borough's case for promotion to partnership status. The argument in favour of partnership or programme authority status for Newham under the urban programme has been forcefully stated again tonight. The council narrowly missed such status when the lists were last reviewed in 1983. It had not at that time submitted the powerful submission which I discussed with hon. Members from the borough and representatives of the council, the voluntary sector and the chamber of commerce last December. However, I recognised at that meeting that when the list is next reviewed Newham will be knocking very strongly at the door. The hon. Gentleman asked whether we needed any more evidence. I can tell him that I think we have all the evidence that we need. I accept that the case has been presented forcefully. For the time being, the best course for the borough must be to maximise its benefits from the sources of funding that are available, and these are not insubstantial.

I am delighted to see that Newham is making a more concerted attempt to benefit from urban development grant. The approval of the £500,000 UDG in March for the redevelopment of a former power station site by Gunson Sortex in the Marshgate industrial improvement area is an indication of the potential of UDG. It will directly lever £2·8 million of private investment and provide 82,000 sq ft of industrial and office space—a significant source of jobs in a depressed area.

The programme of reclamation, job creation and housing provision by the LDDC is also a continuing positive force in the southern part of the borough. This year alone about £4·8 million has been allocated for environmental works, reclamation and utilities in the Newham area of docklands in addition to £250,000 of support for voluntary projects. In future, the development of the STOLport should attract more employment to the royal docks area. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State acknowledged that in his recent decision to approve outline planning permission for the airport. Clearly these initiatives do not solve all the borough's problems, but they are not irrelevant to the issue of unemployment.

I turn to the current position of other urban programmes support. Newham current receives funding for industrial and commercial projects as an other designated district — or ODD as it is generally called — and for social projects under the traditional urban programme. As an ODD, Newham receives grant towards a range of projects aimed at economic regeneration, in particular to help small businesses get established. In 1984–85 such support amounted to £475,000, and for 1985–86 nearly £250,000 has already been approved. A particularly good example of the cost-effectiveness of the support is the Stratford workshops project. We have recently approved a £35,000 grant for improvements and six new workshops, additional to the 89 small starter units already available and in action. They provide cheap and accessible accommodation for new firms and, in addition, grant can be made available to help new firms start up. That could provide the opportunity for new young businesses to build on some of the skills obtained from the training initiatives in the borough. Occupancy of the units is consistently high, and once established many of the firms move to larger premises.

I have been impressed by the way in which Newham has managed its use of ODD funds and industrial development generally. It is good at giving advice and help to firms, and it receives active co-operation from the private sector in the area, which proved willing to assist in making business expertise available to counsel and advise new businesses. As a result, the borough gives grants only when they are strictly necessary and will be effective.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Is the Minister aware that the Greater London Enterprise Board gives considerable assistance in Newham? However, the Minister for Local Government is putting restrictions on the GLEB, which could jeopardise jobs in Newham and elsewhere. What has the Minister to say about that?

Photo of George Young George Young Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

I think that I have seen the letter to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government from the GLEB which asked for a meeting to discuss these issues. I hope that a meeting will take place shortly, when they can be discussed in sightly more detail.

When I met the delegation from Newham in November 1984, it was clear that there were still opportunities for even wider use of urban programme resources to include broader-based training projects, particularly aimed at the young unemployed. I encourage projects of this type. No such schemes have yet been put to me, but my Department would be glad to discuss any proposals with the borough and we would be sympathetic to funding worthwhile projects.

Regarding the traditional urban programme, we have always recognised Newham's high level of deprivation. For 1985–86 the borough has received the highest level of new approvals, not only in London but in the whole country. Six new projects, costing £400,000, were approved. That represents an increase of 50 per cent. over the level of new projects approved last year. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is a clear reflection of our policy of concentrating traditional urban programme funds in the most extensively deprived areas. I hope that it reminds him that nationally, because of the continuing high level of support for existing schemes, resources for new projects have inevitably fallen again by about half. Newham receives considerable support for continuing projects, which amounts to £765,000 for 1985–86.

The hon. Gentleman touched on the board and lodging regulations, which were debated extensively on 2 April. My only point this evening is that the DHSS is carefully monitoring the effects of the new regulations, and my Department will liaise with it closely. In the light of how the system operates, Ministers will consider whether any changes are necessary.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned many issues about dealing with juvenile crime in the borough and relationships with the police. I was interested to hear of the way in which the police are working with youngsters in Newham, especially ethnic minority groups. No fewer than 13 initiatives have been brought to my attention, which aim to improve links between the police and young people, increase the understanding of police work, and provide social support for young offenders.

I am aware that I have not done full justice to the wide range of issues raised by the hon. Gentleman. I shall write to him to deal with the more significant omissions, and perhaps he will table yet another question to me to elicit responses. I assure him that the Government are aware of the problems faced by young people in Newham and that we are trying to help them. I have outlined some of the schemes introduced by the Government to tackle those problems.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes past Eleven o'clock.