Unemployment (Advice)

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 15th October 2001.

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Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Labour, Wellingborough 2:30 pm, 15th October 2001

What plans he has to increase the amount of personal advice available to unemployed people at jobcentres.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

We are aiming to launch 15 of the 17 Jobcentre Plus pathfinder areas later this month; they comprise around 50 pathfinder offices. We anticipate that the remaining two pathfinder areas will be operating by the end of the year, once building work is completed.

From April next year, the Employment Service and the parts of the Benefits Agency that support people of working age will come together to form Jobcentre Plus. As the service rolls out, we will deliver an integrated service to employers and benefit claimants of working age nationally.

Photo of Mr Paul Stinchcombe Mr Paul Stinchcombe Labour, Wellingborough

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, which is good news as far as it goes. However, what advice has he for my constituent, who has been unemployed for two years and is about to go on the new deal for the second time? He is unsure that it will be targeted to his needs because on the previous occasion, he was offered two modules of environmental studies at NVQ level 2 when he already has a first class honours degree in physics.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

My hon. Friend's constituent is obviously a bright chap who is finding it difficult to get placed in the labour market. He is not typical, but it is the purpose of the new Jobcentre Plus structures, with their personally tailored advice, to ensure that individuals such as my hon. Friend's constituent can be properly placed. If more needs to be done to help him, the state is ready to stand in his corner.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

The move towards personal advisers is welcome, but did the Minister notice during the summer that the Department's in-house briefings—I believe that the relevant briefing number is 84—demonstrated some staff anxiety about the amount of work that they are doing, which denies them the opportunity to get involved in the case load and the referral activities that are necessary for the scheme to work? Will the Minister assure the House that those anxieties will be tackled and that the new project, which deserves to succeed, will not be left wanting for lack of management back-up and resources?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks, and I welcome his broad support for the Jobcentre Plus concept. Some public servants believe that they will be required to do for Jobcentre Plus the sort of work that they currently do in benefits offices. That is not the intention. We are launching something new and different from what previously existed. The intention is to be far more proactive with individual claimants, go through their welfare entitlement as well as their job opportunities, and work closely with them over a period of time. All that is new. We believe that it is the right approach; the senior management of the public service is enthusiastic about it. I am sure that, as people see the new offices and the way in which the new service works, we will engage the enthusiasm of all who work for us.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, when offering additional advice at jobcentres, staff will be acquainted with the position of war pensioners? People who receive a pension, and also get jobseeker's allowance because they are looking for employment, have been told they will lose their war pension. It is important to make them aware of the position when they register at the jobcentre for jobseeker's allowance.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's point is drawn to the attention of those who give advice on benefits entitlement before moving on to considering what employment is available, but the Government intend that work will pay for people in a range of different circumstances. Although there are always hard cases and exceptions, for the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens, work rather than being on benefits will pay.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The constituent of Mr. Stinchcombe may not be typical, but does the Minister know that, according to the Department's most recent statistics, only 40 per cent. of those leaving the new deal for young people, and fewer than 20 per cent. of those leaving the new deal for the long-term unemployed received jobs that lasted for more than 13 weeks? Is not that disappointing, especially in times when many of them would have found work anyway? Is there not a case, especially in view of uncertain world economic conditions, for considering whether the new deal meets employers' needs and provides a good deal for the unemployed and the taxpayer?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

I begin by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities and I look forward to arguing about those matters with him, no doubt for a long time to come. I hope that that serves him well in his party.

I do not accept the deadweight cost argument. The new deal for young people has already got about 250,000 young people into permanent employment and has found employment for more than 300,000 young people. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that the labour market may be loosening—we await events—but surely that makes the case even more firmly not for letting up, but for what we are doing. What alternative does he propose? We move from a welfare state to a welfare society, but what is a welfare society? I look forward to hearing from him in future exchanges.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

On personal advice for unemployed people who are also disabled, will my right hon. Friend examine the shortage of disability employment advisers, which seems to be significant, particularly in my area of the country in outer east London? Will he also bear in mind that resources seem to be drifting from disability employment advice to the access to work scheme, excellent though it is? That appears to be adding to the shortage.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

We take the issue of advice to those who have disabilities seriously and I undertake to re-examine the matter, particularly in my hon. Friend's constituency, because he has raised it with me. As we roll out the new deal for the disabled, the Government intend to help into work people who have been disadvantaged in the labour market over a long period and to press ahead with that regardless of the circumstances in which the labour market more generally finds itself.