Work (Deprived Areas)

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 David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East 2:30 pm, 15th October 2001

What plans he has to help people in deprived areas find work.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The new deal has helped thousands of people back into work. In addition to Jobcentre Plus, which will open this autumn, we have also introduced action teams for jobs and employment zones, which are helping people in the most deprived areas. Today we are increasing the number of action teams from 40 to 53, and further steps will be announced in due course.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but what action is he taking to help the increasing number of people who are losing jobs in manufacturing to find other jobs in the industry? Does he agree that this nation cannot afford to lose those valuable skills?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I agree with my hon. Friend that we must do everything possible to ensure that we get people who lose their job, whether it is in manufacturing or elsewhere, back into work as quickly as possible. That philosophy has underpinned the Government's whole approach to their employment policies over the past four years, and it will continue to do so. It is worth bearing it in mind that, although there have undoubtedly been a number of redundancies—some quite large ones have been announced over the past few weeks—some 34,500 new jobs were announced in the month to 10 October. For some reason, the announcement of new jobs does not tend to get the same coverage as redundancies. I do not for one moment seek to play down the significance of the redundancies that have been announced and their effect on individuals and on the communities where they take place, but I assure my hon. Friend that the Employment Service will do everything possible, through its jobs transition service and other measures, to ensure that those who lose their job can get back into work.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

The Secretary of State will be aware that although rural constituencies such as the Vale of York have pockets of deprivation, they have no physical jobcentre. What will his Department do to give people in those deprived areas access to jobcentres, which are sometimes a considerable distance away?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am well aware that many rural areas suffer unemployment and deprivation. The Government's policy right across the board, whether it is investment in education or in the Employment Service, is directed as much towards those people as it is towards people living in urban areas. Everybody, no matter where they live, has access to a jobcentre or the new Jobcentre Plus. There has never been a jobcentre in every high street; there was not when the Conservative Government were in power. The difference between our two Governments is that we are making sure at every opportunity, whether it is through jobcentres, new deals or action teams for jobs, that we do everything possible to help people who lose their jobs to get back into work, especially where there is long-term unemployment. We are changing the tax and benefit systems to make sure that work pays and doing more to ensure that work is possible for people who, until now, might have been denied that opportunity.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

On behalf of my constituents may I thank the Secretary of State for reminding us of the measures that the Government have already introduced to help people without jobs to find work? However, does he accept that many of us—now on both sides of the House—represent areas where, year on year, fewer jobs are available, while areas within travelling distance have more than full employment? Will he consider, as an additional part of his strategy of helping people into work, allowing people to choose personal advisers from areas with a shortage of workers, rather than from areas where there are not enough jobs to go around?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The present system, which we have introduced in the past couple of years, ensures that no matter where a jobcentre is, vacancies are linked up across the whole country. For example, somebody going into a jobcentre in my right hon. Friend's constituency could see on the touch-screen computer facilities the jobs available throughout the country. Simply because someone happens to live in a constituency with a more difficult employment situation, they should not be denied the opportunity—and, indeed, the help, which can be provided by the action team for jobs—to get work in areas where there are more jobs than people. It is important that we look at the employment situation across the whole country precisely to tackle the problems that my right hon. Friend knows only too well and that we see in other parts of the country.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Will the Secretary of State share with the House his assessment of the cost and cost-effectiveness of his new deal strategy? If he feels that it has been good value for money, how is it that unemployment has fallen less quickly under this Government than it did under the previous one?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I know that the hon. Gentleman spent many years as a Whip when his party was in government so he had to obey a Trappist vow and say nothing, but I did not know that he was not allowed to read anything either. He must have noticed the extremely high levels of unemployment that the Conservative Government managed to achieve on more than one occasion. To claim credit for getting levels down is stretching credulity.

The hon. Gentleman may care to consider the two independent surveys of the new deal for young people, which showed that, but for the new deal, youth unemployment would have been twice as high. That represents a substantial saving for our gross domestic product because of the benefits that we do not have to pay out and the increased tax payments from people who have got back into work.

We still have a lot more to do for the over-50s. It is a staggering fact that one third of people over the age of 50 are out of work. It is interesting to note that since 1979—I pick that date at random—that has cost the country £16 billion in GDP. Surely that is evidence that the Government are right to continue what they started, and to do even more through the new deal and other measures to get people into work.