What assessment he has made of the numbers of people of working age who are able and willing to work but are neither working nor registered as seeking work or as claimants.
About 4.1 million people of working age are not working or are in receipt of an out-of-work benefit, and we estimate that there are about 500,000 people of working age who are partners of benefit claimants and who are not working, registered for work or claiming benefits themselves.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he not acknowledge that, whereas the claimant count position is improving, the figure of 4 million is growing and that the problem particularly affects men? Is he aware that 27 per cent. of all men aged between 50 and 64 are out of work and that 30 per cent. of all unskilled men of all ages are out of work? How does he intend to re-prioritise the Government's labour market policies to address their specific needs and particularly the age discrimination element?
It is precisely that issue with which the new deal is designed to cope. The hon. Gentleman's figures are broadly correct, and it is a tragedy that people of working age are looking to the state benefit system for a form of early retirement.
As the hon. Gentleman knows probably only too well, such circumstances have come about as a result of the huge shake-out of labour in heavy engineering industries, mining, shipbuilding and steel works in the 1980s, when the then Government were effectively prepared to dump people on to incapacity benefit rather than to try to find them a place in the labour market. This Government reject that approach, believing it to be cruel. We want to help people into employment when they are of working age. That means focusing on the problems of those who are older but who can still find a place in the labour market. It also means making sure that we find them work and, moreover, ensuring that that work remunerates them more than being on benefits ever could.
I have a constituent who has been helped through education and who is three quarters of his way through a degree course. A firm has paid his way but, unfortunately, that firm has folded and he is no longer able to complete his course. He has sought the jobseeker's allowance, but has been refused because he wants to study. Will my right hon. Friend's Department examine the jobseeker's allowance regulations positively to enable such people to stay in work and, indeed, improve their employability?
I am not sure that that is a matter for the jobseeker's allowance regulations, but I promise to consider the case of my hon. Friend's constituent and to examine the issue more generally. It sounds to me as though what he has described is an anomaly, but hardship funds are designed to help in such circumstances. I will ask my office to examine the individual case to see what can be done to help my hon. Friend's constituent.