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Our successful economic and labour market policies have cut long-term unemployment by three quarters to its lowest level for 30 years. New deal 25-plus has played an important role in this success, so far helping more than 210,000 people into work. I suspect that the l,650 people who have been helped into work through the new deal in Newark, including 250 people through new deal 25-plus, will be disappointed to learn that their Member of Parliament supports a plan to scrap it.
I am particularly grateful to the Minister for illustrating his reply with points from my constituency. The fact remains that, in surgeries in both Newark and Retford, I find that a number of people are being readmitted to the scheme for a second time. That is borne out by the fact that about a third of people nationally have to come back to the scheme for a second go. Could the Minister confirm that the scheme is designed to introduce people to permanent employment and not simply to act as a revolving door?
There is one very effective way to prevent people from going back on to such schemes, and that is to scrap them altogether, which is, I assume, the hon. Gentleman's proposal. We do not propose to do that. Given that we are talking about people who face some of the greatest barriers to entering and remaining in work, inevitably, in a dynamic labour market, some of them will need continuing help before finding themselves in long-term sustainable employment. Our commitment is to ensure that we reach out so that even the hardest to help get the help that they need to join the growing ranks of people in long-term sustainable employment.
The Minister is probably aware that my constituency has one of the lowest levels of GDP per capita of any in the UK, yet more than 91 per cent. of people on long-term unemployment benefit since 1997 have been found employment in Barnsley, East and Mexborough. Will he ensure that successful schemes, like the new deal 25-plus, will continue under his watch?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that reassurance. Indeed, he will know that we have extended the help for new deal 25-plus even further. Last year, we extended early entry to the scheme to more disadvantaged groups, including lone parents, people with basic skills, ex-service personnel and refugees. Frankly, we have no intention whatsoever of scrapping such a scheme, which has helped hundreds of thousands of people, or the new deal as a whole, which has helped 1.2 million. I can reassure him that that help will continue.
Has the Minister plans for compelling mothers whose children are below 16, with the youngest reaching perhaps 14 or even 11, to leave income support and go on to jobseeker's allowance?
No. We are looking to give that group of people additional support because many of them want to get back into the labour market. We have no intention, however, of making that compulsory. We will ensure that they get all the help necessary, and we will make a proper assessment of their needs to see what help they need to get into work.
Does the Minister accept that although it is natural for us to argue over figures, our electorate will be much more interested in the fundamental change that the Government have been trying to make of moving the welfare state from one that merely pays benefits to one that, wherever possible, ensures that people can work?
Yes, and I worked for long enough with my right hon. Friend in a different guise to know how committed he, too, is to that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the attempts that we are making to ensure that we have a nation of active citizens rather than those who are consigned to being passive recipients of benefits. That is why we have one of the best records on employment in the industrialised nations and why we have the best record on employment in three decades. We want to ensure that we build on that record.
While the general run of new deal programmes is little better, will the Minister acknowledge that less than 25 per cent. of those starting on this particular new deal programme reach their objective of unsubsidised employment? If he were a football manager and his team lost 3–1, would that constitute a success, as he claims, or, rather, a failure?
We are talking about a group of people who have considerable barriers to entering sustainable long-term employment. The record in those circumstances is pretty impressive. Nearly 40 per cent. of those on new deal 25-plus have obtained a job while on the programme. We are determined to ensure that still more reach that success. In circumstances in which the barriers are considerable, we are helping people to get over them and get into the long-term sustainable employment that we want them to enjoy, and which I hope that the hon. Gentleman also wants them to enjoy. However, the solution to these problems is not to scrap the scheme and the help altogether, which appears to be his proposal.
In contrast to the constituency of my hon. Friend Jeff Ennis, the High Peak area is not traditionally a region of high unemployment. Nevertheless, is my hon. Friend the Minister aware that no fewer than 1,060 people in my constituency have found employment or training through the new deal? It has been valuable indeed. Is he also aware that those people, their families and those who may, unfortunately, have to follow them would be astonished and dismayed if this Government or any other proposed scrapping the new deal?
Indeed, they would be shocked and astonished to hear that. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in his constituency to promote the effectiveness of the new deal and the work of Jobcentre Plus, which has delivered that high employment not only in his constituency but across the country. The warning has to go out to my hon. Friend's constituents and others that if this scheme and others were scrapped, there would be no continuation of that success, and we as a nation would pay a heavy price for that.