[un-allotted half day] — Unemployment

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:26 pm on 14th December 2011.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 5:26 pm, 14th December 2011

Mr MacShane said that it was “absurd” to blame all the problems on this Government. That was gracious of him, although I take great offence at his attack on Oxford PPE graduates, but to hear Labour Members today, one would have thought there would have been no public sector job losses at all had they stayed in power. They were planning tens of billions of pounds of cuts. How many public sector jobs would have gone had they gone ahead with their tens of billions of pounds of cuts? They have no idea—no idea at all.

Several hon. Members mentioned interest rates. We were told that we inherited low interest rates, and the Bank of England base rate was indeed low. The question was what decisions did we, as a new Government, have to make to get the fiscal position under control. Because we took the difficult decisions early—pretty much every one of which has been opposed, item by item, in the course of this debate—the interest rates at which the British Government are borrowing have stayed low while other countries’ debt rates have soared. As a result, in this Parliament we have saved £22 billion in debt interest—money we can spend on services and on helping the unemployed which would not have been available had we listened to Labour.

Early in the debate, my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies, said that we need to tackle red tape. He is right, and we have the red tape challenge, which has already resulted in substantial deregulation in, for example, retail and hospitality, with much more to come. I am grateful to him for making that point.

My hon. Friend Jenny Willott highlighted the fact that pension funds will now be asked to invest more in the long-term infrastructure of this country—and rightly so. It is shocking that, for so many years, the money in our pension funds was not invested in our long-term infrastructure. This coalition Government are taking action to tackle that.

Alex Cunningham referred to the regional growth fund money in his constituency, and I am grateful to him for acknowledging the good that it can do. He asked about incentives to take on the long-term unemployed and the young unemployed. The youth contract is being introduced so that when people take on 18 to 24-year-olds from the Work programme—so they are long-term unemployed—they will get an incentive worth £2,275. That is more than a year’s free national insurance, so it is a valuable incentive. Unlike point five of this fantastic five-point plan we have heard about, which would reward small firms that take on anybody—including someone they were going to take on anyway and who would have got a job—our incentive is targeted on the long-term unemployed. That is the crucial point. Only one person in this debate has mentioned cost-effectiveness—my hon. Friend Stephen Timms said that it was a scandal, or something, to have finished up the future jobs fund, but he should know that that fund was costing more than £6,500 per place, whereas our work experience programme costs a twentieth of that and delivers the same sort of outcomes. Cost-effectiveness simply is not on the Labour party’s radar.

In the few seconds available to me I shall not have chance to go through all hon. Members’ contributions. My hon. Friend Oliver Heald flagged up the record national debt that we were left and my hon. Friend Mrs Main talked about the collective amnesia of Labour Members and asked why they did not tackle bankers’ bonuses. Just before the election, they introduced a temporary bankers’ bonus tax—