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Part of Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day] — Tax Fairness – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 12th March 2013.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights) 6:30 pm, 12th March 2013

I support the motion and thank Mr Marsden for bringing it before the House. The House always excels when it debates a subject on which everyone agrees, and here we have a subject matter on which everyone can agree.

Apprenticeships are essential to give young people a start. In my constituency, many businesses have offered apprenticeships, whether in Bombardier Aerospace, Huddleston Engineering or even through the local technical college. As this is a devolved matter, in Northern Ireland £8 million has been allocated to Steps to Work and £5.8 million to a return to work programme. These are just two examples of good schemes that deliver.

On Monday I had the opportunity to visit the jobcentre in my constituency and I did so in order to hear what it was doing and to hear about the programmes it offers and the success it has achieved. It bases its success on job outcomes. It has a clear target which it aims to achieve. Whether through Steps to Work or Pathways to Work, young people are getting jobs, and that is important. Like other Members in their constituencies, we have issued challenges to businesses in our communities to take young people on. In my constituency, there is an opportunity for everyone in pharmaceuticals, food processing, light engineering and agri-food, which is a growth industry. Businesses and companies must step up to the bar and be prepared to take people on.

I hope that when the Minister replies he will give some indication of the incentives that the Government can offer businesses to encourage them to offer apprenticeships. If they do so, the young men and women of tomorrow can have jobs. Like other Members, I took on a young man as an apprentice in my office here. After he had spent three years on a course, I offered him a job because of the qualifications that he obviously had, but also because he had the ability and an interest in it, and he needed that opportunity.

The Prince’s Trust is one of the great organisations that we all know and love, and we all recognise the good work it does. Chris Ruane spoke some time ago about depression among young people. Among those who are not in work, 70% are depressed, and of those who are in work, 50% are depressed. It is a big problem that has not been touched on, but perhaps we can have an indication of what can be done about it.

In my constituency, 750 young people of 24 and under are unemployed. They need the opportunity offered by apprenticeships. The big employers are in agri-food, tourism, engineering and pharmaceuticals. If we can encourage each business to take someone on, that would help. We need to increase basic skill levels in literacy, numeracy and mechanics to help people fill in the forms to get a job. As parliamentarians we have a responsibility to help young people who are struggling. If we can deliver a vibrant and rigorous apprenticeship system, that will make a real difference to young people, to businesses and, in the long term, to the economy as a whole.