Opposition Day — [17th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 1:57 pm on 11th February 2015.
I beg to move,
That this House
calls on the Government to put a strict limit on the amount of time that people can be left on jobseeker’s allowance without being offered, and required to take up, paid work, by introducing a compulsory jobs guarantee that would ensure that anyone under 25 who has been receiving jobseeker’s allowance for a year, and anyone over 25 who has been receiving jobseeker’s allowance for two years, would be offered a paid job, with training, that they must take up or face losing benefits;
and further calls on the Government to ensure this compulsory jobs guarantee be fully funded by a one-off repeat of the tax on bankers’ bonuses and restricting pension tax relief on incomes over £150,000.
This is a debate about the kind of recovery our country needs to see, about who is being left behind, about the kind of future we are building for the next generation and about whether this Government are using more than just warm words when they talk about full employment, as the Prime Minister has done recently.
Our challenge to Ministers today is to put a strict time limit on the period for which someone can be left on jobseeker’s allowance before they are offered, and required to take, proper paid work. The compulsory jobs guarantee, funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses and restrictions to pensions tax relief on incomes over £150,000 a year, would mean a new start and new hope for the more than 29,000 young people who have been out of work for over a year, and for the 130,000 over-25s who have been out of work for more than two years.
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether this will be the 10th or the 11th time his party has spent the bankers’ bonus tax?
We had a bankers’ bonus tax in the past, but this will be the sole purpose for the new bankers’ bonus tax to be introduced after the next election. We will all be committed to the guarantee that I am setting out for the House this afternoon.
Those people I have described are the ones this Government have left behind. They are the people whom Labour Members are not going to forget, not only because we owe them a fair chance to escape long-term unemployment but because we cannot afford, as a country, to leave them on benefits for years on end. Nor can we afford the consequences of the low wages that they are likely to earn if they do find work after such a long period of unemployment.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this guarantee is a serious step towards what has always been my great ambition, which is that there should be no unemployment for anyone under 25? They should be in a job, in a job with training, in training, in education or in valuable paid work experience. That is the ambition and the Government cannot grasp it because it is too ambitious.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the ambition, and of course this scheme will be an enormous step towards tackling the scourge of long-term unemployment. To build a strong and stable recovery, and a fairer and more united country, we need to make sure, as he says, that everyone gets to play their part, that we harness its talents and fulfil the potential of all, and that everybody knows they have a stake in our country’s future.
We have seen some welcome recent falls in the headline rate of unemployment, from the peaks reached after this Government choked off the recovery they had inherited in 2010. More people in work is always good news, which is why we repeatedly urged the Government to do more to stop the soaring unemployment they presided over after the general election.
I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that in my constituency unemployment rose by 385 under his Government, whereas it has fallen under this Government by 763. His Government failed, not this one.
But long-term unemployment is higher in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency now than it was at the time of the last election. That is the legacy of the three years of almost no growth in the economy following the general election, which we now need to address. Let me say to him and to other Government Members that self-congratulation on what has happened in recent months is dangerously complacent about underlying problems in the labour market and utterly out of touch with the impact such problems have on people who are desperate to work and to earn their way out of the cost of living crisis they are facing. People are deeply concerned about the prospects for their children and the grandchildren. Those are the points we now need to address.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about self-congratulation, but that is not what Government Members are doing. We are recognising that policies have been put in place for businesses to create more than 2 million jobs. Why will he not congratulate the Government on their policies and businesses on creating those 2 million-plus jobs?
We were left with a legacy of a very large number of people who have been out of work for a long time. It is welcome that at long last the economy is growing and jobs are being created; the long-delayed recovery is now, finally, in place. The question is: are those who have been left out of employment by the events of the past few years going to get the opportunities that these new jobs will create? Addressing that is exactly the purpose of this afternoon’s debate and of the proposal I am commending to the House.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to be completely fair, will he take the chance now to apologise for the fact that under the last Government long-term unemployment doubled and youth long-term unemployment rose by a half? Should Labour not be saying, “We are really sorry, we got something very badly wrong”?
The number of long-term unemployed young people—those claiming for more than a year—is a lot higher now than it was at the time of the election. As we are talking about apologies, I would hope the Secretary of State would apologise to the House and to the country for the fact that the Government allowed unemployment to soar to 2.67 million after the general election, allowed youth unemployment to soar to more than 1 million and allowed long-term unemployment to hit historic highs at the end of 2013. Those are the failures and the legacy we must now address.
I note that Labour’s motion talks about taking benefits away from under-25s if they do not take an offer of a job. How does the policy of the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party to take benefits away from young people differ from the Tory party’s policy on taking benefits away from young people?
Young people want a job. That is what they are asking for and that is what we will provide under the jobs guarantee, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will support us.
May I commend to my right hon. Friend the work of Tameside’s Labour council, which has implemented, as part of its “15for15” pledges, a local youth jobs guarantee and a Tameside enterprise scheme that will support small businesses not only to take on and to train young people, but to give them vital mentoring?
I am glad to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Councillor Kieran Quinn and Tameside’s council on what they have achieved. We are seeing this idea being introduced by Labour councils. We heard earlier this afternoon about the Edinburgh guarantee, and these ideas are now taking their place around the country. We now need the Government to be putting a national guarantee in place.
Unemployment is now, at long last, back on the downward path that the Labour Government set it on in 2010, although, of course, its level is yet to return to the lows under Labour before the global financial crash.
I will in a moment, but I wish to make a little more progress first.
There are serious causes for concern in the labour market and much more needs to be done to build a recovery that works for everyone. Long-term unemployment remains much too high. The long period—three years—after the general election when there was almost no growth in the economy has left too many people locked out of employment and now left behind even as overall employment is rising. The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than two years is 224% of what it was in May 2010, and young people remain at high risk of unemployment. Strikingly, the relative position of young people has become steadily worse since 2010 The most recent figures show that the youth unemployment rate is almost three times the overall rate—it is 2.9 times that rate—and for the past three months, while overall unemployment has been falling, youth unemployment has been going up. The total is now back above three quarters of a million, and we just have to hope that that is not the new trend. Action needs to be taken now to make sure that it is not and that young people are able to share in the benefits of the recovery.
Would the right hon. Gentleman like to comment on the words of James Sproule, the chief economist of the Institute of Directors? He said that
“Labour’s job scheme does not bear much scrutiny as a solution. No government can pull a lever in Whitehall and expect youth unemployment to disappear.”
Is the truth not that only the private sector can create sustainable jobs but that it needs a business-friendly Government to do so?
Jobs are being created. The question is: who is going to get them? At the moment, the evidence clearly shows that young people disproportionately are not. We know that the future jobs fund worked—I will discuss that in a moment—and we are going to be repeating that approach with this jobs guarantee.
The right hon. Gentleman is making some important points about youth unemployment, which is a big issue in Wales. Given that, does he think his Labour colleagues in Wales have been wrong to cut the Jobs Growth Wales fund for 18 to 24-year-olds?
I shall be discussing Jobs Growth Wales. I believe the hon. Gentleman is commending it, and I agree with him; it has been a great success and there are certainly lessons to be learned by the rest of the UK from the great success of that programme.
My right hon. Friend rightly says that young people, in particular, have been suffering and continue to suffer under this Government. Is not one of the important points about our jobs guarantee the fact that it will give young people experience in work? One of the biggest problems on getting into work is that lack of experience because these people cannot get a job.
My hon. Friend is right about that. I have spoken to a large number of people, including young people whose break came through the future jobs fund. They have said that having got six months’ work under their belts, thanks to that initiative, they were then able to look after themselves and apply for jobs, do well and build a career. As he rightly says, young people need that crucial first break and that is what this guarantee will provide.
Every day of unemployment means hardship, worry and missed opportunity for someone who wants to be working and earning. But the full costs are borne more widely and last much longer. Every day of unemployment is a cost to the taxpayer in unemployment benefit and tax revenue forgone, and a cost to the economy in lost output. It also imposes a cost we can never account for, through the strain it puts on individuals, families and communities. Those costs—in benefit spending, tax revenues, economic output, and individual and social well-being—can reach far into the future, as the scarring effects of unemployment build up.
The Acevo commission on youth unemployment found that people who experienced unemployment in their younger years are more likely to suffer not only spells of unemployment in later life, but, in work an average wage penalty of more than 15%. That is why it is so troubling that youth unemployment is going back up. It is back up today to more than three-quarters of a million. Young women now unemployed will, a decade from now, be earning on average £1,700 a year less as a result of being unemployed today. Young men now unemployed will be earning £3,300 less a decade from now. Those effects worsen the longer that somebody is out of work.
Work by Paul Gregg at the university of Bath and Emma Tommony at the university of York suggests that the 200,000 young people who have now been out of work for more than a year are, on average, likely to spend another two years either unemployed or economically inactive between the ages of 28 and 33, and that the men, by the age of 42, will be suffering a wage penalty of more than £7,000 a year. Those are big effects that need to be addressed.
My right hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. On the effects of long-term unemployment on young people, he mentioned the impact on income, but will he comment about the impact on mental health, as unemployment can have lifelong effects? Does he agree that it is important to have a joined-up approach between the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was at an event yesterday with the Prince’s Trust where a young man was describing how he was about to be sectioned when, thanks to the Prince’s Trust, he was able to go into a job and his mental health problem was resolved. She is also right about the costs to the economy and the health service of long periods of unemployment early on.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the jobs that we are talking about here, unlike the jobs that many young people have to take at the moment, which are zero hours and exploitative, will be real and proper jobs? They will not be the fake jobs that this coalition Government are producing.
I can assure my hon. Friend that these will be jobs for at least 25 hours a week and paid at least at the level of the national minimum wage.
The persistent unemployment that we still see today could be contributing to a continued cost of living crisis tomorrow, weakening the productivity and the growth potential of our economy as well as undermining efforts to keep social spending under control and to bring down the deficit. We must take urgent and effective action now to tackle the problem.
What action have we seen from the Government? One of their very first acts on entering office was to abolish the future jobs fund, breaking, incidentally, the promise that the current Home Secretary made during the election campaign. Eventually, the DWP published an evaluation of the future jobs fund and, to the surprise of nobody on the Opposition Benches, it was glowing. It found a net benefit to society—net of all the Exchequer costs—of £7,750 for every single young person who took part. It reckoned that, within three years, half the cost of that intervention came back to the Exchequer because participants stopped claiming benefits and started paying tax and national insurance. It was an exceptionally cost-effective policy.
By late 2012, when the evaluation was published, it was too late. The future jobs fund had gone. In the time since its abolition, unemployment had risen to more than 2.5 million and youth unemployment had risen to more than 1 million.
As the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the research, may I just read out what it says? It says that
“even under the most optimistic combination of assumptions…the FJF programme is still estimated to result in a net cost to the Exchequer…there might never be an estimated net benefit to the Exchequer.”
That is what the analysis said.
If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the previous paragraph, he will see that the evaluation said that half the cost of an intervention came back to the Exchequer within a three-year period and that the wholly inadequate replacement for it was the Work programme, which sends more people straight back to the jobcentre after two years than it places in sustained work. It also performs shockingly badly not just in Edinburgh, as we were hearing earlier on, but for those in need of support, such as older workers and people with health problems for whom it has so far recorded failure rates of 87% and 93% respectively. The Work programme has been a failure and we must replace it with something that works better.
On youth unemployment, the Deputy Prime Minister saw what was going on and had an attack of conscience. He announced the Youth Contract, which the Government promised would lead to 160,000 work subsidies for young jobseekers. It started in April 2012 and it was an utter flop. It was not promoted. That was undoubtedly because DWP Ministers, with the possible exception of the Minister for Pensions, did not have their heart in it. Employers knew nothing about it. Those who did hear of it were confused by it and had nothing to do with it. The Government’s own advisers on poverty and social mobility said that it was not working, so last summer it was unceremoniously shut down early, after it had achieved fewer than 10% of the promised placements that were budgeted for. Ever since then, unemployment among young people has been going up.
The latest proposal from the Government is time-limiting support for young people without giving them the opportunity to train, after which they will simply be required to do community service. That is not an employment policy, but a policy for punishing the victims of the negligence and ineffectiveness of this Government.
For all the right hon. Gentleman’s bluster, does he not accept that youth unemployment has gone down under this Government? For all his criticism, does he not accept that youth unemployment under the Labour Government was steadily going up from 2004 to 2010? Labour does not have a good record.
Youth unemployment was affected by the worldwide economic crash. What is worrying—even the hon. Gentleman might, in the privacy of his own reflection, be worried about this—is that, at a time when overall unemployment is coming down, youth unemployment is going up. The rate of youth unemployment is nearly three times the overall rate of unemployment now, and that multiple has been going up progressively since the general election.
My constituency is probably a good example of what is going on in the country, and its youth unemployment is down by 50% since the last general election.
The hon. Gentleman just needs to look at the figures published in January, which show that youth unemployment has been going up for the past three months. The figures that we saw last month cover the period from September to November.
Let me make a little more progress, then I will gladly give way again.
Labour has a real plan to get young people into work and to end the scourge of long-term unemployment. It is a tough plan as we will hold people responsible for accepting work when it is offered, but it is also a fair plan as it gives a young person the opportunity to work, earn a wage and develop skills. Our compulsory jobs guarantee will guarantee a real, paid job, most likely in the private sector—[Interruption.] Members just need to look at what has happened with Jobs Growth Wales, which we heard about a few moments ago. About 80% of the jobs provided on the same wage subsidy model—5,000 companies have been hosting those jobs—are in the private sector. We will guarantee a job for every 18 to 24-year-old who has been looking for work and claiming jobseeker’s allowance for a year, and for every adult aged 25 and over who has been looking for work and claiming for two years.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Let me quote him the statistics from Harlow. In May 2010, 605 young people aged 18 to 24 were claiming JSA, a rate of 8.1%. That was higher than the national average. Now, 235 young people are claiming JSA in Harlow—a rate of 3.1%—putting Harlow back in line with the national average. What does he say about that? Surely those figures are to do with not just the Work programme but all the investment in apprenticeships, the new university technical schools and other methods.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the national figures. Of course unemployment was hit hard by the worldwide economic crash, but over the past three months in particular there has been a steady, month-by-month increase in youth unemployment at a time when overall unemployment is coming down. I put it to him—I think many Government Members would sympathise with this view—that we need to ensure that young people have a fair chance in the recovery that is now under way of gaining the jobs that are being created. The measure that I am arguing for will allow that to happen.
I will make a little more progress and then I will gladly give way again.
The Government would cover the costs to employers of paying national minimum wage and national insurance for a 25-hour week plus £500 per employee to help businesses with training, admin and set-up costs. In return, employers would be expected to provide training and development for those taking part and show how the jobs were additional—not replacing existing jobs and not leading to somebody else losing their job or seeing a reduction in hours.
Given the right hon. Gentleman’s faith in the private sector in rallying to his scheme, is he not perturbed by the Institute of Directors saying that it
“does not bear much scrutiny”?
“Wage subsidies for employers are not the source of sustainable jobs.”
With that in mind, will he place in the Library or share with the House how many companies have come forward to express their delight at the scheme?
I can answer that very directly: 5,000 employers are taking part in the Jobs Growth Wales scheme. The Federation of Small Businesses in Wales is a champion. I simply contrast the quote given by the hon. Gentleman with the experience of those on the ground, including the FSB.
Many of the jobs that my right hon. Friend is referring to would come from small and medium-sized enterprises. One of the main problems faced by SMEs on my patch is cash flow—trying to get money from work that they have completed. Is there anything that a future Labour Government could do to speed up payments, so that small suppliers could get the money in and take on young people?
I have just mentioned the FSB. My hon. Friend will know how active it has been in demanding change of the kind he describes and makes a telling case for. I agree: more should be done to support small business in that way, and in other ways. We need to reform how the banks deal with their small-business customers too.
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. He has expounded a great deal on his belief in Jobs Growth Wales. His party’s socialist policies have been implemented in Wales, but figures from the Welsh Government show that only one in three of the young people who have applied for Jobs Growth Wales got a job, so it is nowhere near guaranteeing a job for all young people.
We will be delivering a guarantee, exactly as we did with the future jobs fund. Anyone can look back at the record of the future jobs fund, where a guarantee was delivered. It will be again.
I shall say a little more about how the guarantee would work. Participants would be required, if their employer did not plan to keep them on when the subsidy ended, to pursue intensive job search for a permanent opportunity at the end of the six months. Any jobseeker who refused to take up a job offered under the guarantee would, in the normal way and in line with the long-standing conditions for benefit claims, lose their benefits. That is always the case.
The right hon. Gentleman is very careful with his figures, so he will know the answer to this question. He points to the future jobs fund as evidence of how his new scheme would work, and he says he hopes those new jobs would be in the private sector. What percentage of future jobs fund jobs were in the private sector? What is the figure?
Very few. There is the good example of Jaguar Land Rover taking on a group of young people under the future jobs fund, and my understanding is that every single one of those young people was kept on in their job when the wage subsidy ended. The future jobs fund was largely about the charity and public sectors; the guarantee is largely about the private sector, exactly as Jobs Growth Wales has been.
The right hon. Gentleman is keen to talk about numbers, so let me give some from his own constituency. In May 2010, there were 410 jobseeker’s allowance claimants who had been unemployed for more than a year. In December 2014, the figure was 225. In May 2010, the six-month figure was 1,585, but in December 2014 it was 1,045. Will he not acknowledge that, even in his own constituency, this Government’s policies are making a difference and people are getting real jobs?
Those figures, in my constituency and in his, are far too high. A great deal more needs to be done to enable young people in particular, but long-term unemployed over-25s as well, to share in the benefit of the recovery that is, at last, under way.
I am a little distressed at the rather mean-spirited response from some Government Members. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most salient features of the proposal is giving people the experience of work and letting them see what 8 o’clock in the morning looks like and get the idea of being in a job? If the job that they move into in the future is not the same job, so what? The important thing is to get people into the world of work.
My hon. Friend is right. I have spoken to many people, including those who went through the future jobs fund, who say exactly that: having the break of getting six months in a job, becoming familiar with the habits and routines of work, and putting that on their CV enabled them to thrive.
This policy is not just an immediate intervention to limit youth and long-term unemployment; it is an investment in the skills and employability of the British work force, underpinning our productivity, growth potential and fiscal sustainability into the future, but we have been clear that there will be no commitments in our manifesto that require more borrowing. Therefore, we have set out clear plans to fund the policy fairly and prudently.
In the first year, to provide for the large number of long-term claimants left by this Government’s policies, we would pay for the policy with a repeat of the successful bank bonus tax, which was levied in 2010. That could raise £2 billion. In future years, the costs would be covered by restricting pensions tax relief for the highest paid—those earning more than £150,000 a year—to 20%. The House of Commons Library has estimated that that could raise between £900 million and £1.3 billion a year. That is a fair and prudent way to fund jobs for young people and the long-term unemployed, and to fund the guarantee throughout the next Parliament.
I will not give way again.
Those measures have been opposed and rejected by Government Members, but we have seen where five years of their trickle-down philosophy has taken us—five years of protecting privileges for a few at the top while leaving the rest to fend for themselves.
Our plan is to put working people first, ensuring that those who can and should work are in work, that we make the most of their talents and that hard work is always rewarded. That is the way to secure a recovery from which everybody can benefit and to get social security spending under control and our public finances on a sustainable footing. That is the way to secure a future in which prosperity and social justice go hand in hand and ensure that the next generation can look forward to a brighter future. That is the plan our country needs. This Government will not deliver it. We can be thankful that the time is not far off when we can elect a Labour Government who will.
I say to colleagues that I will give way, but I am conscious also that, due to all the pressures earlier on, Back Benchers will want to get their speeches in.
It is always a pleasure to follow Stephen Timms, who took a good shot at making a good fist of a bad job. By my calculation, it is over a year since the Opposition initiated a debate on jobs. I wonder why. So much for them being the party of work, which is what they used to say.
The Opposition have repeatedly avoided talking about the labour market, although my colleagues have been dying to intervene. When the Opposition have spoken about the labour market, there has been nothing but talking the economy down and negativity. They have made gloomy forecasts—I recall the Leader of the Opposition talking about
“the disappearance of...a million jobs”.
Then there was the misguided prophecy of
“a long ‘lost decade’...of...high unemployment”.
The Opposition have opposed welfare reform, and most importantly work experience, at every turn. Stephen Pound is right: work experience is what young people want, so why have the Opposition opposed our work experience programme, which has been unbelievably successful?
Meanwhile, it is this Government who have delivered 2.2 million more private sector workers, 2 million apprenticeships starts, work experience and training for over a quarter of a million young people, 60,000 businesses through the new enterprise allowance, and the Work programme, helping 600,000 people to get a job—a sustained job that follows. With the election approaching, the Opposition desperately want to sound as though they have anything positive to say about any kind of jobs programme, now that this Government have turned the situation around. Whereas this Government have a record of success, the more one examines the Opposition’s flagship jobs guarantee, the clearer it becomes that that is little more than a no-jobs guarantee, and certainly a guarantee of no jobs in the private sector.
Let me go through the jobs guarantee, as it is the subject of the debate today. We first heard about it in 2011, when it was said to be for young people who had been unemployed for a year. It offered a guaranteed job for 12 months. In 2013, that seemed to morph into a compulsory jobs guarantee for those who had been unemployed for two years, so the objective had already slipped a bit. It guaranteed a job for only six months—half the time previously advertised by the original statement. Yet there remained complete confusion in the Opposition ranks about how long this programme was meant to last. When pressed, the shadow Chancellor said:
“We would have a guarantee of one year for young people, two years for adults. Anybody who is out of work would be guaranteed a job.”
That is not quite what I heard from the Opposition today. How long will it last—one year, two years, six months? What exactly have they costed?
I can understand why the title of this debate was changed. One could almost hear what was going on behind closed doors between the shadow Chancellor and my opposite number, Rachel Reeves, when they were hoping to announce all the details about how long the jobs guarantee would last. One could almost hear the shadow Chancellor saying, because it was in the speech from the right hon. Member for East Ham, “You’re not announcing anything that allows anybody to cost this properly, because that way they will tell us that this does not work.” Even the motion carefully leaves those questions unanswered. Why would not the Opposition put in their motion all the details of this apparently wonderful plan? The answer is that no such wonderful plan exists. They allude to certain other plans out there, but they do not tell us what they mean.
What we heard today sounded rather familiar, so I looked it up. Back when Labour was last in government, there was a programme called StepUp. It was piloted by the previous Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, in 20 areas between 2002 and 2004. I shall not go over the names of the programme, but it was supposed to give paid employment to those failed by the new deal and out of work for two years. StepUp was never rolled out nationally by the previous Government because the evaluation from 2006 exposed its failings: for those nearest the labour market and those under 25, StepUp actually had a negative impact on work prospects, at a massive cost of £10,000 per place.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the programme in Wales. The hon. Member for Leeds West has been even more explicit that the Opposition’s jobs programme is a rehash of Jobs Growth Wales. She said:
“I went to see a scheme very similar to this in Wales last week and...that’s what we would aim to do across the UK”.
But that is not what was described from the Opposition Front Bench today. A closer look at what has been announced about Jobs Growth Wales reveals that in many senses it is an exercise in cherry-picking. The hardest to help are not eligible; no one on the Work programme, Work Choice or any similar programme is allowed to go for the new programme; and places are given to only one in three of those who have applied, so a place is far from being guaranteed for all. In any case, although Jobs Growth Wales has trumpeted a success rate of 80% of participants in work, an apprenticeship or learning after six months, already 90% of all—not some—young people in Wales move off jobseeker’s allowance within nine months. That has nothing to do with the programme and all to do with what is happening to them through the jobcentres and through the Work programme.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that general unemployment in Harlow has gone down by 50% since 2010, youth unemployment has gone down by 56% since 2010 and 83% of the jobs created are permanent positions, yet the Labour councillor, Emma Toal, said last week at a council budget meeting in Harlow that she feels sick to the stomach when I quote the fall in unemployment and the jobs created. Is that not shocking? Is that not a shame? Does that not show that we are the workers’ party and Labour is the party of dependency?
Yes, it is appalling that the councillor is unhappy about the idea that more people are getting work in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The reason why she takes that attitude, I think, is that Labour wants only to be elected. The Opposition do not care about anyone else. They would rather tell bad news to get elected than have a success that they could trumpet. Perhaps that is the real point.
Ninety per cent. of all young people in Wales move off JSA within nine months, so at £6,000 a place, the alleged success that is being trumpeted is nothing like the value for money that the right hon. Member for East Ham mentioned earlier.
In Burnley in 2009 we were classed as a basket case—a town that was going nowhere, or going down. That was at the time that the future jobs fund was happening. Last year we were cited as the most enterprising town in the UK. We have doubled the number of apprenticeships to 4,300 and the number of young people out of work has gone down by 47%. Surely that is the right way to go, not to force people into work that they do not want to do.
May I say to my hon. Friend—I repeat, my hon. Friend—what an excellent job he has done in championing his constituency? He is right—it is about getting private sector businesses to create real jobs for young people and older workers to go into.
I want to deal in some detail with the jobs guarantee versus the future jobs fund. A Labour press release that I saw in 2014 extolled the Opposition’s pet project as
“building on the success of the Future Jobs Fund”.
The right hon. Member for East Ham carried on the Labour line. I hope that was noted back at headquarters. He is clearly to be trusted through the election, and I give him a lot of support for that.
As for the claimed success of the future jobs fund, the DWP analysis that I quoted earlier is important. It was commissioned under Labour and was subjected to extensive peer review by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which, as I said earlier, found that not only was the fund estimated to result in a net cost to the Exchequer but that, as I pointed out, the future jobs fund was not estimated to benefit the Exchequer at any stage, and the Exchequer would not be able to get back the money that it had spent on the programme.
By contrast, as the hon. Member for Ealing North said, young people want work experience. I remember that early on, when I first went into jobcentres, I was accosted by young people who said that the problem for them was that at job interviews they were asked whether they had job experience, and when they said they had none, they were told that they could not be given a job without work experience, but their response was that they could not get work experience without a job.
Under the previous Government, people were allowed only two weeks’ work experience before they were expected back at the jobcentre. What we did instead was to allow them up to two months’ work experience in a business, and an extra month if they were offered a job or an apprenticeship. So, by contrast, work experience under this Government—this is the interesting point—has achieved the same success rate at least as the future jobs fund achieved, but at a twentieth of the cost—£325 per place as opposed to £6,500 per place. Another difference is that the vast majority of positions under the work experience programme are in the private sector, whereas I can think of hardly any private sector companies that offered jobs under the future jobs fund. It is a success versus a costly failure.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows—he has the evaluation in front of him—there was a net benefit to society of £7,500, net of all Exchequer costs, for each person who took part. Is he surprised that youth unemployment has been going up over the past three months, at a time when overall unemployment is coming down, or was that what he expected?
Youth unemployment is now lower than it was under the previous Government, and it has been falling consistently. I will wait for the figures for the next few quarters, and when they show that youth unemployment has continued to fall, I expect the right hon. Gentleman to write me a note saying, “Sorry about that; that’s another thing we got wrong.”
I will give way in a moment, but I just want to spend a little more time on the future jobs fund, because it is such a rich seam. I continue to ask the right hon. Member for East Ham to give us the list of private sector companies that are signed up to his new scheme, but he has not come up with it. The interesting point is that councils from Merthyr Tydfil to Norfolk and from Tyneside to Wakefield have all complained about how difficult it is to get businesses to deliver the future jobs fund. None of them could find anyone to deliver it. In Barnsley only 7% of the jobs found were in the private sector, and in Birmingham the figure was only 2%.
I was a little intrigued by that, because I know that the right hon. Gentleman is an intelligent man—I have huge respect for him and thought that he was a very competent Minister—and it was unlike him, given how accurate he normally is, to come to the Dispatch Box and, when pressed on how many private sector jobs would come from the scheme, answer, “It is most likely to be in the private sector.” That is it. That is the calculation that the Opposition have made for this incredible programme. He believes that it is “most likely” that those jobs will be in the private sector, yet not a single private sector employer is interested in it.
It is small wonder that the shadow Leader of the House also failed to name a single business that had signed up to the jobs guarantee. When pressed about the vast number of jobs there would be in the private sector, the shadow Chancellor, in a forerunner to his problem with “Bill Somebody”, said:
“But if not, you can do it through the voluntary sector. If not, you have to have a final backstop: a public work scheme.”
That is what they have. He let the cat out of the bag. The reality is that high streets and businesses have now made their views clear about Labour’s “destructive anti-business mood”. The Institute of Directors has stated that,
“wage subsidies for employers are not the source of sustainable jobs”.
That is what this ridiculous programme would mean.
I was initially reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman while the compliments were flowing from the Treasury Bench, but normal service has now been resumed. The major difference between the scheme that he is promulgating and that which we are proposing—I reiterate this for the avoidance of any doubt—is that while the Government are proposing work experience, we are talking about real jobs. The advantage of work experience cannot be denied, but the aim of our proposal is proper, permanent jobs. If they turn out not to be permanent jobs that people start with it, so be it, but the difference is between permanence and work experience.
The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a huge amount of time, is right about work experience, and he must not let anyone on his side push him off that, but what he has just said is slightly wrong. He said that we are promulgating work experience and the Opposition are talking about a jobs guarantee, but we are not promulgating it; a quarter of a million young people have already gone on our work experience programme, and over 50% of them have gone into work. He is quite right that not all of them went into the businesses they did the work experience with, but many of them have gone into other jobs almost immediately.
What is really exciting is that although many businesses said, “We’ll do the work experience, but we can’t guarantee a job,” a significant number of them, once they had seen the young person for a few weeks, came back and said, “I tell you what: we’re going to create a job around this individual, because we think they’re going to help our company.” That is what work experience has done. I simply say to Opposition Members that they should embrace that, not oppose it, because their Front Benchers have opposed work experience, and that is a big problem.
In my experience the Opposition do support work experience, and there are many examples of that. Does the Secretary of State realise that there are already local examples of programmes similar to that which we are today proposing nationally? For example, my local authority, North Lanarkshire council, is about to announce that 5,000 people have got into work as a result of a similar project. Permanent private sector jobs have been created as a result of a six-month wage subsidy.
But because of what we are doing with local authorities, working through the local enterprise partnerships, and with all the local provision that we have been pushing down, if they want to create additional programmes, Jobcentre Plus will support them through that. We have to be slightly careful, when starting to calculate figures, about one group coming on the back of others, because we will not know how many of those went to work as a result of Jobcentre Plus and how many as a result of the programme. If local authorities, rightly, want to help, we are all in favour of supporting them with extra help.
I will make a little progress before giving way again.
The issue still remains for the Opposition which I thought this debate was about. I thought they would have a fantastic motion that answered all these questions, but they do not. These are the biggest questions: which businesses have signed up to the jobs guarantee, and how many jobs have they guaranteed to provide? In the absence of any answers, I will quote the OECD’s view of these kinds of make-work schemes. For the past 20 years it has demonstrated that such schemes are expensive and counter-productive. Its jobs strategy states that having
“large deadweight losses, displacement and substitution effect… direct job creation in the public sector has been of little success in helping unemployed people get permanent jobs in a more open labour market”.
That is probably the final word on the structure of Labour’s jobs guarantee.
Let us look at how the Opposition propose to fund their jobs guarantee, which I had thought would be dealt with clearly today. The right hon. Member for East Ham said something about it, but they seem to have gone back to their original position. Her Majesty’s Treasury has estimated that for 2015-16 the jobs guarantee would cost £1.54 billion for the over-25s and a further £540 million for the under-25s, so over £2 billion in total for only one year. To pay for it, the Opposition have proposed two measures.
First, they would restrict pensions tax relief for earnings over £150,000. Let us deal with that first. They originally committed that funding for the purpose of increasing working and child tax credits, so they seem to have done a little dodge. I have no idea whether they still plan to use it for that, but I am sure we will find out. Apparently it will now pay for the jobs guarantee. Never mind the fact that it would take—this is a real estimate from those who know—until 2018-19 to implement, leaving three years with no funding to cover the annual cost of £1.5 billion. They cannot just wave a magic wand and say, “The money’s there”; they also have to position the money at the right time. The right hon. Gentleman was forced by the shadow Chancellor to say that there would be no borrowing. Well, that looks to me like a chunk of borrowing.
That is even if the proposal raises any money at all, because the CBI has called it “simply unworkable”, the National Association of Pension Funds has warned that it is a “disaster in the making”, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that it
“would be expensive to administer… unfair and would inappropriately distort behaviour.”
The Opposition would create a problem in the pensions industry and damage people’s savings, and all to fund a programme that simply would not work.
The second source of funding is repeating the one-off bankers bonus tax. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that no matter how many ways he cuts this, Labour has spent this money 11 times over. That is the 11 that I can find; I am sure my hon. Friends will find a lot more. There were proposals on reversing the VAT increase, at £12.75 billion; reversing tax credit savings, at £5.8 billion; more housing, at £1.2 billion; reversing the child benefit savings, at £3.1 billion; more capital spending, at £5.8 billion; and more child care, at £800 million. It is almost like one of those game shows—“Come on down, there’s another box to be opened and we’ll spend that money as well.” These sources go on and on and on; it is quite fascinating. Yet it has been said time and again that this is a one-off tax. When in office, Labour’s last Chancellor, Mr Darling, said of the idea of repeating this tax that it is
“a one-off thing…because the very people you are after…will find all sorts of imaginative ways of avoiding it in the future.”
He had no time at all for the idea of a repetition of Labour’s bankers bonus tax. So there we have it: the cobbled-together nonsense of Labour’s jobs guarantee, destined to fail and wholly and utterly unfunded.
On additional funding for the unemployed—I say this as someone who was unemployed for three years, so I know it is not a nice place to be—would this Government consider channelling any retrospective payments from people who have been found guilty of avoiding tax into fighting youth unemployment?
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that in my time before politics I was made redundant, and I know what it is like not to know where the next pay cheque is coming from. I agree with him: it is a terrible place to be, and no one, if we can avoid it, should be there. That is why we have said that, through the long-term economic plan, we have to make sure that the economy is stable and on a good, long trajectory, and that we get our debts and our deficits down. As regards chasing people who are avoiding tax, this Government, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said today at the Dispatch Box, have done more to close down tax loopholes than any other Government previously.
Hypothecated funding is a matter for the Chancellor, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but I will certainly pass his views on. Many of us in this House loathe the idea of some people being able to hide their money away. We think that hard-working taxpayers deserve a fair deal, and the unemployed do too. I am seeing the Chancellor later today, and I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will pass his comments on to him.
As regards Labour’s proposed programme, with the best will in the world, I say to the right hon. Member for East Ham that he could have done better on the back of a fag packet, having had weeks, months and years to figure it out. I suspect Labour Members had to come up with something for this debate and are therefore doing this now. This slot was probably destined for a debate on the health service, but because they have made such a Horlicks of that, they have decided to throw in this business instead.
Let me deal with the success of the employment programme and talk about what we in this Government have done. Universal Jobmatch has transformed how almost 7 million people look for work, with over 4 million average daily searches. Work experience is one of this Government’s great successes for young people, with half of participants off benefits at a twentieth of the cost of the future jobs fund. The Work programme is helping more people than any programme before. Over 1 million have spent time off benefit, and almost 640,000 have got a job, 368,000 of whom have found lasting work, with a third of them staying in a job for 18 months or longer. It is now the most successful back-to-work programme of all those that have been put forward. Performance is exceeding all our original expectations and is better than under any previous Labour programme.
Let us look at how much better the Work programme is than some of the programmes Labour had. More than twice as many people moved into work in the first two years under the Work programme as did under the flexible new deal. Nearly three times as many people have been in a six-month job than were under the flexible new deal. For recent and new employment and support allowance claimants, Work programme job outcomes are exceeding expectations and rising all the time, compared with Labour’s Pathways to Work programme—never rolled out fully—which had no statistically significant impact on employment outcomes and was assessed by the National Audit Office as poor value for money. The truth is that we are now doing more for people who have difficulties getting into work than the previous Government ever did.
Does Sheila Gilmore still want to intervene, as she has been trying to catch my eye? No, she is on her computer. I hope she was writing up a glowing review of my speech; I look forward to reading it on Twitter in due course. I give way to her.
The Secretary of State always says of the work experience programme that about half of young people who take part in it go into work. His own Department’s evaluation—I do not know whether there has been a more recent one than 2012, but I have not seen it—suggested that following the work experience programme there was a difference between a participant group and a non-participant group, but it was only a small one. Does he not agree that nearly half of those who did not participate in work experience also went into work?
It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Lady. She has tortuously wound her way around all these figures, but I come back to the simple point that the work experience programme, at a twentieth of the cost of the future jobs fund, ensures that over 50% of those who enter it will go into work. By the way, I did not invent the work experience programme—it was invented for me by somebody on the floor of the job centre because young people were saying, “Can’t we have more time for work experience than the last Government allowed us to have?” I do not know if she has seen the really interesting figure that the claimant count in her constituency is down by nearly 50%. That is a very good story. I know she will want to write that up as well, as an excellent statistic.
The record jobs figures under this Government stand as testament to our success, with more people in work than ever before, up by 1.75 million, and more people in private sector jobs than ever before, up by nearly 2.2 million. Since 2010, two thirds of the rise in employment has gone to UK nationals—the Opposition never achieved this—thereby reversing the damaging trend of Labour’s last five years in office, when the majority of jobs went to foreign nationals. What is more, we now have more women in work than ever before, more lone parents in work than ever before, and more older workers than ever before—and employment for young people and disabled people is up on the year as well.
Let me now deal with the suggestion that these people are moving into part-time, low-quality work. That is not true. The Opposition constantly harp on about a figure that has no basis in fact, so let me give the facts. Full-time employment is up by over 1.3 million since 2010—over 80% of the rise in employment in the past year alone. Permanent employees are up by 1 million since 2010—nearly 80% of all people in work. Three quarters of those in employment since 2010 have come from managerial, professional or associate professional jobs. The Opposition constantly put about the nonsense that there are nothing but zero-hour, no-value, low-skilled jobs, but that is simply not true.
It seems to me that with the DWP reforms we have brought through and with the changes to the tax system and regulation, we have created the greatest job creation engine this country has ever seen. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this motion is completely redundant, just as the Labour party’s measures in the previous Government created so many redundancies?
I do agree. I also remind my hon. Friend that my hon. Friend Mr Jones said that under the previous Government youth unemployment did not, as the right hon. Member for East Ham claimed, rise only because of the great global recession that somehow crept up on the previous Government, but was rising steadily from 2004 all the way through.
Opposition Members often say that all the jobs being created are zero-hours contracts, as in the election literature they put through people’s doors. Can my right hon. Friend say what the prevalence is of zero-hours contracts in the workplace?
I can tell my hon. Friend exactly—it is 2% of people and 4% of total contracts. Moreover, this Government are moving to get rid of the exclusivity that we think is an abuse in zero-hours contracts—something that Labour never did anything about when in office. The truth about zero-hours contracts, limited as they are, is that they give some people, such as many of those with caring responsibilities, the flexibility of picking work when they need it. We are closing down on the abuses, and they are reducing. By the way, the previous Government never did anything about that. I am reminded—I should have remembered—that the previous Government said they were perfectly at ease and happy with people getting filthy rich, so the point is that we should not expect too much from Labour Members.
I hope that my right hon. Friend is making progress with the Leader of the Opposition in convincing Doncaster council not to use so many zero-hours contracts, because it is profligate in doing so.
With the Labour party, it is always a case of “Look at what I say, not what I do”, because we invariably find that Labour party members out in the country are doing something fundamentally different. Let me finish my speech, because I am conscious of the time, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Labour Government presided over a great recession—the great Labour recession—which cost the British economy £112 billion, and cost 750,000 people their jobs. We should never forget that their recklessness with the economy cost ordinary families up and down the country very dear in terms of lost jobs, lost money and lost hope. On their watch, youth unemployment increased by nearly half, long-term unemployment almost doubled in just two years, 5 million people were on out-of-work benefits and no one worked at all in one in five households. When we entered government, one in five households had nobody in work: that was the previous Government’s record.
I believe that this Government have got Britain back to work, with unemployment down, youth unemployment down, long-term unemployment down and the lowest rate of workless households on record. We have a proven track record on delivery: departmental baseline spending is down £2 billion; reforms are set to save £50 billion overall next year; and there has been a real-terms fall in welfare spending for the first time in 16 years. Over this Parliament, welfare spending has grown at the slowest rate since the creation of the welfare state.
Above all, our real success is not about figures—in hundreds of thousands, millions or even billions—but about the fact that each and every job created means a life transformed. Each job gives a young person a real sense of self-worth, gives an adult new hope, and gives a parent a sense of security for themselves and their children. That is what the Government stand for, and what we have delivered—hope and security for families up and down the country.
Order. There is a time limit on all Back-Bench speeches of five minutes. The wind-ups in this debate will start at 4.10 pm.
Interestingly, the very first inquiry undertaken by the Work and Pensions Committee when I took over as Chair after the election was on the Government’s plans to abolish the future jobs fund. It feels as though we have come full circle since then. At that time, the Government promised to bring in something a lot better, but their Work programme was not better and was certainly not as targeted as the future jobs fund.
There is no doubt that the future jobs fund was extremely successful. The fact that it was not allowed to run its course means that on paper it seemed a bit more expensive than an alternative, but that is because it included all the start-up costs. It worked because it was about real jobs for real people paying a real wage. It was not the same as work experience, valuable though that is, because it was much more disciplined in making sure that people were in the world of work. Many young people got a job as a result of the future jobs fund.
I think Members from both sides of the Chamber agree that the best way to tackle welfare spending is to get more people into work. People should not just get into work, but into well-paid work so that they are not still dependent on welfare payments while in work, as is now happening. There has been an increase in in-work poverty, with people in work but still depending on one benefit or another. For example, more than 50% of those in receipt of housing benefit have someone in their household in work, which cannot be right. Hand in hand with getting people into work must be getting them into well-paid work.
This debate is timely for me as an Aberdeen MP. While almost everyone in the rest of the country is welcoming the low oil price, which they think will help their local economy, in Aberdeen it is the very opposite. We do not yet know the numbers involved, but the low oil price means that thousands of my constituents and people from across the north-east of Scotland have become unemployed or are about to lose their jobs. There has been a slight time lag, but a lot is now happening, with Talisman and BP announcing that 600 jobs are going in just one week. Most of the oil majors have announced 200 to 300 job losses, and the supply chain is also shedding jobs fast.
There is nothing to replace those jobs, and when unemployment goes up and an area finds itself in such a situation, the young and unemployed suffer the most, whether those who have left school and cannot get a job or those who are shed first, as often happens, in any kind of downturn. Although the downturn may seem to affect high-level jobs in the oil and gas industry, it will eventually filter down to hotels, shops and nightclubs and all the other jobs in services in Aberdeen.
I was very complacent as the local MP—other Members who also represent the north-east of Scotland were quite pleased—about the fact that we had such low unemployment. Unemployment was coming down—in fact, it was less than 1% in my constituency, which by anyone’s measure is full employment—and there was a labour shortage, so we were looking for more people, but that has now been overturned.
The compulsory jobs guarantee would help to create jobs. The economy of Aberdeen will need new jobs, and we must ensure that the remaining jobs are not completely lost to the economy. I hope that the oil price will pick up, and that such jobs can be recreated. The promise is that we will look after people when times get hard—as they will for many people in the area, particularly the young who cannot get on the first rung of the ladder—and that is where the really important compulsory jobs guarantee will come into its own. I am glad that my party is going into the next election promising to make sure that young people will have the opportunity of jobs being created for them.
I thank the Opposition for giving the House the opportunity to discuss jobs and their compulsory jobs guarantee scheme. [Interruption.] I am told that that is very generous, and it is. I am a little surprised that the Opposition have been unable to rustle up more than half a dozen Members, aside from their Front Benchers, to debate their own motion. [Interruption.] I apologise, one additional Member has walked into the Chamber.
The aspiration for any political party should be full unemployment, and no Government should rest until that is achieved. It is always correct to say that more can be done on jobs; frankly, more needs to be done following the downturn that did so much damage to our country’s economy. This Government have made great strides in restoring economic credibility with plans that are working and will continue to work if we stick to them.
It is worth reminding the House about the record of the previous Government. We are all aware that long-term unemployment almost doubled between 2008 and 2010, from 381,000 to 788,000. We also know that under Labour unemployment rose by almost 500,000, female unemployment rose by almost a third and youth unemployment almost doubled. The number of households in which nobody worked or had ever worked also almost doubled, and more than 2.5 million people spent at least five years on out-of-work benefits. In my constituency, the number of people out of work in May 2010 was higher than in May 1997. According to the Office for National Statistics, every period of Labour Government since 1945 has concluded with unemployment higher than when it began. That is not a record that I would be proud of.
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the figure that he gave was not correct? In fact, unemployment was not higher in 2010, even after the recession, than when the Labour Government came to office.
I am not prepared to concede that. I am happy with the numbers that I have. I will go away and check them. I promise to write to the hon. Lady and apologise if I have got my figures wrong, but I think they are fairly robust.
Thankfully, Government Members know a little bit about employment. One or two of us have run businesses that have employed people. We also know what it is like to be made redundant. I was interested in the Secretary of State’s remarks on that. I know from my experience how unpleasant it can be and how difficult it is for families. I started a businesses when I was 26 with Government help under the enterprise allowance scheme, which is helping many thousands of businesses now. Back in 1993, £20 a week was not a lot of money, but it was enough to fill up my car with fuel, which enabled me to grow a business that was eventually acquired by a public limited company.
Let us see what we have done so far. The number of jobs is about 1.75 million higher than in 2010. Thanks to our plan, the economy is stable and there is no reason to believe that job numbers will not continue to rise. Some 80% of employment is full time. Since this Government took office, 1,000 jobs have been created every day. The youth unemployment claimant count has fallen to its lowest level since the ’70s. In the last year alone, there was a fall of 34% in young people claiming jobseeker’s allowance, and the claimant count has fallen every month for the past three years. The Work programme has helped almost a third of a million people into long-term employment since 2011.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very telling that the number of part-timers who would like to have full-time work has fallen by 140,000? That is a clear indication that full-time work is back.
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct. There are people who enjoy working part time and feel that it suits their lifestyle. The figure that he mentioned is encouraging.
In my constituency, the number of young people claiming JSA has dropped by almost 40% in the last year alone. We have introduced a couple of schemes that are helping people into work or back into work. The Work programme is helping 1.75 million unemployed people. As of September last year, it had helped a third of a million people into lasting work. Help to Work, the scheme for long-term unemployed young people who have been in the Work programme for a couple of years, is providing community work placements. The Government have pledged to fund Help to Work with £700 million over four years, and it is helping 200,000 people.
The number of apprenticeships has more than doubled in this Parliament. Since the coalition came to office, 2 million apprenticeships have been started, which means that this Government have overseen the biggest ever boost to apprenticeships and fulfilled their commitment that there would be 2 million apprenticeship starts in this Parliament. The apprenticeship grant for employers has provided for 92,500 apprenticeship starts, with 8,000 more in the pipeline. My constituency has seen almost 1,000 apprenticeship starts. I thank all the employers who have taken up the scheme and the excellent colleges that are delivering the training, including York college and Selby college. Apprenticeships give young people an opportunity to get on the work ladder.
The Chancellor has announced that from April 2016, employers will not have to pay employer’s national insurance contributions for apprentices under the age of 25. That will ensure that even more apprentices are taken on. We have delivered more apprenticeships in two years than the last Government delivered in five. The Prime Minister has announced that a future Conservative Government would make a £1 billion commitment to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.
Those results show that we are on the right track, but there is plenty more to do. I am not minded to support a compulsory jobs guarantee scheme. It appears to be modelled on the Jobs Growth Wales scheme, which has helped only one in three of the young people who has applied and therefore comes nowhere near guaranteeing a job for all young people who are out of work for a year or more. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to oppose the motion.
I am chagrined to hear that Nigel Adams will not vote with the Opposition this afternoon. However, when I think of his demonstrable lack of numeracy when he referred to the number of people in the Chamber and his apparent willingness—naive or foolish, I know not—to draw to the attention of the nation the fact that there are more people on the Opposition Benches than on the Government Benches, I wonder whether we would have found space for him over here had he chosen to support us.
It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Gentleman, but I think he will find that when I made my speech there were more people on the Government Benches than on the Opposition Benches.
Madam Deputy Speaker, there are matters of greater moment before us today. The point has been made.
In all seriousness, the comments of the Secretary of State at the end of his speech were very well made and measured. He drew our attention to the single most important fact: this debate is not about cold statistics, but about real experience, real people, real lives, real hopes, real dreams and, in some cases, the dashing of those real dreams. However, when he referred to the marvellous blizzard of feel-good statistics it was almost as if Dr Pangloss had ridden out of the pages of “Candide” and tethered his horse to the Treasury Bench to tell us that this is the best of all possible worlds and that everything is well. I, like most people, respect the Secretary of State, but this is not the best of all possible worlds.
May I pray in aid, as I seldom do, the Office for National Statistics? The labour market statistics from
I hear a sedentary intervention from down the Thames valley. The figure for long-term unemployment, which is made up of those who have been on JSA for more than two years, has increased since May 2010 by—I pause to let the number sink in—224%. Let us not try to fool ourselves that everything is wonderful out there. Let us accept, however, that there is good will on both sides. We all want to see people in work; it is the mechanism by which we achieve it that divides us. In some ways, the quintessence of the major political argument is being expressed here today—it is about the role of the state and the duty of the individual.
Pete Wishart rightly referred to the sanctions regime. One of the important things about a realistic, modern, pragmatic Labour party is that we are not in the position of saying that there will be no sanctions. We are maintaining the present level, just as Beveridge—a great man, if a deluded Liberal at the time—envisaged when he proposed the blueprint for what, in effect, became our modern welfare state. We are talking about a combined approach. We are saying to long-term unemployed young people in particular, “We have not forgotten you.” We will not simply place them in a temporary job and expect them to use it to access the labour market, although some may do so, but we will find them a real job.
Over the years, we have tried over and over again to achieve that. The Manpower Services Commission schemes of the 1980s were initially quite successful, but were ultimately affected by the major economic picture. I hope that, as part of the new scheme, the Labour party will be talking about placements in football and sports clubs, because those were one of the successes.
The Labour party—the party to which I have dedicated myself all my adult life—has done many marvellous things, but seldom have I heard an example of it riding to the rescue of the reputation of bankers. Bankers have been having a difficult time lately. Hedge fund operators are salving their consciences by shovelling great barrowloads of cash to Black and White balls, and leasing out their estates to shoot peasants—I mean pheasants and partridge. If bankers pay an impost of a bank bonus, they will do something to reclaim their battered reputation. How good it will be for those with silk hats, swaggering down Threadneedle street and throwing their cigars over their shoulders, to realise that they are part of the solution. They have been part of the problem for far too long.
We are currently in an extraordinary period in which bankers are about to fill their boots when it comes to bonuses. A famous recruitment firm, Phaidon International, estimates that this year bankers’ bonuses could be up by 25% or 35%. Bankers’ bonuses are on the increase, but I think those bankers want to help the country more and to help the unemployed; I think there is good even in bankers. Let us support the Labour motion this afternoon, not just for the unemployed or the youth unemployed, but for the battered, tattered, shattered reputation of Britain’s bankers. Let them come back from their offshore tax havens and from Davos, and let them say, “We are part of society; we are prepared to pay”. This modest tax on bankers’ bonuses will go a long way to make this country a better, more decent and productive place for all of us, and hopefully a place in which we will talk about unemployment in the past tense.
It is always a pleasure to follow Stephen Pound, not least because of his vivid imagination, which was on full display during his speech.
I want to celebrate the fact that 30.8 million people are at work in this country, because that is a huge achievement of this Government. We should put to bed the nonsense that there are loads of inappropriate part-time contracts when people want to work full time. In my constituency, more than 80% of jobs are full time, and those jobs have got quality and will lead to a fulfilled life. I am immensely proud of that.
The plan that Labour has attempted to roll out today is uncosted—that is obvious—and unfinanced. We have already revealed that the so-called bank bonus tax has been spent so often that it will go round in circles and become like butter out of lions going round and round and round—it just won’t work. One problem with the motion is the way that it traps people into the wrong job and gives them the wrong signals for their future career. I am worried about that.
What are we doing? One important thing is that this Government have an industrial strategy and need a supply pipeline of skills in sectors such as engineering and construction. One would think there were two worlds: one in the Labour party, which is worrying about people wanting to get jobs, and one in the construction sector—as represented by the Institution of Civil Engineers, for example—which is worried about where people will come from to fill the positions. We must address that angle and ensure that our work force are equipped with skills, motivated by the opportunities that we provide, and ready and willing to think about a career early in life. Forcing people down a particular track, as in the Labour party’s scheme, is not the way to do that.
Let us salute what we have already done and continue with it. We have shown an outstanding approach towards the aerospace and automotive industries by demonstrating that there is a future and an investment pathway, and that investment needs people to be part of a successful outcome—that is certainly the case in my constituency and a good point to make.
There are also our reforms of education. I am hopeful that we will encourage more and more people to take up science, technology, engineering and maths at school, but we have already made progress and effectively turned things around from a situation in which schools and further education colleges were producing students without the right qualifications for the jobs available in the outside world. There has been an improvement in that regard, and we should celebrate that and continue with it.
In my constituency I am proud of the fact that the number of young people claiming jobseeker’s allowance has more than halved since 2010. I also celebrate the fact that unemployment is now down to approximately 541—that is great for the Valleys and Vale, and a tribute to this Government’s persistence with their long-term economic plan. I have played my part too, including by setting up a festival of manufacturing and engineering. We must get young people engaged in that sector, which is big in my area and critical to this country’s long-term future.
If we tantalise young people with the prospect of designing, making or innovating something, or serving a firm or whatever, their eyes light up because they know that there is an enticing opportunity for them and something worth working for that will deliver them a fulfilling lifestyle. That is what I have done, and I shall continue with that.
There is, however, another side to the coin—infrastructure. I am keen and eager to improve infrastructure in my area, which is why I keep emphasising different projects, such as the bridge from Sharpness to the constituency of the Minister for Disabled People, my hon. Friend Mr Harper. I do that because I like him, but also because I know that such projects require more and more skilled people, and that is the way to give them opportunities and positions for the future.
In all the debates on this issue, sweeping statements are made about how Labour Governments have higher unemployment at the end of their term than, it is implied, Tory Governments do. The Tory Government of 1979 to 1997 inherited an unemployment rate of 5.2% and left an unemployment rate of 7.4%, and in 13 out of 18 years unemployment was over 10%. We really should not take lessons from a party that produced those kinds of results during one of its longest periods in government in recent years.
I was slightly wrong when I intervened on Nigel Adams. Unemployment rose slightly between 1997 and 2010, in the midst of a world economic recession—it was 0.4% higher in 2010 than it was in 1997, and that is after a major recession. Between 1945 and 1951 unemployment fell, so I hope we will hear slightly less of that generalisation.
One of the other generalisations made by the Secretary of State was meant to frighten people outside this place with the notion that Labour creates a situation in which nobody works. He said that under Labour 20% of households had never worked. That is one in five of all households. If someone heard that, they would think that it shocking and dreadful, but what he did not say was that 48% of those—nearly half—were students who had never worked because they were students, 14% were carers, 18% were sick or disabled and only 10% were unemployed.
The number of workless households has fallen slightly under this Government, but it has gone back to where it was in 2008. After the recession, there has finally been a slight fall in the number of households not in work, but, again, many are not in work because of caring responsibilities, because they have children or because they have taken early retirement. We must be realistic about the figures.
Conservative Members always throw figures at us to show how unemployment has fallen in our constituencies, but they always use the claimant count. The gap between the claimant count and the unemployment rate has been very high under this Government and that is something that we must consider. What is happening to those people who are unemployed but not receiving any benefit? Who are they, what is happening to them and how are they living? Are they getting any of the help that we are so often told about and that they are supposed to be given? I know that many of those people are living on much reduced incomes and many are not getting benefits, either because they have lost them in some way or because they have a partner in what might be only part-time work.
Listening to the hon. Lady is reminding me of Nicola Sturgeon’s speech. She is arguing for more borrowing, more spending and more tax, so is the hon. Lady buying into the SNP agenda?
We say that there is a different way to tackle the budget deficit. We said that we would do it differently in 2010. Of course, the Conservatives went to the electorate and said that they knew the answer and would eliminate the deficit in five years. They set about trying to do that and have manifestly failed. We said that we wanted to stimulate the economy rather than depress it as they did month after month in their first three years when growth fell. Despite all the measures in the so-called emergency Budget, the Conservative party has not achieved what it said it would.
We always have an argument about work experience, and the counterpoint to anything we propose is that the work experience scheme is, to use the words of the Secretary of State, unbelievably successful. As he constantly says, half the people who go through the work experience scheme get a job. What he did not say is that nearly half those who did not go through work experience in a matched cohort, according to the DWP’s own research, did not get a job. Being in the work experience programme did have an effect, but it was not the type of effect the Government suggest.
After 21 weeks, 50% of those who had been through work experience were back on benefits, but those who did not go through the scheme did not do much worse. There is no point in exaggerating these schemes. A real and proper job, which involves real training and will get people into permanent employment, is worth much more than a short-term work experience scheme, which is not to say that there should not be work experience. We are proposing that particularly for young people because they need it.
Back in 2011, I had discussions with Tesco about its plans to set up a major distribution centre in my constituency. They were very successful and a couple of years later we had a new distribution centre employing more than 1,000 people. As part of its commitment to helping the long-term unemployed, Tesco ring-fenced 85 of those new jobs for those who had been long-term unemployed; about 18 months ago I went to a graduation ceremony for those who had been on the scheme. They had not only gained new skills in the workplace but received training at a local college. The age range of those graduating was from the mid-20s to the mid-50s, and the event was one of the most emotional and uplifting that I have been to during my five years as an MP. The sheer sense of achievement and pride for those graduating was palpable, and it was not because somebody had just come along and handed them a job but because they had each worked hard, had achieved and had won a job on their own merits. There are many examples of employers across my constituency who have created jobs over the past five years.
A number of my colleagues have talked about apprenticeships. They have been a huge success in Reading West in the past five years. We have had thousands of new starts. All sorts and sizes of businesses, everyone from Cisco and Microsoft to Chiltern Training and Pertemps—a huge range of organisations—have been taking advantage of help from the Government to start apprenticeships,. We talk about real jobs—these organisations have been creating real opportunities for young people. The end result of all that job creation and help for young people is a massive 60% fall in unemployment in my constituency since May 2010. Overall, unemployment is now below 2%. Stephen Timms talked about youth unemployment. That has fallen from 7.8% in May 2010 to 1.7% today.
Those businesses did not need any kind of compulsory guarantee from Government; they got on and created jobs. The reason why businesses have invested, putting money into research and development and infrastructure, is that they have regained the one absolutely precious commodity that one needs to succeed in business: confidence. Businesses have confidence in the British economy and they have confidence in the future. Above all, they have confidence in a Government who have cut corporation tax, national insurance and red tape, and increased the investment allowance and extended small business rate relief. All these are policies designed to create jobs. It is not Governments who create jobs; it is companies in the private sector that create jobs.
The right hon. Member for East Ham, who is no longer in his place, was not able to say what percentage of jobs under the compulsory job guarantee would come from the private sector. I can tell him that, according to a BBC report in March 2014, the Labour party was talking about 80% of jobs coming from the private sector. In the past few weeks, it has been bashing businesses and demonising wealth creators. Labour has made it clear that it will put up taxes and have more red tape. That will end up driving businesses away from our shores. With all due respect, I have to say that I do not think the Leader of the Opposition, or indeed very many Labour Members, understand business. That is because they have never worked in business.
There are a number of Labour Members who have worked in business, including me. What the hon. Gentleman said was ridiculous, and perhaps he will withdraw it.
Order. May I just say that interventions are going to take time from Members who are going to speak later? That is the only worry I have, but by all means continue.
I thank the hon. Lady for intervening. I am delighted she has some experience of business. The same is not so for the Leader of the Opposition, is it?
When it comes to businesses, I think the Leader of the Opposition has actually decided—this business bashing is not an accident—that bashing businesses will win votes. He thinks that bashing big businesses will somehow compel small businesses to move towards him. I have to say that that is utter fantasy. In my constituency, many people are employed by small businesses and they will not like what the Labour party has been saying. Small businesses want to grow into large businesses. They have ambition and aspiration, but that is not what we have been hearing from the Opposition.
The Government’s policies have created the real jobs, the real prospects and the real skills that young people and those who have been long-tem unemployed need. That is what has been happening in the past five years. I will not support the Opposition motion. It is unfunded, it is unclear and it has no support in the business community. Unless the shadow Minister can tell me otherwise, I do not think there are huge numbers of businesses crying out for the compulsory jobs guarantee.
I do not think we should pretend today that tackling long-term unemployment is anything other than immensely challenging. Fluctuations in levels of employment and unemployment are largely driven by the state of the economy, but somewhere in today’s debate we have lost sight of the fact that, even allowing for economic cycles, most people claim jobseeker’s allowance for a very short time. Most people come off JSA in a matter of weeks or months. Only a small minority of claimants will experience long-term unemployment, and most of them are to be found concentrated in geographic areas where work is hard to find. Inevitably, in a competitive labour market those with least experience and low skill levels find it hardest to find work, and many of those who struggle to sustain employment, and those most at risk of long-term unemployment, face additional hurdles.
In the short time I have today I want to talk about young jobseekers. Youth unemployment is unacceptably high and much more could be done to address it. Young people’s job prospects have been very adversely affected by the financial collapse and recession, but it is really important to emphasise that as the economy recovers youth unemployment has been falling—certainly in Scotland—and is now at its lowest level for five years. I welcome that, but there are still enormous challenges ahead.
The question today is whether the proposed compulsory jobs guarantee would tackle long-term unemployment effectively. I am not convinced by what I have heard from either Front Bench. I do not think the policy addresses the underlying causes of long-term unemployment. It is a blunt instrument that will not help those facing the biggest disadvantages, and it offers too little, too late. It is desperately important that we do not wait until somebody has been unemployed for a whole year before we intervene, because all the evidence suggests that earlier interventions with young people are much more effective. I also regret the lack of ambition from the Government to make the kind of early interventions that might tackle disadvantage.
In response to soaring youth unemployment in the wake of the financial crash, the Scottish Government introduced the Opportunities for All scheme, which offers every 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland a place in work, education or training. Take-up has been overwhelming: record levels of school leavers—more than 92%—now have a positive destination on leaving school, and more importantly, those positive destinations are being sustained for 90% of school leavers. The number of young people not in education, training or employment is now at its lowest level since before the financial crash and has decreased across every local authority area.
There is no room for complacency, however, and we need to talk about the minority still being left behind. In certain parts of the country, job opportunities are still very limited. The final report of the commission for developing Scotland’s young work force, chaired by Sir Ian Wood, was published in June last year. It set out recommendations to reduce youth unemployment by 40% by 2020 and proposed an ambitious transformation of the way in which employers, schools and colleges, and local authorities work with young people to fulfil their potential. However, it also highlighted the extent to which inequalities were compounding disadvantage in the labour market. For example, although disabled young people often have positive destinations when they leave school, a few years on they are four times more likely to be unemployed than their non-disabled peers.
The motion states that those who do not take up the compulsory jobs guarantee would face losing their benefits. Is there not a danger that such a draconian measure would lead to many people being lost in the system with little hope for the future?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Obviously, young people who lack skills and qualifications are more likely to struggle in the labour market, but our black and minority ethnic young people are also experiencing disproportionately high rates of unemployment. Our looked-after young people have the poorest job prospects of all. Just one in three care leavers are likely to be employed nine months after leaving school.
The point is that many of the young people furthest from the labour market, and certainly those at greatest risk of long-term unemployment, face complex barriers. It is not just a case of, “Here’s a job, get on with it”. The compulsory jobs guarantee does not address these complexities at all. Indeed, it would make unemployed young people wait a year before they get an offer of a work opportunity, and that offer would be made with the threat of benefit sanctions held over their heads like the sword of Damocles. I do not think anyone objects to sanctions that are proportionate and fair—everyone who is fit for work should be willing to take a job if it is offered—but that is not going to overcome the challenges facing many of the people at the greatest risk of long-term unemployment.
We have seen the impact of poorly applied sanctions in the food banks in all our communities. The young people I have met in my constituency—kids with learning disabilities, literacy problems, impaired speech or movement or chronic health issues, or kids who have just had wretched early lives—all want to work, but it is not always straightforward to help them to find work, to make themselves attractive to employers or even to understand that they have something valuable to offer. In that regard, I pay tribute to the teachers in our schools and to voluntary organisations such as the Prince’s Trust and Theatre Modo, which are working in my constituency to help vulnerable young people.
We were talking earlier about the failure of the Work programme in Scotland and the need for that responsibility to be devolved as soon as possible. The same applies to other aspects of employment support, as was recommended by the Smith commission.
Is it the case that the more powers the Scottish Parliament has, the more we can do for the people of Scotland?
That is right. The commission has shown that the opportunity for joined-up working between public, private and voluntary sector employers—our schools, colleges and local authorities working in partnership with the Government and being empowered by Government initiatives—is there already and has been shown to work in providing opportunities for all. We need the powers to tackle youth unemployment, and we need them now. The sooner they are devolved, the better.
Order. I have to reduce the time limit to four minutes. I have tried, but there is nothing else I can do.
With some skilful editing, I shall proceed, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is a pleasure to proceed after Dr Whiteford.
I would like quickly to set the scene in Enfield North, where, I am pleased to say, we have seen unemployment down by 42% and youth unemployment down by 53%. We are even making progress among the over-50 cohort, which is down by 18%. It is worth highlighting something that has not been sufficiently talked about in this debate—that the number of VAT and PAYE businesses registered in Enfield North has grown by 15% since 2010, while we have had a massive change across the borough of Enfield in start-ups. That is something that will play an ever-increasing role in dealing with the continuing challenge of unemployment.
Having set the scene and speaking as an employer who started out with a great idea in a pub that turned into a business for over 25 years, let me say that we have been bandying statistics across the Floor of the House pretty much all day and that I have had the pleasure of employing people, but also been through the difficulties—frankly, the agonies—for the employer and still more for the employee of having to let people go in difficult times. We should always remember that unemployment is never a price worth paying; it is an extremely difficult situation.
I think there is a difference between the parties on the circumstances of dealing with unemployment. I do not believe it is the role of Governments to create jobs, but it is the role of Governments to create and set the conditions for employment to thrive. That is perhaps where we divide in many respects. Any employer is unlikely to be wooed by a bit of a sub for someone on a job for a period of time. The employer wants to take people on so that his organisation or sector can profit, and wants jobs to be sustainable in a sustainable business. Employers look to the Government to set those macro-economic conditions.
Where should the Government’s emphasis be in trying to help deliver the conditions for employment? Frankly, it should be focused on the area of reducing tax. One of the absurdities I felt we got away with at the beginning of this Parliament was the jobs tax—in many ways, one of the most hideous of taxes that taxed an employer for wanting to employ someone, when the Government are there to help, not hinder, employing people.
We must understand the massive role we have in welfare reform. Welfare reform is not about cutting costs as much as it is about leveraging and helping people back into work. That is why making work pay is a philosophy with which an employer and an employee would agree—as, I am sure, would Government accountants. Fundamentally, employers know there is a skills gap at the moment in the UK, and this partly explains some of the stubborn youth unemployment figures. We have to remember that these are crucial and must be dealt with. We have to deal with that problem and the soft skills. By creating the right conditions, we will see employment go down even further
In my last 40 seconds, I can draw the Minister’s attention to
Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have to start by saying that I am particularly proud to be a member of the Labour party and the labour movement today, as we debate this policy. I feel it reflects the heart of our movement and where our priorities lie in creating new opportunities for young unemployed and long-term unemployed people to give them the dignity of paid work and skills development, while simultaneously supporting job creation and business growth, making for a stronger, more vibrant economy with permanent long-term jobs. I have no doubt that, should we have a Labour Government in May, this policy will make an incredible impact in my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts, complementing the existing work going on at local government level and in the voluntary sector. Indeed, it will help thousands of people back into work across the country.
We know that youth and long-term unemployment has a detrimental effect on people’s self-worth, their mental and physical health and their circumstances. However, that impact is not confined to individuals; it is also felt by their families, by the people around them, and by their communities. The youth dole queue, which is currently the length of Hadrian’s Wall, shows us the impact that this is having, and can have, on society as a whole, and it is the responsibility of whichever Government are in power to tackle it.
In the short time that is available to me, I must confront the Secretary of State’s claim, in his opening speech, that the Labour party is opposed to work experience. I find that offensive, because it is categorically wrong. Our opposition is to the Government’s exploitation of the unemployed through poor-quality, mandatory, unpaid work experience. I would be less likely to be in the House today had I not had the opportunity to benefit from high-quality work experience when I was young. That led me to launch the Our Community project, in conjunction with the trade union Community and the local jobcentre. The project matches young unemployed people with voluntary, high-quality work experience provided by local employers. Work experience is extremely valuable, and we must do all that we can to nurture the culture that produces it.
My hon. Friend has referred to the importance of keeping young people in employment, and to the project that matches them with local employers. Constant contact with employers makes it possible to find out what new skills and career directions can benefit those who are placed with them. Is that not one reason for the success of the project?
Absolutely—and I think that the jobs guarantee will extend or complement the ability to do that, rather than taking it away. However, it will also have a positive impact as a whole. It will create new jobs. As we heard from my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, employers will have to prove that the jobs would not otherwise be there. It will also be mandatory for them to include a training element that will provide over six months of guaranteed paid work, with all the benefits that that brings.
As I said earlier in an intervention, the system is already working. We have seen several examples of that. My local authority, North Lanarkshire council, is doing fantastic work in getting people back to work, and creating new jobs—in the voluntary and public sectors, but mainly in the private sector—through its project “North Lanarkshire’s Working”. A key part of the project is the provision of a 50% wage subsidy for employers who give unemployed people new jobs for six months. It is aimed primarily at young people, although 15% of the funds are earmarked for older people, and it has returned nearly 5,000 people to employment and training. I hope that a version of it will be rolled out throughout the country, so that others can benefit from it. The project has also put considerable effort into encouraging the creation of jobs for those who find it most difficult to obtain work, including those who live with disabilities and young people who are leaving the care system.
Earlier, both SNP and Tory Members heckled my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, saying that after the six months was over, people would end up back in the dole queue. Our experience in North Lanarkshire shows that that is not the case among the vast majority of participants. The wage subsidy allows businesses to expand at reduced risk, because it allows them to take people on for six months and then create permanent jobs for them. Even when that has not been possible, the skills, confidence and routine that people have gained from six months of paid employment has left them with much brighter prospects.
The jobs guarantee that my party has proposed today, and in the last few months, is the culmination of other successful policies that we have seen in the past, and see currently in other parts of the United Kingdom. I think that it will be a game changer, creating jobs and tackling both youth and long-term unemployment, and I look forward to its implementation by a Labour Government in May.
I oppose the Opposition’s motion, but I wholeheartedly thank them for giving me an all too brief opportunity to talk about the huge success of the economy in my constituency under the current Government, and about the impact of their long-term economic plan on job creation there.
Unemployment in my constituency is 1.5%, which means that there are 716 jobseekers. That is too many, and we have much more work to do. But the good news is that only last week, East Midlands airport in my constituency announced that it was creating 1,250 jobs across the airport this year. Depending on the traffic on the M1, I hope to go up there this evening to join the Chancellor of the Exchequer in congratulating the airport on its sterling work and economic growth. Since 2010, we have had nearly 800 fewer jobseeker’s allowance claimants, a drop of almost 60%. Even more pleasingly, our youth unemployment claimant count has fallen by 310 since 2010, a reduction of almost 70%.
In North West Leicestershire, we have one of the highest-growing economies outside London and the south-east. That is because we have business-friendly government at all levels—a Conservative-led coalition Government, a Conservative county council and a Conservative district council—delivering the long-term economic plan right to the doorsteps of my constituency. In North West Leicestershire, Labour’s proposal for a compulsory jobs guarantee would be a solution—an expensive, discredited one—looking for a problem.
Last week I visited a multinational company, Schneider Electric, in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. It trains 15 to 20 people a year to become highly skilled engineers, and it is a very impressive set-up. It is not looking for Government intervention; it is looking for a Government who will provide the right mood music, set the right agenda and create an environment in which businesses can feel confident to invest, create jobs and wealth and pay the taxes that will support the essential public services that we all need.
I struggle to understand how business can have any confidence in a party led by an individual who ducked out of addressing the British Chambers of Commerce conference just the other day. Just as we cannot have a strong NHS without a strong economy, we cannot have strong wealth creation without a Government who support enterprise and business. That is something that Labour would not do, given their relentless attacks on business and wealth creation. After all, how can we take seriously a party that wishes to emulate François Hollande’s failed and discredited economic model? I remind the House that the Leader of the Opposition has stated that he wants to do in the UK what President Hollande is doing in France. He should clearly be more careful what he wishes for, because the socialist policies in France have resulted in a youth unemployment rate of 25.4%.
This Government have got to the root of the problem when it comes to unemployment. The Opposition want to do what all Labour Governments do—they want to chuck taxpayers’ money at the issue in the hope that some of it sticks. Their compulsory jobs guarantee scheme seems to be modelled on the discredited future jobs fund, a scheme that was five times more expensive than some other employment programmes and created only short-term placements, costing around £6,500 per job.
It should come as no surprise to those in this Chamber or to the people of our country who will go to the polls in a few months to elect a new Parliament that no Labour Government have ever left office with unemployment lower than when they took office. The Labour party claims to love the poor, and indeed it must, because every time it gets into government it always creates more of them.
Order. Unfortunately, I must bring the time limit on Back-Bench speeches down to three minutes.
It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Bridgen. I should like to make it clear to him that my party is the party of work. It is called the Labour party; the clue is in the title. That is what we are about, and work includes business and enterprise. That is why it is so pleasing to have a debate this afternoon about the future of our young people and what we can do to ensure that we can get them all into work. This relates to the future not only of those individuals but of the nation and of UK plc—something to which we are all committed and in which we all play a part.
I know from my experience of working with young people that they gain confidence when they have work. Work is the biggest builder of confidence, and the biggest provider of health and well-being. Tackling the issue of young people who are stuck without work is essential for this nation, and we should unite around it. We should recognise the things that have been done well in the past, whether under Labour or Tory Governments. Let us celebrate those things and build on them.
Let us not play this year-zero game again, where we get rid of things that work, such as education maintenance allowance, because the previous Government introduced them. In my experience of working in further education, nothing motivated young people more than EMA, which was amazing to me. It was not what I expected, but it delivered attendance, achievement and better outcomes. That is what we should be about in this place. We should be about focusing on the future and what people need. Data showing youth unemployment at 764,000, a rise of 30,000 on the previous quarter, should give us all concern, and we should all roll up our sleeves to do something about it.
The compulsory jobs guarantee will guarantee real, paid jobs, preferably in the private sector, for every 18 to 24-year-old who has been claiming JSA for more than a year. That is the sort of initiative we need in future to turn the tables. I have to say that there are really good things going on, and I am looking forward to visiting the Youth Engineering Scunthorpe initiative, where innovative work is being done in my constituency by Bradbury Security and North Lindsey college to get young people back into work today. We should build on these things and celebrate them. We should build together, across this House, a better future for our young people.
We have more people employed now than at any time in our island’s history, and I am saddened at the way this debate is going on across the country. The millions of people who have been employed are now able to provide for their families and are, for the most part, off benefits. For Labour Members to say that these are not real jobs is not just an insult to these people and their families; it is not a fair reflection of what is taking place. I say that because last week a Labour councillor in my constituency, Emma Toal, said that she feels “sick” to the stomach every time I do a
“lap of victory about unemployment statistics”.
Since I have been in this House, I have worked incredibly hard to try to bring jobs back to Harlow: I fought for two years for a new university technical school; and I championed apprenticeships, including by having the first full-time apprentice in my office. The number of jobs in Harlow is growing—we have got jobs back.
Let me briefly mention a few figures. In May 2010, 605 young people aged 18 to 24 were claiming JSA in Harlow, which was a rate of 8.1%, whereas the current figures are 3.1% and 235 people. I am proud that there has been a 61% decrease in the number of young people claiming JSA, and it is worth remembering that 83% of the jobs created in 2014 were full-time positions. I know that because year after year I established three jobs fairs, which we entirely set up ourselves. We had hundreds of jobs on offer, of all kinds—permanent jobs. Thousands of jobseekers came and I received many messages from people who had got jobs as a result. So for the Labour party in Harlow to say it is sick to the stomach because the number of jobs has gone up in Harlow and unemployment is down is shameful and shocking, and Labour has done the same thing on apprenticeships. The number of apprenticeships has increased by 106% in my constituency. In 2009-10 there were just 450 young people in Harlow starting apprenticeships, whereas last year’s figure was 770. According to Ipsos MORI, 88% of apprentices said they were satisfied with their course, and only 7% of employers expressed dissatisfaction.
So there is a good story on jobs and on apprenticeships. It is important to see job creation not only in terms of individual schemes that the Opposition are proposing, which are very expensive and have been proved in Wales not to work; we also need to look holistically. This Government have created a programme by investing in new schools, in university technical schools, in apprenticeships, in real welfare reform and in our businesses, with lower taxes.
If there is one group of people in this country whom the Government have let down it is our young people.
Young adults in this country have been pushed to the fringes by this Government, who have chosen to focus their energies on pockets of society they believe are more important. But nobody is more important than our young people. No one knows that more than our older people. Grannies and granddads are heartbroken that their grandchildren are unable to start making their own way in the world, and are having to rely on mums and dads who are dealing with pressure on top of pressure. Our older people have seen it all before, and this Government should have spent the past five years helping them and helping our young people. Instead, they have sat back and watched poverty creep across the UK, so that it is now a normal part of far too many working people’s lives.
I will not give way.
The Government have sat back as almost 1 million people have turned to food banks for help. Their mismanagement of the economy means that prices have risen faster than wages for 52 out of their 53 months in office. Under this Government, unemployment reached more than 2.5 million, which is its highest level for 17 years, and youth unemployment peaked at more than 1 million.
Ministers may rejoice at the figures in their briefings, but let me tell them that things do not feel like they are getting better for my constituents. Some 6% of young people in my constituency are claiming jobseeker’s allowance, which is twice the UK average. Although that figure represents about 500 people, in every month of this Parliament the number of unemployed young people in my constituency has been closer to 1,000. Sometimes the figure is above 1,000, but mostly it is close to it. Those young people, who are struggling to find work, have been let down month after month after month by this Government. Tory Ministers would rather give millionaires a tax cut than help our young people. Young people think that life under the Tories is not fair, and they are absolutely right.
A Labour Government would introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to get more young people into work. Those young people would receive in-work experience, on-the-job training, and wages; perhaps most importantly, they would have the dignity and confidence they need and deserve.
Government Members are wrong in saying that our scheme is not costed. We have set it out very clearly. It would be paid for through our tax on bankers’ bonuses and by restricting pensions tax relief for those who earn more than £150,000 to the same rate as that for basic taxpayers, which is fair enough. This scheme is necessary. Our young people deserve a better future. We cannot have another five years of this Government.
To hear some of the criticisms from Government Members, one would think that the Labour party had no policies at all. We will restore Sure Start to what it was when we were in Government. We will continue to have a programme for modern apprenticeships and to invest in infrastructure. I should declare an interest here as chair of the all-party
Crossrail group. I have the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy on the edge of my constituency, on the banks of the River Roding. It is training up apprentices in great numbers and giving them high skills. It is taking many people who are registered as unemployed and providing them with quality training. That scheme was initiated under the previous Labour Government and is operating in a fantastic way. That is the kind of skills training we need.
Some Members from Scotland and elsewhere—I am not talking about my hon. Friends—think that the streets of London are paved with gold and that everything is perfect, but we have pockets of deprivation and some serious levels of unemployment, particularly in certain communities, in our capital city. Some young people have been persistently unemployed, and we need to boost their confidence by giving them the possibility of long-term permanent jobs.
Our jobs guarantee proposal will benefit young people and older people who have been registered as unemployed for more than two years. Yes, it does cost, of course it does. When I talk about investing in young people and unemployed people, I am not thinking about the youth training schemes that were used by Tory Governments 20 or 30 years ago, the zero-hours contracts or subsidising exploitative employers. What we need to do is provide real jobs and real hope. Many of these young people will not have experienced the structured life that can exist within the work environment. Many of them might have problems in their lives, whether from disabilities or from past alcohol or drug dependence, and some might have mental health problems, and they need to be integrated into our society and given hope. This proposal provides a route for people to get the experience of work and to go from that to permanent employment. That is why the Government are totally wrong to oppose it today.
This has been a good debate and I thank all hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions.
Our motion is about how we tackle long-term unemployment, particularly long-term youth unemployment. While I welcome the belated increases in the numbers in work that hon. Members have talked about in relation to their constituencies—in passing, I point out that that rise in employment has been accompanied by record in-work poverty—today’s debate is about the fact that our long-term unemployment rate, particularly our long-term youth unemployment rate, remains far too high.
As my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms pointed out in opening the debate, long-term youth unemployment, at 750,000, is not only rising but worsening relative to the population as a whole. Research by the House of Commons Library has shown that in 2010 youth unemployment stood at 2.5 times all unemployment. Now, on the latest figures we have, that proportion has increased to 2.9 times, so young people’s position is not improving; it is getting worse. As many hon. Members have noted, we should all be concerned about the scarring effect that occurs over lifetimes for individuals and communities if young people do not get the best start at the beginning of their working lives.
Does the hon. Lady agree that not having a role model and being brought up in a workless household are also sources of long-term youth unemployment? Does she welcome the fact that there are 400,000 fewer workless households under this Government?
Very few households choose to be workless. Indeed, very few—[Interruption.] I understand that the hon. Gentleman was not saying that. It is an issue not just of role models, but of opportunities. It is welcome that more people are in paid employment, but today’s debate is about that vulnerable minority who are scarred by long-term unemployment.
One thing we should remember is that the Labour Government helped one-parent families through Sure Start, whose schemes allowed trapped housewives on council estates to get back into work if they wanted it.
I am extremely proud of the fact that, under Labour, lone parent employment rose from 44% in 1997 to nearly 60% by the time we left office.
An interesting debate opened up this afternoon about the proper role of Government in relation to long-term unemployment. One argument was expressed very well in a thoughtful speech by Nick de Bois, who suggested that the role of Government was only to create the conditions for business to thrive and to make employment available. That is the real philosophical divide between Opposition and Government Members. We believe that it is the role of Government proactively to intervene as a backstop to tackle entrenched long-term unemployment. We believe that programmes that have attempted to do that—for example, the future jobs fund and Jobs Growth Wales—prove that such programmes, in those terms, are effective.
Those programmes were much criticised today by the Secretary of State, but they have been cost-effective and have created real jobs with real pay for those who participated. That, fundamentally, is what young people want.
Our compulsory jobs guarantee will be a quality offer for long-term unemployed people. It will be paid at least at the national minimum wage. It will guarantee work for at least six months. We expect, drawing on our experience of other programmes, that many of those jobs will turn into permanent jobs. It will consist also of support, to ensure that training and the opportunity to develop one’s career are embedded as part of the programme. Contrast those conditions with work experience which, of course, is important, but which fulfils a different function. I do not think it is appropriate to expect anyone, even our young people, to work for three months without proper pay, because at that point they must be doing a proper job.
My hon. Friend Stephen Pound, who is not in his place, made an important point about our compulsory jobs guarantee—the fact that it is founded on the concept of mutual obligation. For those who are out of work, we will make sure that after a period of one year for the under-25s or two years for the over-25s it will be our role to take the responsibility to guarantee them employment, and in return that individual will be expected to take up the opportunity that is offered.
Dr Whiteford, who made a very useful speech in many respects, seemed to think that the sort of conditionality that we propose in our compulsory jobs guarantee programme was not appropriate. I am entirely with her in the appropriate and careful use of sanctions—which I do not think we are seeing under the present Government—but I do not see what the problem is with having conditions for support which our compulsory jobs guarantee will offer, and it is right that they should be contained in the programme.
There was an important and interesting debate about engaging the private sector in our programme. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham pointed out in opening the debate, we have seen successful engagement of the private sector, particularly of the small and medium-sized enterprise sector, in Jobs Growth Wales. One criticism that many Government Members levelled at the future jobs fund was that it had not engaged with private sector employers. I readily accept that the programme was brought in as an emergency in response to a significant employment and financial crisis, and at that time the most straightforward way to do so was through the medium of the voluntary and the public sectors. But there is no reason at all why that could not have evolved to encompass private sector employers, and indeed those private sector employers who did participate, such as Jaguar, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, found it a very positive programme, as did those who went through it.
We heard some useful contributions from, for example, my hon. Friend Nic Dakin and from Neil Carmichael, about the importance of accompanying jobs programmes with investment in education, skills and vocational training. As the hon. Member for Stroud said, it is right that certain industry sectors struggle to recruit suitably qualified and appropriately skilled workers. That is why I so deplore some of the reforms that we have seen to the education system under this Government, which so erode the value of vocational education and training. Although Government Members like to tell us often about the growth in apprenticeships under this Government, young people aged 16 to 19 have not seen a growth in opportunities to take up apprenticeships. What is more, those apprenticeships too often take young people to only a level 2 qualification, and we know that many employers consider a level 2 qualification insufficient for someone to make a meaningful start in the kind of jobs that the hon. Gentleman rightly talks of.
Finally, let me address the concerns that were raised by a number of Government Members about whether our programme is fully funded and costed. May I take the opportunity to assure them that it is? It will be funded by the bankers’ bonus tax—[Interruption.] Not again, as the Minister says. This will be the only purpose to which an incoming Labour Government will put the funds raised by this one-off repeat of the bonus tax. When the Minister for Disabled People is sitting on the
Opposition Benches after
We also think it is right to impose further restrictions on pensions tax relief for the very highest earners. I can see no objection to those with the broadest shoulders bearing more of the burden of funding so that some of our young people have the chance of employment, and that is what we will do.
Many people lost out after the global economic crash and in the three years after the general election, when the economy hardly grew under this Government. Even now, as Ministers point to improving levels of employment, long-term and youth unemployment remain a scourge on our economy. Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee is the key policy to change that, and the sooner we have a Labour Government ready to introduce it, the better.
With only three months to go until the general election, I was intrigued to hear what the Opposition would put forward today to help people into work. What was this compulsory jobs guarantee? What we have learnt today is that there is no real commitment and no real understanding of what would happen. As my hon. Friend Alok Sharma said, it is unfunded, un-thought-through and unworkable.
Many questions remain about the jobs guarantee. Which businesses have signed up to it? How many jobs would it provide? What would happen if someone refused to do it? What would happen to apprenticeships if people did it? How would it be funded? None of those questions has been answered adequately. What we do know is that it is important to distinguish between proposals that have not been thought through, prepared or funded and what this Government have done.
Members spoke today about what has happened in their constituencies—and those are facts. In Aberdeen South the claimant count is down 56% since 2010, and in Stroud it is down 56% since 2010. I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Carmichael on setting up the festival of manufacturing and engineering in his constituency. When it comes to building infrastructure and helping business, we know that we have put forward £12 billion for the growth fund. We are putting £15 billion into roads and infrastructure. We have the northern powerhouse, bringing together science, manufacturing and infrastructure and absolutely turbo-charging our northern cities.
In Ealing North the claimant count is down 38%, and in Nuneaton it is down 46%—the same is true for every Member who has spoken today. We are seeing employment going up and unemployment going down. We need this clear distinction: should people go forward with a party that does not know what it is doing or what the outcome would be, or should they go forward with a Government who have a tried and tested record—1.75 million more people in work and the biggest fall in youth unemployment since records began.
I will not take any interventions, as the shadow Minister did not do so, but I will get through this in plenty of time for Members to speak—[Interruption.] Okay, I will take two interventions later.
What does the OECD have to say about Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee? It says that there would be “displacement and substitution effects” and that it would not get anyone into permanent jobs. What did the Institute of Directors say? Like my hon. Friend Nick de Bois, it said:
“Wage subsidies for employers are not the source of sustainable jobs. Government must focus on creating the conditions for growth, as only businesses know when consumer demand will allow them to create more positions.”
That is exactly what we are doing, with business tax support, welfare changes, infrastructure and true fiscal discipline. I work with businesses pretty much every day, and we know that over the next 10 years, as a result of what this Government are doing, there will be 12 million new jobs created, fundamentally in science, engineering and IT. We have to ensure that our young people can take up those jobs, and that is what we are doing, with increased support for training and increased support for schools, for example through the pupil premium. We will help those who have been left on the unemployment list for so long and tackling the long-term youth problems and family problems through support for troubled families. We are systematically tackling unemployment and working with people to ensure that they are in work.
It is really important that we draw a clear distinction between what is working under this Government and what never worked under the Labour Government. My hon. Friend Nigel Adams said that when Labour leaves office, it always does so with higher unemployment than when it came into office, and that is absolutely true. So why would anybody choose to move forward with this jobs guarantee without knowing where these guaranteed jobs are coming from?
Interestingly, even the European Commission, which likes to foist initiatives on people, has said that
“the draft Country Specific Recommendations published
In other words, it would not pursue Labour’s proposal on guaranteed jobs, and what we did was correct. We supported people and put money in place to create work experience, sector-based work academies, and incentives.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; this must be one of the two interventions that she is going to accept. Given that she is speaking of the European Commission’s comments on the youth jobs contract with such approval, why did her Government decide to scrap it, and how can it have been such a failure in delivering the outcomes it was promising?
No, it is still going ahead. As I said, we have had the biggest falls in youth unemployment since records began. The Commission agreed that we are creating the right conditions, with more jobs being created in the UK than in all of Europe put together. That is why we have been having meetings with it to explain how the UK is pursuing what we are doing rather than what the Opposition would do. The key point is that of course people would stay with those who have ensured that 1.75 million more people are employed.
I want to read out some of the predictions that Labour Members have made. They said that 1 million more people would be unemployed if we followed what we are doing. [Hon. Members: “Wrong!”] As all my Back Benchers are saying, that was wrong. In fact, nearly double that number of jobs were created. Labour Members said that what this Government were doing would lead to out-of-control inflation. [Hon. Members: “Wrong!”] That did not happen—we have brought it down. They said that there would be a double-dip recession. [Hon. Members: “Wrong!”] That never happened. No—the only recession was under Labour, and it was the longest and deepest since the war. They said that it was a fantasy that the private sector could create more jobs than were lost in the public sector. [Hon. Members: “Wrong!”] That was never the case; in fact, the private sector created over 2 million more jobs.
So why would anybody trust the Opposition with the economy, with jobs, and with the future of this country? The answer is that they certainly would not. That is why we are firmly saying today, three months before the general election, that their idea on how to create jobs is unfunded, ill thought through and unworkable, and we cannot find a business yet that wants to follow it. We reject the motion.
The House divided:
I have now to announce the result of the deferred Division on the draft Smoke-Free (Private Vehicles) Regulations 2015. The Ayes were 342 and the Noes were 74, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debate]