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At the last count, there were 145 jobseeker’s allowance claimants aged 18 to 24 in Kingston, yet when I go to businesses such as New England Seafood, Genuine Solutions and Meeting Point, they tell me that they have vacancies, particularly for young people. What can my hon. Friend do to ensure that young people are matched up with the many opportunities that businesses in my constituency and others have for them?
The number of young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency claiming out-of-work benefits has fallen by more than half in the past four years, and he is right to highlight the large number of vacancies—over three quarters of a million nationwide. Alongside promoting work experience and apprenticeships, the Government will soon be rolling out the youth obligation, providing additional intensive support for young people from day one.
The Minister can highlight what he likes, but long-term youth unemployment in Darlington and the Tees valley is completely stagnant: the situation has not improved at all. What is he going to do to make sure that in six months’ time the picture has improved?
Long-term youth unemployment is down 111,000 overall since 2010, and it is down 30,000 on the year. We put particular resource into and focus on the individual areas around the country that need additional support. I encourage more firms to come forward and join the work experience programme, because we know that the experience of actual work is one of the most fundamental things to help young people to move into a regular job.
Young autistic people have a great contribution to make to our economy and society, yet a recent survey by the National Autistic Society reckons that only 16% are in full-time work, and that trend has not changed during the past 10 years. In World Autism Awareness Week, will the Minister tell us how the Government could help? Not only are our employers missing out on the skills and potential of this group of people, but we are wasting an awful lot of talent. How can the Minister help to highlight their plight?
May I first acknowledge and recognise my right hon. Friend’s particular expertise in this area? I met the National Autistic Society at the party conference, as a number of colleagues did, and some of the statistics she mentions are indeed very striking. The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is bringing forward, through the Green Paper process, a particular focus on the talents, abilities and potential of people with autism, which will be key.
Research just published shows that the forthcoming apprenticeship levy will make the north-south divide worse, because investment will be focused on the south-east, not where it is needed in the north. What will the Minister do to address that?
This is a generational shift in investment in the skills base. The levy is an important part of ensuring that all firms of a particular size are incentivised to take part, and the new Institute for Apprenticeships will guarantee the quality of apprenticeships. I think that that will benefit the entire country.