It is a privilege to be here, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the former Minister, my hon. Friend Mims Davies, for all her incredible work in this role. We want everyone to be able to find a job, to progress in work and to thrive in the labour market, whoever they are and wherever they live. On
I warmly congratulate the Minister on her appointment. Unemployment is at extremely low levels across the country, which is very welcome, but in my constituency of Aylesbury, we still have some small areas where some people struggle to find a job, despite there being vacancies nearby, often because they do not have the skills required to take those jobs. How can my hon. Friend’s Department help those who need new skills to get back into work?
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend raises the important issue of skills. We empower work coaches to build individual, tailored support packages to help claimants into work and to progress into better work. The DWP has a range of programmes that work coaches can use to help claimants to gain new skills in areas of local labour market need. That includes sector-based work academy programmes and DWP Train and Progress.
I also welcome the Minister to her new job. Can I ask her to give someone a good kick on the kickstart scheme? It was the skill delivery mechanism for this Government, and it has quietly been put down in some back room. The fact of the matter is that this country needs more skills and this Government are not interested in skills and are not doing their job. Can she not get on with it, and get on with it now?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Kickstart has delivered more than 163,000 starts, and I think that is hugely to be welcomed. One of the things that is so amazing to me in this role is to recognise the absolute impact on the individual people concerned of those 160,000 job starts. That is something we should welcome.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and her updated DWP team on their successes up and down the country. It is okay that it is my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford who is at the Dispatch Box, rather than anyone else. Delivering help and opportunities up and down the country—true levelling up in action in jobcentres—has been the difference for the Way to Work campaign. Can I ask my hon. Friend, the new Minister, how she is looking to continue to progress for everybody, building on the success of getting half a million people into work through the Way to Work scheme?
Again, I pay tribute to all the amazing work that my hon. Friend did in her role. She is right to talk about the way to work scheme. We are pleased that we have the DWP youth offer, which will continue to offer huge opportunities to people in that age group, and which extends to 16 and 17-year-olds. There are also a multitude of other valuable schemes, such as the 50-plus champions, the job entry targeted support scheme and in-work progression—a whole host of schemes—that we are working hard to deliver.
I welcome the Minister to her new role. Does she share my concern at recent data showing up to 70,000 armed forces veterans in receipt of universal credit? Does she think that the 50 armed forces champions around the country, who are no doubt doing their absolute best, have the capacity to provide the support to those who have served our country so that they can weather the cost of living crisis?
That is a vital area. Our veterans deserve our respect and every bit of help and assistance that they can receive. We are extending the veterans champions scheme; I will be looking at that in much more detail. This is day one, but I look forward to focusing on that and ensuring that I engage with the hon. Gentleman and others who are concerned about it.[This section has been corrected on
I welcome the new Minister to her role. She joins the Government at a unique and special time. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by Mims Davies. I do not agree with her very much on employment, but I know how hard she worked and that many people in the Department will miss her greatly.
As the Minister is new, I will ask her an easy question—all I am looking for is a single number. By the time she leaves office, how many of the 1 million people who are estimated to have left the labour market will be back to work?
It seems churlish, on day one, to mention the Labour party’s record on jobs. Every time it has left power, it has left more people unemployed than when it started.