Economy: Government Policies — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:46 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott Conservative 12:46 pm, 24th March 2011

My Lords, if anybody had suggested to me 18 months ago that I would be standing here, having been ennobled and making my maiden speech, I would never have believed them. Some noble Lords are worried that I do not know my right from my left and that I may not be sitting on the correct Benches. I have to tell your Lordships that all my political ancestors were Tories. I only know this because a cousin of mine has done our family tree since my ennoblement, and no one was more surprised than I to find that 10 of my ancestors were MPs and two were Barons.

At the outset, I must thank my two sponsors, my noble friends Lady Fookes and Lord Freud. Special thanks must go to my noble friend Lady Fookes; she is my mentor, and her support and counsel have been invaluable to me in acclimatising to the House. I pay tribute to the professional and dedicated members of staff who serve this House. Their help has been much appreciated.

I joined the House with no special qualifications, save that I am the chief executive of an independent charity, Tomorrow's People. I hope that all your Lordships have heard of it; its mission is to help those furthest from the labour market to get and keep a job. If you can get somebody into a job, that is a good thing and if you can keep them there, that is a truly great thing. We work and support people on a one-to-one basis. We take them on an individual journey and their needs are at the heart of everything we do. In essence, we are more interested in their destiny than their history. Tomorrow's People has helped me to understand the issues faced by the long-term unemployed in this country and has given me and my colleagues an opportunity to find innovative solutions to their worklessness.

An example of that would be the work that we have done in doctors' surgeries-indeed, that was adopted by the previous Administration-as well as our work with whole families in which not one member has a job. I remember Dr Roy Macgregor, a GP, asking me what could be done about his "heart sink" patients. I have to confess that it was not a condition I had ever heard of. When I asked him what he meant, he told me, "There are people who come into my surgery and my heart sinks because I can do nothing for them. It is a job they need, not medication". There is no doubt that, for the majority, work is the best route out of poverty and that we need a vibrant economy to create the jobs that are so desperately needed.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby for securing this important debate. I am sure that it will come as no surprise to your Lordships to know that there are whole families in this country in which no one is employed. Even in economically successful times, when levels of unemployment were comparatively low, there were still whole households where no member worked. The Office for National Statistics stated in 2009 that there were more than 3.1 million households where no one aged 16 or over was in employment. That is such a waste.

That is why I chose this debate in which to make my maiden speech. The health and vibrancy of our economy is crucial to creating the jobs that are needed. We have to ensure that there is innovation not only in identifying solutions to help people overcome the barriers and issues that they face but in the development of different forms of finance. After all, this all has to be paid for.

I draw noble Lords' attention to the bonds developed by Allia, where investors can make working capital available in the knowledge that they will be guaranteed to get it back, which I would think was a good thing, and also to the social impact bonds. Time prevents me from going into detail about these two bonds, but they should be given serious consideration. The need for us to help those furthest from the labour market is greater than it has ever been, and we are going to have to turn over every stone to find the resources to ensure that we can help these people in difficult times.

With jobs thin on the ground, it is imperative that we help those furthest from the labour market to manage their period of economic inactivity in such a way that they stay in good shape and can take advantage of the opportunity when it comes so that they are ready and can maximise what is given to them. There will be a cost to this-I understand that it has to be paid for-but the cost will be greater if we stand by and do nothing.

I look forward to working with all noble Lords in this House to try to achieve this, because none of us is as clever as all of us. On entering this House I received a card that read, "Some make it happen, some watch it happen and some ask, 'What happened?'". I know where I-and, I hope, all of us-stand in that respect.