The recent rises in employment and falls in unemployment, including among young people, are encouraging. We are committed to providing support to young people to give them the work experience and skills they need to find sustained employment. This includes the youth contract, which will provide nearly half a million new opportunities to young unemployed people over the next three years, as well as the Jobcentre Plus offer and the Work Programme.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for a very encouraging answer. It is wonderful to see more young people getting a job, but would he agree with me that there is one thing better than getting a job, and that is creating a job? Would he therefore consider bringing in new measures to encourage more young people-be they unemployed, school leavers or graduates-to set up their own businesses and thereby unlock the vast creative capital among our young unemployed?
Yes, my Lords, my noble friend makes a most valuable point. We are expanding the New Enterprise Allowance to encourage more people-in particular young people-to start up businesses. While this includes financial aspects such as offering loans and financial support, it is the mentoring tied up with that process that helps the youngster, or indeed anyone taking part, in actually making that business a success.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, has referred to creating jobs, and having a job is really important. But would the Minister agree that having a career that includes an apprenticeship gives those very young people a substantial opportunity to grow? In the funding that is available there are opportunities for young people to go straight into apprenticeships, which creates an income, not only for themselves, but for UK plc going forward.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Apprenticeships are a vital route for youngsters to get into the workforce. We have put a lot of extra funding into apprenticeships, and the numbers are going up pretty steeply.
My Lords, could the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that the most vulnerable young people who enter the Work Programme are not simply parked by contractors because it is not financially viable to invest the resources needed to support them into work?
Well, my Lords, the structure of the Work Programme is designed to make sure that no one is parked in that way. There are specific measures to prevent that happening. The main way in which to get the people who are the most difficult to get into work is by pricing; we price those people more highly than people who are simpler to get into work. We have also, as noble Lords will be aware, introduced a subsidy programme to encourage employers to take youngsters who are NEET into the workforce.
My Lords, the Minister will readily acknowledge that because of unemployment, some young people are unable to get work until they are 19 or 20. I know that he does not have the information now, but could he place in the Library the figure for how many UK adult apprenticeships there are? That would be very helpful.
My Lords, the figure I have on apprenticeships for 19 to 24 year-olds is 31% of the total, which is 457,000 starts. I cannot work out the 31% in my head, but I might be able to do it later.
My Lords, on the matter of the youth contract, how many wage subsidies have been taken up to date? How does the Minister consider that sustainable employment opportunities for young people would be enhanced by denying the right for under-25s to access housing benefit?
My Lords, the wage subsidy is paid after six months. It was introduced at a time when remarkably few came into the workforce, so we would expect to see the figure start to move in the months to come and will be publishing the information on that basis. As to the second question, that is not government policy, although it is a matter of debate what is the right level of support for youngsters in the housing market.
Is the Minister aware that the youth unemployment situation varies from area to area: in some places it is very severe; in other places it is more favourable? What are the Government going to do to concentrate any extra resources in those areas that are really in most desperate need?
My Lords, we have a whole range of programmes now. All of them are much more individualised than previous programmes, so there should be a response to different regions so that the money goes where the need is. I have previously cited the figure for how many youngsters are inactive and unemployed. In the most recent set of figures, I am pleased to say that we have got that figure down to 1.36 million, which is below the level at the last election. So we are doing something about that terrible structural problem of the NEETs, which has been growing over the past decade.