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Unemployment: Youth Unemployment — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 18th November 2013.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 3:00 pm, 18th November 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to create all-party consensus to tackle long-term youth unemployment.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, we are providing young people with the help they need to get back to work through Jobcentre Plus, the youth contract, the Work Programme, traineeships and apprenticeships. Our approach is working. Over the past year, the number of JSA claimants aged 18 to 24 has dropped by 84,800. We have also made £55 million available to cities for them to develop new and innovative ways of reducing long-term youth unemployment.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

I am sorry that the Minister does not seem to share my deep concern about the problem of youth unemployment. Is he aware that 21% of young people aged between 16 and 24 are currently out of work? Does he know that long-term youth unemployment has more than quadrupled in the past 10 years? Some 115,000 18 to 24 year-olds have been out of work for two years or more. Whichever parties are in government in 2015, they will have to tackle long-term unemployment. We have tried to tackle this problem over the past 10 to 20 years. We must tackle it together and we must share the concern. If we cannot share the concern, is it not time to put our differences aside and to work together to resolve this nightmare situation for thousands of our young people? Will the Minister lead us in arranging some measure of co-operation?

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, the short answer is no. The policies of the previous Government were extraordinarily expensive. The Future Jobs Fund was introduced by the previous Government. At the time, I was in the department as an independent adviser, and that shocked me somewhat. It cost £6,500 for each job and half the people were back on benefits at the end. That is more or less the same performance as the work experience programme, which costs only 1/20th.

I agree that the figures about which my noble friend is so concerned are a real concern and have been for a long time. I look at the figures for the unemployed and inactive youth. In 1997, it was 1.1 million youngsters. By 2010, after the longest boom in our history, it had risen to 1.4 million. Under this Government, in the worst recession since not the 1930s but the 1920s, it has come down 89,000 to 1.2 million. That is the way in which to have proper policies to handle the structural problem of youth unemployment.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, will the Minister publicly offer advice to young people who are unemployed and living in regions which this Government seem to be bypassing? They cannot move to where they are offered employment because of the constrictions on property that they could afford to rent if they were in work due to the Minister’s self-confessed lack of suitable one-bedroomed accommodation. This Government are fostering a north-south divide and the anger of the young in the north has to be heard to be believed.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, clearly, it is important to see mobility among the young who are looking for where there is work. However, it is as important for them that they equipment themselves to do work, which can be done through work experience, training and apprenticeships. We are putting enormous efforts into getting those programmes right.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

Is the noble Lord misleading the House to a degree in quoting the figures? He referred to figures from 1997 which included and counted 16 to 18 year-olds who were unemployed, not in education and not undertaking any training. Now, because the Government no longer pay any benefits to 16 to 18 year-olds, there are literally thousands and thousands of people—the department does not know how many—who are not in employment, not counted and not included in the figures. What are you going to do to follow them?

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I am counting inactive people in the figures I am using, which are the best ones available. Clearly, under the previous Government many people were put in government training schemes and were not counted. We can play with numbers as much as we like but I am not playing with numbers—I am giving a very clear, long-term run of the most important set of figures on how we handle the structural problem of youth exclusion from the labour market.

Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Conservative

My Lords, it is said that on a clear day some people in this Palace can see as far as Croydon. Will the Minister raise the sights of this House and get it to look as far, perhaps, as Greece or Italy, where the promise that unemployment could be solved by huge amounts of public debt has led not only to disaster but almost to despair? Does he accept that burying a future generation of our children in huge public debt is not only inept and does not solve the problem but, frankly, is immoral?

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, my noble friend underlines our problem in his question. We have got to get this economy out of the mire of running a deficit of more than £100 billion every year so that it is rebalanced and we are economically self-sufficient within this generation. If we are not and we go on borrowing to the extent that we can, the people who pick up that tab will not just be our children but our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. That is not something we should want to leave to future generations.