‘(aa) information about the uptake of apprenticeships broken down by region, gender, age, ethnicity, disability, sector, qualification and level,
(ab) a report by the UK Commission on Employment and Skills on the quality of apprenticeship being provided, and’.
‘(aa) information about the number of people with special educational needs and disabilities entering into apprenticeships; and
(ab) information about the number of people with Education Health and Care plans entering into apprenticeships.’
We come to the part of the Bill that deals with apprenticeships, and we are keen to get on to the second group of amendments on the clause, so I will get a move on.
We welcome the target set out for England in the Bill. I think it is rather unusual that there should be 3 million apprenticeship starts in the period 2015 to 2020—the target is ambitious and one that we support and welcome.
However, we heard in our evidence sessions that there is a danger. Rebecca Plant, the head of apprentices and graduates for Capp, told us on Thursday that she thinks the only way the target can be achieved is by sacrificing quality. She told us of
“myriad examples, such as apprenticeship barman and of apprenticeships in really low skills.”
“How is that an apprenticeship?”, and went on to say,
“people are just turning a job role into an apprenticeship…That is not right.”
She argued that the 3 million target
“should be broken down into levels of skills, so that higher level—level 4—degree apprenticeships should be broken out and there should be clarity.”
“I would break it down and give transparency. What is a level 2 apprenticeship? What are people signing up to? Badging level 2 programmes as an apprenticeship is fundamentally wrong.”
She gave an impressive account of her thinking. In the middle she said,
“I am sorry…I am not very good at this”, but actually she gave us valuable evidence. She also said that
“traineeships should not count towards that 3 million at all.”––[Official Report, Welfare Reform and Work Public Bill Committee, 10 September 2015; c.8-9, Q8-9.]
I do not imagine that traineeships will count towards the 3 million target, but I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that.
“I would like to echo Rebecca’s comments and the worries about the 3 million figure…the apprenticeship starts from the previous Parliament—just over 2 million—included a lot of rebadging of Train to Gain programmes, and we do not want to see that again. We do not want to see a decline in quality because we are just chasing an arbitrary figure.”––[Official Report, Welfare Reform and Work Public Bill Committee, 10 September 2015; c.9, Q10.]
I am confident that every member of the Committee will agree with his sentiment.
Amendment 75 addresses those concerns about apprenticeship quality, which are widely expressed by businesses and others, in two ways. First, it requires the report produced each year to split the apprenticeship starts in that year by sector, qualification and level, which is exactly the split Rebecca Plant called for in her evidence on Thursday. Secondly, the amendment requires the Secretary of State to publish each year a report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills specifically addressing and describing the quality of the apprenticeships on which participants have embarked in the previous year.
Is the UK Commission for Employment and Skills the right body to produce that report? Clearly, what we want is an independent, reliable report on quality, which might be achieved in a number of ways, but the UKCES is in a good position to fulfil the task. It is, of course, a Government-appointed commission, so I hope the Government feel that they can have confidence in its conclusions. The commission’s chair, Sir Charlie Mayfield, is also chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, and the commission includes such distinguished business people as the director general of the CBI and the general secretary of the TUC. It includes representatives of large and small businesses, including Will Butler-Adams, the managing director of Brompton; Julie Kenny, the chairman of Pyronix, with whom I worked when I was a Minister; Grahame Smith from the Scottish TUC; and Liz Sayce of Disability Rights UK.
The commission has a broad range of experience and perspectives, and it has done a lot of relevant work in this area. It has published reports on understanding skills and performance challenges in a range of sectors, and those reports address apprenticeship issues. It has produced a series of reports called “Working Futures”, “Careers of the Future”, and “The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030”. It also has the capacity to give independent advice. It does not simply say what the Government want to hear. I do not know whether the commission is subject to the same sort of pressure as the Office for Budget Responsibility—we have discovered over the past couple of days that the Treasury leans on the OBR to prevent it saying things that will embarrass the Government—but we do know that the commission is able to make independent remarks.
On the persistent problem of stubbornly high unemployment among young people, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston has referred, the commission has said:
“High quality apprenticeships should be a normal career pathway for many more young people, and a normal way for businesses to recruit and develop…talent”.
The commission has the necessary independence, as well as the expertise, to provide the independent review of quality that, from the evidence we have heard in Committee and from what everyone in the field says, is needed.
The amendment also specifies a number of breakdowns of apprenticeship numbers that could be useful for informing policy and understanding of how the apprenticeships programme is working in practice. We should know the number of apprenticeships taken up each year by people with disabilities—my hon. Friend will move a separate amendment on that in a moment—and we need information by region and by gender. The importance of those breakdowns will be apparent to everyone.
I want to say a little more about the other two breakdowns the amendment calls for. The first is the breakdown of apprenticeships by age. As we heard from the witness from the British Chambers of Commerce, a lot of things that are called apprenticeships are really just rebadged Train to Gain programmes. Train to Gain was a programme under the last Labour Government wherein existing employees would take often quite short training courses to increase their skill levels. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it is not what most of us think of when we hear the term “apprenticeship”. One consequence of that emphasis in the apprenticeship programme is that only quite a small proportion of apprenticeships are undertaken by young people. Worse still, the number of young apprentices fell last year—a pretty disastrous development that is contrary to what we all want—so it is important to get a breakdown of apprenticeships by age each year.
Secondly, it is important that we see a breakdown of apprentices by ethnic origin. I pay tribute to the work of the Black Training and Enterprise Group and its chief executive, Jeremy Crook. Ethnic minorities are seriously under-represented among apprentices: 20.2% of the population are from an ethnic minority and 25.4% of apprenticeship applications are from ethnic minorities—a larger proportion than in the population as a whole—but the proportion of people from ethnic minorities who start an apprenticeship is only 13.8%, which is way less than the proportion in the population and around only half the proportion of those who applied.
The problem of under-representation of ethnic minority citizens among apprentices is not new. I first asked a written question on the subject three years ago, when I was told that 9.8% of starts were from ethnic minorities, so the current proportion, 13.8%, has gone up, of which I am glad. In fairness to the Government, the problem is not repeated throughout their employment support measures. For example, of sustained job outcomes in the Work programme, 19.9% are secured by ethnic minorities, which is almost up to the full 20.2% in the population. Nevertheless, there seems to be a particular problem in the apprenticeship programme that must be addressed. I know that efforts are being made to do so, but so far they have fallen well short of what we would want to see.
It is vital that the problem is fixed. Amendment 75 specifically requires a breakdown by ethnic origin, so that we can track what is happening. I hope that the Minister accepts that the amendment would build constructively on clause 2, and so will accept our proposals for strengthening the report.
I welcome the target set out in clause 2 of creating 3 million apprenticeships this Parliament. It will give more people, including young people, the skills to get on in life, and will build on the 2 million apprenticeships created in the previous Parliament, 5,000 of which, I am pleased to say, were created in my constituency, Cannock Chase, in companies such as the Pertemps People Development Group, Gestamp, and Fuel Conservation Services. The target and the mandatory reporting of progress set out in the Bill show that the Government are not only serious about increasing the prominence of apprenticeships but committed to achieving that goal and holding themselves to account.
To demonstrate why it is important that we are setting the target, I want to talk about Scott, an apprentice I met in my constituency last year. He had been stabbed sometime before I met him—
I will come to the amendment in a moment, but I would like to talk about Scott briefly. Because he had been stabbed, he would barely leave home. With a lot of persuasion, he decided to take part in the National Citizen Service, which was the gateway to his becoming an apprentice. I met him again roughly 12 months later, when he joined me at a meeting with the Leader of the House. He was incredibly impressive. He was professional, relaxed and confident, and he made an excellent contribution to the discussion. Now he is a coach for NCS at Coachright. It was his dream, and he achieved it. That is an example of the opportunities apprenticeships can give people. They can genuinely transform people’s lives, which is why I believe we should focus on the overall target set out in the Bill, rather than on amendments 75 and 102. The overall target ensures that we give more people the skills that are valuable to them, to businesses and to our economy.
Clause 2 sets out the need to publish progress during the term of the Parliament. I hope it will go beyond the term of the Parliament, because creating apprenticeships is an aspiration for the long term, not just for the next five years. The monitoring will help us to establish our success in engaging businesses and apprentices; I know from personal experience that that has been a challenge in the past. That was outlined in last week’s evidence sessions. This is an opportunity to overcome some of the challenges to getting people into apprenticeships, regardless of their demographic background. I point out that demographic information is available through other sources.
We need to focus on driving awareness of apprenticeships in the various groups and ensuring that they understand the different apprenticeships. We also need to look at how apprentices and businesses see value. I will not go into each of those points in detail because we have a lot to cover. In short, there are many areas in which we need to identify solutions to address the challenges for all audiences and demographic groups, and achieve the target of 3 million. I look forward to playing my part in creating a marked increase that will transform the lives of more people like Scott.
I rise to speak to amendment 102, which would require the Secretary of State to report on the number of people with special educational needs and disabilities and the number of people with education, health and care plans entering into apprenticeships.
Before I start, I want to make three quick points. First, I thank the Chair and Clerks for their help and advice so far. Secondly, I again commend, as I did in last week’s witness sessions, the very welcome target for narrowing the disability employment gap in this country. It really is brilliant that the Government have made that commitment. Thirdly, I am grateful, especially as a new Member of Parliament, for all the briefings and notes from organisations including the Federation of Small Businesses, Disability Rights UK, and especially Mencap and my own council, Southwark. I am still a councillor in Southwark, but I do not take an allowance as a councillor; I do not know whether I have in the past six months. If that needs declaring, there it is.
The disability employment statistics are shocking. Only about 48% of disabled people of working age, and fewer than 10% of people with learning disabilities, are in work. That figure falls to about 5% for people with mental health conditions, including schizophrenia. There is widespread acceptance that more needs to be done, which is why the Government target is so welcome. One route is, via this amendment and information on apprenticeships, to give disabled people the skills and experience that benefit longer-term employment.
We heard widespread concern from witnesses that the Work programme has not worked for disabled people—the success rate is only about 10%. Disabled people’s organisations suggested that that demonstrates a further need for the apprenticeship route to be better utilised, although they noted their concerns about income levels in evidence submitted to the Committee.
Last week we heard the British Chambers of Commerce raise concerns about simply applying the raw target. The headline 3 million must be broken down to ensure that it works for all and is effective. The Federation of Small Businesses provided me with a briefing—I hope that something went to other Committee members—which showed that 60% of small businesses took on an apprentice in the past two years. Its concern is that the new target will undermine the existing system. It estimates that about 400,000 new starts will be needed a year. That is a big jump, and I suggest that its concerns need assuaging. If the new target generates a revolving door of people re-entering different apprenticeships, it is less useful than an adequately prioritised target, which amendment 102 focuses on. I think that the witnesses accepted the need for a better focus on areas of work and groups of people who need more support and for geographical prioritisation. Amendment 102 goes some way to meet that concern.
The Minister mentioned, in voting down a previous amendment, that there would be some reporting on targets, which would be welcome. If there was a bit more detail on that, perhaps amendment 102 would be withdrawn. Accepting the suggestions of witnesses and prioritising the proposed target group would go down well with business, better meet needs and, I hope, avoid the fear and risk that a new target will undermine the quality of apprenticeships.
I want to touch on the existing scheme. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase mentioned the existing scheme and the target of 2 million. The Government have highlighted the fact that 2.3 million young people went into apprenticeships over the previous Parliament. They obviously plan to expand that number further, but the 2012 report “Creating an Inclusive Apprenticeship Offer”, commissioned by the Government and written by Peter Little OBE—no less—showed a worrying decline in the proportion of apprentices declaring a learning difficulty and/or disability overall.
Since 2007-08, the proportion of that group accessing apprenticeships fell from 11.5% to 9.1%, and the picture for people with moderate learning disabilities is even bleaker. In 2008-09, just 2.5% of apprentices declared a moderate learning difficulty. By 2012-13, that had fallen to 1%, which is of concern to Mencap, to which I am grateful for providing those statistics.
Although the total number of apprenticeships has risen in recent years, those with special educational needs and disabilities are being left behind and are already significantly disadvantaged in employment opportunities. Amendment 102 would help refocus attention and ensure, through the need to report, that opportunities are open to all in a way that helps the Government with that commendable broader target to reduce the rate of unemployment among disabled people.
We have had some discussion about context. There are significant concerns about what will happen to people in the employment support allowance work-related activity group. Some 248,000 people in that group have mental and behavioural disorders, as recorded by the Department for Work and Pensions. That figure includes many people with learning difficulties, who are the focus of Mencap’s concerns. Using an information system to ensure that apprenticeships are open to that group would be a bit more carrot if we are going to whack with a particularly nasty stick. There are many different reasons for the low level of reporting of disabled people on apprenticeships, including the demand for apprenticeship places, which, in turn, has led to higher entry requirements, excluding some disabled young people who, although perfectly capable of doing the job, do not have the academic qualifications needed. Amendment 102 would help to tackle that.
Disability organisations believe that better routes into apprenticeships for young people with special educational needs must be established. There is a need to increase the number of supported internships or traineeships that work well for people with learning disabilities. Reporting would also help, as the amendment suggests.
Disabled people face barriers in terms of the attitudes of employers and apprenticeship providers, and there is a lack of knowledge that support such as Access to Work is available for disabled apprenticeships. It has been disappointing to witness the decline in disability employment advisers over the past five years, which I mentioned and witnesses to the Committee, including Remploy’s spokesperson last week, referred to. Will the Minister provide clarification on the role of disability employment advisers and Access to Work when it comes to apprenticeships?
Does the Minister plan to reflect the concerns of the business community, demonstrated by the British Chambers of Commerce and other witnesses, about signposting and a one-stop shop for advice and support for businesses seeking to use the apprenticeship programme? The amendment could help to shape that approach as, without the information on reporting, it is difficult to deliver a system that gives businesses access to the information needed.
While many young disabled people with special educational needs can complete the on-the-job vocational part of the apprenticeship framework, they struggle with the English and maths assessment. Support and reasonable adjustments must be available for those apprentices and the level of qualification set at an appropriate level. I hope that the Government are able to demonstrate how the new plans will meet their Equality Act 2010 obligations to ensure that disabled people are not disadvantaged further. Reporting on the number of disabled people able to access the scheme would help towards that equity. It is incumbent on the Government to take the lead in ensuring that access to apprenticeships is as equitable as possible, as well as reporting on progress to boost the numbers of people with special educational needs and disabilities on the programme. Within that reporting target, it also seems prudent to report on the number of apprentices with the new education, health and care plans, which replaced statements in September last year.
Returning to the issue of businesses and to concerns expressed in writing and in the evidence sessions, reporting is crucial in ensuring the efficacy of the extended apprenticeships scheme. To include a requirement to report on the number of disabled people who receive support in the form of apprenticeships among the other reporting requirements might reassure businesses and disability organisations that the plans will not just result in low-quality, revolving door schemes that meet the number but not the longer-term goals of the Government, employers and disabled people. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I thank the Committee for its consideration of the amendment.
I commend and thank all hon. Members for their contributions. There is a lot to cover, but all the points are highly relevant. I will cut to the chase and go straight into the amendments.
First, I reassure the Committee that the first part of amendment 75 is unnecessary in view of the level of reporting that already takes place. My Government reports on almost half of the criteria as part of the Government’s quarterly first statistical release and will continue to do so as part of the annual reporting requirement set out in the Bill. Those statistics include a variety of figures broken down by region, age, gender, ethnicity, disability, level and sector. On breaking the figures down by qualification, we also publish information on the courses that apprentices are enrolled on in each academic year as part of the national aims report. The reporting process is there, and it is detailed.
The first part of amendment 102 is also not required, as the Secretary of State already reports on the number of people with learning difficulties and disabilities entering into apprenticeships. As for the amendment’s second requirement, the Government do not publish data on the number of people entering into apprenticeships with education, health and care plans. We are already helping to make apprenticeships more accessible for people with such plans by providing the full funding for apprenticeship training under existing frameworks to entitled 19 to 23-year-old care leavers. We will work with Barnardo’s to continue to ensure that apprenticeships are accessible for care leavers.
The second part of amendment 75 would require the Secretary of State to provide a report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills on the quality of apprenticeships. That is unnecessary, as we are already committed to a range of measures to ensure the quality of apprenticeships. That has been subject to much discussion, not just in this Committee but in government, particularly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is taking the lead. We have already ensured that all apprenticeships are real paid jobs, with a minimum duration of a year and minimum hours of employment. They have to include off-the-job training, which must include English and maths when those have not already been achieved. We are already working to ensure that the quality of apprenticeships is high and, importantly, continues to improve.
The best indicator of quality is that apprenticeships help people to progress into employment. Government data already show clearly that that is the case across the programme. On average, level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships increase earnings by 11% and 16% respectively. We have seen the significant returns that they bring to the economy. Latest research indicates that adult apprenticeships at level 2 and level 3 deliver £26 and £28 of economic benefit respectively for each pound that the Government invest.
I reassure the Committee that we can never stand still on this issue, and we are certainly not complacent. The Government have introduced a number of additional measures to ensure that apprenticeships offer the best opportunities to apprentices and the businesses that employ them. That includes giving employers the responsibility to develop new apprenticeship standards.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark referred to some of the points that came out in the evidence sessions. Having a dialogue with employers is crucial, but they have to be responsible in helping us to develop the standards and the quality that ensure that their business and sector needs are met, while we focus on introducing rigorous assessment of end-point competence to ensure that apprentices can do the jobs that employers want. Ofsted and Ofqual will of course continue to play an essential role in the quality of apprenticeships. Ofqual will help to ensure that regulated qualifications meet the standard. Ofsted will inspect and report on the quality of apprenticeships, including observations in the workplace as part of the wider provider regime. We judge that the measures will give confidence that apprenticeships are high- quality jobs with training.
Apprenticeships are accessible to people with disabilities or learning disabilities, but we can always do more, such as using reasonable adjustments for disabled learners, which has been promoted through the skills funding rules. Awarding organisations have also reviewed the accessibility of online and PDF tests to make them much more compatible with assisted technologies such as screen readers.
A point was also made about people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities taking up apprenticeships, and I can report that in the last year of the previous Parliament over 44,000 people from BME backgrounds benefited from apprenticeship schemes. The Prime Minister has a 2020 vision to increase the proportion of apprenticeships being taken up by people in BME communities by the end of this Parliament, which will mean doing more and putting in place an action plan. We are committed to that.
On that basis, I urge the right hon. Member for East Ham to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for what she has told us about the data that will be published, which does pick up on the points in the first part of amendment 75. I am disappointed, however, that she was unable to confirm to my hon. Friend that we will be able to find out the number of people with education, health and care plans entering into apprenticeships, but I hope that the Minister will have another look to see whether that can be provided.
The Minister is a bit complacent on the quality point. I accept that it is not really a matter for her—it is for her colleagues in BIS—but we heard during our evidence from the British Chambers of Commerce, no less, that the only way the 3 million target will be achieved is by watering down quality. The mechanism that we proposed would have dealt with that. I will not press the amendment now, but I hope that she might commend our idea to her colleagues. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“and that a specified proportion of the three million apprenticeships are entered into by people with special educational needs or disabilities.
‘(2A) For the purpose of subsection (2) the Secretary of State shall, by regulation, specify the proportion of apprenticeships that must be entered into by people with special educational needs or disabilities for the target to be met.
(2B) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament in each reporting period a report setting out how they plan to meet the apprenticeship target as it relates to people with special educational needs or disabilities.”
To require the Government to ensure that a specific proportion of apprenticeships are taken up by persons with special educational needs or disabilities for its apprenticeship target to be met and to require the Secretary of State to report on how they intend to meet that target.
Amendment 100, in clause 2, page 2, line 29, at end insert—
‘(5) In this section “children and young persons leaving care” has the same meaning as in the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.”
As I have not been feeling very well, I beg the Committee’s indulgence if I have to run out at any point. Actually, the Committee has made me feel a little better, so thanks everyone.
As my hon. Friends have said, we welcome the Government’s commitment to create 3 million apprenticeships by March 2020. I like the idea that the Prime Minister has 2020 vision, as stated by the Minister, but I am unsure that I have it right now. When done well, apprenticeships have huge potential to transform the lives of vulnerable young people through a combination of college and work.
I want to lay out why the amendment matters by describing a case study that fell into my lap this week—I promise the Committee that it is real. Since I have been on this Committee, I keep asking everybody I meet what benefits they are on and what is happening to them, and a woman came into my surgery on Friday with a housing problem. She had a private landlord who was a bit rogue, and she needed help getting on to the council housing list. She was my age and had seven children. If anyone thinks that that is not a hard-working family, I advise them to stay at home with any number of children. She had already been hit by the benefits cap, and was no longer receiving any help to pay her family’s rent.
As I am a member of this Committee, I thought that I would ask her some questions about the effect that the benefits cap had had on her life and do a bit of evidence gathering, but she was absolutely not interested in talking to me about her benefits and how they had been reduced. All she wanted to talk to me about was how she wanted to work when her youngest started school the following year. She told me how she had had a tough life. She grew up in the care system and had 32 placements. She wanted to be a teacher, or at least a teaching assistant. She had literally no idea how to start, so I simply talked her through what I might do if I were in her situation.
This woman is my peer. She is a mum the same age as me, but the gulf between us is enormous. Like her, I went to primary school for seven years and then secondary school. I have a nice, stable life. I was afforded the chance to spend my early adult years studying, living off my parents, working in all sorts of jobs, building experience, building me as an adult, making my chances and finding my path. She has had absolutely none of that—not because she is idle or lazy, but because she did not have the same chance that all of us in this room have had or the chance we would ever want to give our children.
The importance of the amendment is clear. Where the state has loco parentis for a child or young person, it must mean just that. We must treat the children in our care exactly as we would treat our own children and as we expected our parents to treat us.
I welcome the policy on apprenticeships. However, in its current form it is unlikely to benefit young people such as the woman I described in my surgery who are facing the greatest challenges, including those who have been in the care system. I contacted Barnardo’s, which is the national leader in working with care leavers, for information. It told me that the young people it supports struggle to obtain apprenticeships, often due to the entry requirements, which may include five A to C grades at GCSE.
As in the case study I outlined, school education is often disrupted for care leavers due to multiple placements. Combined with the impact of traumatic early experiences, that means that they are much less likely to achieve academically at the same rate as their peers—any of us in this room. One consequence of that is that 34% of all care leavers are not in education, employment or training at the age of 19, compared with 15.5% of 18-year-olds in the general population. That is nearly double—in fact, it is more than double; I will be good at maths one day. We are calling on the Government to amend the Bill to change the definition of the apprenticeship target by specifying that 20,000 apprenticeships will be reserved for young people who have been in the care system.
This cannot just be about numbers; we must also recognise the difficulties faced and act as any parent would—as my parents did, and as I act. These special apprenticeships should come with appropriate support to assist young people who have been in the care system overcome any barriers to the workplace, and employers should receive larger reimbursements to cover additional costs. There are many innovative schemes. As we heard in the evidence session on the very first day, the level of support given to people in these environments is so important. We must not exclude young people who struggled at school but who have the potential to achieve qualifications with the right support. That is crucial if we are going to give these young people a chance.
I also call on the Government to amend the Bill to specify additional information that must be included in the Secretary of State’s progress report on meeting the apprenticeship target. That information should include not just the uptake but the outcomes of apprenticeships for young people who have been in the care system.
Anybody who has ever worked with young, vulnerable people, as I have for many years, will know that there is a problem when they start work and begin to lose their housing benefit. How the Government allocate housing benefit and whom they protect in the cuts will make a big difference to those young people. When a vulnerable young person begins work, they start to lose their benefits. Vulnerable young people’s work is often unstable, chaotic and not well paid, so there is a balancing act for care leavers between wages and stable tenancies. Remember they have no mum and dad to fall back on; we are relying on the Government to be their mum and dad.
A really good example in my constituency of how to do that well is something special that a youth homelessness organisation called St Basils is doing. It has the live and work partnership with the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust in a community response to youth homelessness, which is an innovative scheme providing 27 apprenticeships for young people, including care leavers, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness throughout Birmingham and Sandwell. The trust has provided a block of apartments that were previously used as staff accommodation but are no longer in use. St Basils, with the help of partner Keepmoat Regeneration and an empty homes capital grant, has completed the refurbishment of the accommodation to provide on-site shared accommodation for the apprentices.
St Basils is managing the accommodation and supporting the young people in their homes—that support, as I have outlined, is so important—and the trust is providing a range of apprenticeship opportunities. A pre-apprenticeship programme is being funded by Health Education West Midlands, delivered by University Hospitals Birmingham. That particular innovation is a scheme in which the young people live benefit-free, as I am sure the Minister is delighted to hear. It is something we all want. The funding and the support structure have been developed to ensure that young people can have an opportunity to live and work without recourse to welfare benefits.
To meet concerns about housing benefit for under-21s, people getting on to apprenticeships and ensuring that we are doing our best for care leavers, there are innovative schemes to give care leavers—the most vulnerable people in our society—a real chance. The scheme that I have described recognises exactly what I am asking the Government for in my amendment. It takes a community to bring up a child or young person. That is exactly the sort of brilliant and innovative scheme that the Government should consider when looking at care leavers and apprenticeships. The amendment would give that vulnerable group impetus and show them commitment. The Government should do that, because it is exactly what a mum and dad would do.
I rise to speak to amendment 103, which specifies that the apprenticeship target of 3 million apprenticeships should include a specific target related to the number of apprenticeships undertaken by people with special educational needs and disabilities. The amendment is a probing one and links to some earlier discussions, so I will try not to repeat anything.
I have three quick points to make. The Government have an ambitious target of 3 million apprenticeships, but disabled people and their organisations think that a sub-target ought to be set for that under-represented group of young people. The Minister has already answered that some of the information is available, so no burden arises from the amendment. I will be intrigued to hear why specifically the situation could not be reported on or monitored, or a target provided. If the information is known, please report on it.
In addition, as has been mentioned, that reporting could help the Government meet the broader and commendable target to reduce the employment gap for disabled people. We have already talked about the statistics for disabled people and employment overall: disabled people are a third less likely to be in employment, and the employment gap represents some 2.2 million disabled people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston referred to disabled people being four times more likely to be unemployed at the age of 26, which is evidence of the need for such targeting. Overall, disabled young people are twice as likely to be NEET.
The Minister mentioned that the number of disabled people in work had risen in the past couple of years—I think that was the time period—but in the past five years the percentage of working-age disabled people has fallen from 53% to 48%. Again, some additional emphasis and focus on ensuring that disabled people have opportunities would be welcome.
The positive impact of apprenticeships is well evidenced. We have heard from a range of witnesses, but I would also like to refer to some constituency examples. The Government incentive of £1,500 for employers with fewer than 50 employees has had some impact, but the council is also leading on apprenticeship programmes, including within council services in clerical and administrative posts and in partnership with development sites, including in construction through Lend Lease’s “Be Onsite”, a scheme with Unite’s construction support. I know that unions are not necessarily the flavour of the month for Conservative Members, but Unite commends the scheme. It is working, and it is delivering opportunities for young people, including disabled people. If the council can use such programmes to monitor and ensure opportunities for disabled people, perhaps the Minister can learn from local authorities and work with them in partnership, as well as saying what role local authorities might have under a broader apprenticeship scheme as we go forward.
Disability Rights UK has provided some extra information that I will read briefly:
“Some disabled people miss out on achieving GCSEs at grades A* to C, sometimes because ill health means education is interrupted, or adjustments or support aren’t put in place. It is now possible to demonstrate ‘functional skills’ rather than the GCSE results to get an apprenticeship. This needs to be strongly promoted.”
Disability Rights UK
“recommend that, to ensure that potential applicants, careers advisers, employers and providers all know of the flexibility to offer functional skills in English and maths, this information should be on all local authority ‘local offer’ websites, on the National Apprenticeship Service and National Careers Service websites and publications, in provider guidance, information to employers and the quality statements on apprenticeships.”
The amendment would help with that. Without a national Government priority and target for disabled people in apprenticeships, there will be no pressure or impetus on local authorities to ensure that Disability Rights UK’s recommendation is delivered.
Disability Rights UK also suggested a flexible approach to ensure that disabled people have the same opportunities to access apprenticeships as other people. Its concern matches the point highlighted to the Committee by employers that a headline figure is not the only useful measure, and that 400,000 additional new starts could undermine overall quality if there is no focus on certain groups, perhaps those furthest from the employment market.
It is essential that the new programme is targeted well and increases long-term employability, possibly in conjunction with Access to Work. We have had some discussion of that already, and the Minister made a point about spending on Access to Work, but can she clarify specifically whether the number of disabled people supported by Access to Work in the current financial year is higher or lower than the number supported in 2009-2010, the last full year of the last Labour Government? The last time I looked at the figures, the number of disabled people supported by Access to Work had fallen. Witnesses support better advertising and use of Access to Work, and to date the Government have been unwilling. I hope that apprenticeships will offer the opportunity to reconsider how Access to Work is used in the longer term to reduce unemployment.
Leonard Cheshire Disability has briefed the Committee, saying that in order to meet the Government’s target, 1 million disabled people must get into work. I hope the Government will reconsider how Access to Work can fulfil part of that role. The Minister mentioned a change in Access to Work from 2013 involving extending it to work placements. It would be absolutely fantastic to have any information at all about how that has been delivered and what impacts it has had; £2 million was set aside to deliver it. If it is working, that would be useful to know; if not, again, there is additional evidence to suggest that a specific target for disabled people, linked to the existing Government programme, would be useful.
I am conscious of time, and I know that some brilliant examples have already been given, but the Minister does not strike me as naturally timid. I hope that there is no timidity in approaching a target, because there is good practice among businesses that have demonstrated a commitment to delivering apprenticeship and employment opportunities to disabled people. I have examples. These are not DWP examples; they are real people and real names. Jane Forster, a disabled person, was taken on by Barclays, which a national programme that the Government could use and learn from.
Brilliant. Well, there we are. It is nothing to be timid about. Jaguar Land Rover also has a scheme, which took on Daryl Jones. I am sure the Minister has heard of that scheme. IBM also has a fantastic scheme. I will not go through the specific examples, but those businesses are out there and have shown the way. I hope the Government learn from those business examples and deliver the measures in the amendment. Both the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce have indicated that they are willing to help in that regard. The amendment would drive that focus and help meet that target.
My final point is this. Crisis has provided an excellent briefing for members of the Committee. The youth obligation announced in the recent Budget requires young people aged 18 to 21 to apply for apprenticeships or traineeships, gain workplace skills or go on mandated work placements after six months. It is even more essential that apprenticeships are open to disabled people. Amendment 102 would support the Government in delivering the new requirement they are placing on young people.
It is fair to say that during this debate we have covered a wide range of points. However, I will bring our debate back to the amendments, which seek to impose targets on the Government for the number of apprenticeships taken up by people leaving care and by people with special education needs or disabilities.
On amendments 99 and 103, apprenticeships are real jobs with training. As is the case for all other jobs, employers make the final decision as to who they hire for any apprenticeships they have advertised. As apprenticeships are employer-led we are not able to ring-fence apprenticeships for particular groups, as that would mean we would require employers to hire particular people for vacancies. The 3 million target will provide more opportunities for everyone, including those leaving care and those with special educational needs or disabilities. In an earlier discussion I touched on some of the existing schemes, which we are of course extending. A lot of investment is going on in this area already. When we have more time I will be happy to elaborate on that and talk about the programmes, so as to share more information with the Committee. Much work is ongoing in the Department.
To respond to amendments 99 and 100, we already provide full funding for apprenticeship training under the existing frameworks for entitled 19 to 23-year-old care leavers. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley spoke with great passion. To answer her point, this is not about excluding people but about supporting them, especially those with challenging backgrounds. The circumstances she highlighted are poignant—she spoke about a real individual who, as she pointed out, is the same age as her and her peer, and who wants to work and to have the opportunity to progress. It is incumbent on the Government to support that individual to find the right routes and access so that she can get the support she is looking for.
The hon. Lady mentioned Barnardo’s, which I know has called for an additional target of 20,000 apprenticeships taken up by children or young people leaving care. We will work with Barnardo’s to continue to make apprenticeships accessible for care leavers. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark mentioned that responsibility for this area is not solely DWP’s but goes across Government. There is an apprenticeship advisory group that helps the Government to understand and address any apprenticeship issues connected to diversity and equality, so as to address barriers and make apprenticeships as inclusive as possible.
As for reporting, in a previous discussion I touched on the fact that a lot of the data are published as part of our quarterly statistical first release. We will continue to publish those data as part of the annual reporting requirement set out in the Bill. The Government want all apprenticeships to be as inclusive as possible. Thousands of disabled people have already benefited from apprenticeships. There are many schemes, such as the Disability Confident campaign, and Barclays, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and many other employers are doing great work in this space. As a Department, along with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, we are encouraging businesses to do more—that is part of our ongoing work and dialogue with them.
For a start, we want in this Parliament to build on the success of the work that has taken place with employers on apprenticeships. We judge that the measures in the Bill will give confidence that the Government are ensuring that apprenticeships are accessible to people of all backgrounds, including care leavers and those with special educational needs and disabilities. I urge the right hon. Member to withdraw the amendment.
It is a matter of time, isn’t it, Chair?
I will come back on some of the things that the Minister has said. I welcome her concerns. I will send my constituent to her, as she is keen to get her into work. Although I understand what she says about targets and the policy being employer-led, there are a lot of things that other Government Departments, as well as hers, could potentially do to try to reach targets in both areas. I welcome that, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.