Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:19 pm on 1st May 2014.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate and the Chair of the Select Committee for forcing an issue, raising a point and ensuring that both Governments work together on an important issue. We all want to see more people in work, particularly people who have been long-term unemployed. What specific support do we give them?
I think that it is key that we compare like with like. We are looking at people who have been long-term unemployed and the support that we are giving them. It is a fake comparison that is being made with Jobs Growth Wales, because that deals with people who are entitled to get the support from day one when they are claiming, not a set of people who have to have been long-term unemployed.
If we look at the journey of an individual who ends up on the Work programme, we see that they have been unemployed for a year, whereas 90% of people would have got a job or stopped claiming JSA within a year. What we are considering today is the 10% of people who are the most difficult to get into work and what tailored support we need to give them. A fake comparison is being made between the two. It is not correct, because what we are seeing, particularly with young people who have been on JSA, is that more than 90% would have got a job anyway. I think that not comparing the two is key. We are talking today about the long-term unemployed and how we get the extra support to them.
Quite correctly, it has been said today that what has happened in Wales has not been as good as what has been happening in the rest of the country. Why is that? What issues have been hampering the support that needs to go to the long-term unemployed there? That has been the difference between national schemes and devolved schemes. How do we get better alignment of those? What has Wales decided to prioritise and has not worked as well as what has been happening in the rest of the UK?
I am pleased to say—the Welsh Affairs Committee has to take great credit for this—that we are working together. The report was published in November, and I met Ken Skates in November and January. The DWP is working with the Welsh Government now. We straight away set up a working group and are taking that forward. In the letter that came to me from Ken Skates and in the statement that came out, he sets out the key points. He says straight away that there must be better alignment and better use of what is coming through the skills funding. How do we do that? I understand his concern that funding must not be duplicated, but how is it then that we manage to utilise the ESF funding so that there is no duplication and, as is the case in the UK, it can be used in the way intended?
Those are the key things that we are working on together now, and we want the same outcome. We have a team working on it. The key priorities are ensuring that Work programme participants can access apprenticeship opportunities, to ensure that we get the essential skills provision that is there and that we manage to support these long-term unemployed people. That is what we have been aiming at for a long time, and that is what they are now doing. A pilot scheme is in place to utilise what we are doing in the UK to ensure that it happens in Wales. In only a few months, we have come a significant way, and all credit has to go to Ken and his team for that.
When I look at the numbers for the long-term unemployed, I see that they are coming down. When we look at the job statistics across the UK and in Wales, we see that we have very good employment figures at the moment. We are at record highs for the number of people in employment. I do not think that we can run that down. It is happening nationally and also in Wales. Let us look at what is happening in Wales. Employment in Wales is up by 41,000 over the past year. Unemployment in Wales is down by 19,000 over the last year and down by 6,000 in the last quarter. The long-term claimant count in Wales is down by 2,600 in the last year, too. When I look at the figures for the various seats, I see that in Llanelli long-term unemployment is down by 13% in the past year. Long-term youth unemployment is down by 35%. When I look across to Newport East, I see that, again, the figures are down. That is what we are all aiming for; it is what we want to see.