Employment and Social Policy Ministers (Informal Meeting)

Work and Pensions written statement – made at on 25 January 2011.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The Informal Meeting of Employment and Social Policy Ministers took place on 17 to 18 January 2011 in Budapest, Hungary. I represented the United Kingdom on day one of the meeting and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Minister with responsibility for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Davey, attended the second day.

The themes for this two-day informal meeting were tackling youth unemployment and creating an employment-friendly recovery, which were discussed in workshop sessions. In the first workshop, tackling youth unemployment, the presidency underlined the importance of increasing youth labour market participation. Possible solutions included: raising skills, better careers advice, incentives to employ young workers, strengthening entrepreneurship and use of European Union funds especially the European social fund. The Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner highlighted some of the ideas in its "Youth on the Move" flagship initiative, including open-ended contracts and a youth guarantee and encouraged member states to take up these proposals. For the UK, I intervened to state that the European Union should prioritise a broad-ranging growth and competitiveness agenda and remove unnecessary regulation. I stressed the vital importance of impact assessments for any new regulation and early action to tackle unemployment by increasing labour market participation and improving skills. I outlined key UK policies that supported this agenda and highlighted the potential for member states to learn from each other through the open method of co-ordination. I also stressed that it was not necessary to apply the same solution in each member state. We needed flexibility around common goals. Many delegations broadly welcomed the Youth on the Move initiative although some argued that European Union-level action should not specify solutions and respect the differences in member states' industrial relations systems. Otherwise, there was a broad consensus on the need for education reform and improving skills levels.

In the second workshop, the presidency noted that while the economic outlook was brightening, employment rates were not improving and that meeting the Europe 2020 employment target would be a significant challenge. It emphasised the importance of promoting labour demand through labour-intensive investments focusing on those furthest from the labour market. The Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner argued for doubling of effort to avoid a jobless recovery. The "New Skills and Jobs" flagship initiative, the joint employment report and the annual growth survey were all recent Commission initiatives aimed at promoting growth. The Commission would adopt guiding principles to assist job creation later this year, focusing on addressing administrative and legal obstacles to hiring and firing; reducing non-wage labour costs; and measures to assist the move from informal and undeclared work into regular employment. Finally, the Commissioner argued the case for more and more visible ESF funding and better use of the EU microfinance. For the UK, the Under-Secretary with responsibility for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton, agreed with the emphasis on skills and training and stressed the importance of apprenticeships and benefit reform to help vulnerable workers. He also highlighted UK plans to simplify employment law, thereby reducing regulatory burdens on business as well as retaining a fair deal for workers.