Jenny Chapman MP

JENNY CHAPMAN

Budget response: Low pay and youth unemployment

Jenny calls on Government to learn from success of Foundation for Jobs


 

Jenny Chapman MP gave her response to the Budget in the House of Commons today, identifying low pay and youth unemployment as the key challenges facing the economy, and urging the Government to tackle the latter by bringing in Labour's compulsory Jobs Guarantee for young people out of work.

She praised Darlington Foundation for Jobs as a success that needs to be learned from, with public, private and voluntary sector groups working together to provide opportunities and training for young people facing unemployment.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), although I wish he had said more about youth unemployment. A golden thread ran through the speeches of many Opposition Members, most notably my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), for Telford (David Wright), for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), and for Livingston (Graeme Morrice). Their speeches focused on youth unemployment, which is clearly an issue that matters greatly to Opposition Members. It certainly matters greatly to me, because in my area, the north-east, it has never been dealt with properly since the election. Although we are seeing some very slight decreases, youth unemployment in my constituency is still double the national average, and Darlington actually does quite well in comparison with the rest of the north-east.

Youth unemployment and low pay are the two biggest challenges that face us, and they are two issues about which the Budget said very little. The average wage in Darlington is £440, and youth unemployment is now at 9.6%. That is not acceptable to us, and, to its credit, private sector companies in Darlington were not prepared to accept it either. They were concerned about the end of the future jobs fund, and decided to take matters into their own hands. I pay tribute to Sherwoods, my local Vauxhall car dealer, to The Northern Echo, to my local council and to the local voluntary sector. They got together and decided to do something, because they knew that they would not get much joy if they waited for the Government to take a lead. They then formed the Foundation for Jobs, a local initiative. Let me say at this point that I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby that successful initiatives to address youth unemployment are best delivered through local government.

We launched the Foundation for Jobs in April 2012, so it has been going for nearly two years. We have worked with more than 2,700 young people, and have secured 250 new apprenticeships through the foundation. More than 2,000 school-age kids are building closer links with industry, 230 young people are taking part in internships or eight-week work experience placements, and 66 young people have developed their entrepreneurial skills. The foundation is based locally, and has received no funding; it depends entirely on good will. Government Members challenged the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), on Labour’s jobs guarantee, suggesting that private sector firms would not be interested in taking part. I can tell them that they were completely wrong. More than 150 businesses in my constituency alone have grabbed the opportunity presented by the Foundation for Jobs with both hands, and they would welcome the opportunity to do more. To suggest that small businesses are not interested, do not have the time or are under too much pressure makes them sound a lot less far-sighted than they are.

All that businesses get in return for participating in the initiative, apart from the satisfaction of knowing they are giving a young person a chance, is a little promotion in my local paper,The Northern Echo, which has taken an extraordinary lead. In the absence of a sensible Government scheme, Members across the House will have to take matters into their own hands, and I think local businesses are up for the challenge.

The foundation makes the link between young people and growing industries, which know they need a trained work force. They are looking at the provision available and the skills young people have, and they are looking at the challenges facing young people—who in my constituency are increasingly unwilling to take on the debt they would have if they went into further education—and they are trying to dispel myths about careers such as engineering.

This has been a lot of fun. We have done events with over 100 secondary school youngsters at a time, trying to get them to see the real face of modern engineering. We have performed computer-aided design tasks and we have made basic electric car batteries, wired wind turbines and designed a wind farm. We have built suspension bridges with over 200 young people. It has been quite an education for everybody, and one thing that stands out for me is the absence of advice and guidance for young people now that, thanks to a decision made by the Government a couple of years ago, they are no longer entitled to any face-to-face information, advice and guidance before they leave school, which is disgraceful. If we are to have any hope whatsoever of improving social mobility, particularly in the north-east, we have to improve the offer to young people in terms of advice and guidance.

Labour has made a sensible suggestion in the form of the Jobs Guarantee, and I am convinced the private and voluntary sectors and the larger public sector employers in the north-east would be very keen to get involved in it. The jobs guarantee would last for the whole of the Parliament for 18 to 24-year-olds who have been out of work for over a year, and twice as many of those young people are out of work now than there were in 2010. If that was my track record, I would be ashamed, and I really do not understand why the Government are not.

Young people will be able to work for 25 hours a week on the minimum wage, the employer must provide training - I think they will be only too willing to do so - and this would rightly be funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses and on the pensions of people earning over £150,000 a year. I know my constituents support this and local businesses are crying out to be involved, and if the Government had any humility they would be taking on this idea and getting on with it now, rather than our having to wait for a Labour Government.

Follow the link to the read Tuesday's Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation debate in full.

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