Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) on securing this important debate. I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie). He is right: it is unacceptable that any young person is unemployed. It is the duty of any and every Government to ensure that they do everything possible to get young people back into work. As a father of five children between the ages of 16 and 25, I am well aware, like all parents, of the importance of ensuring that every young person in our society has an opportunity to get a foothold on the employment ladder, so that they can make a contribution to our society. Almost every young person I meet wants a job; they want to work and they do indeed want to make a contribution, and this Government are doing everything possible to help our young people back into work.
I recently ran a successful jobs fair in Braintree, and I thank all the businesses that have been doing what they can to cut youth unemployment and take on a young person from our community. Youth unemployment in Braintree fell from 6.3% in May 2010 to 3.8% in May 2014. That trend has been repeated throughout the country, with youth unemployment falling in almost every constituency, so the Government have done much to combat this problem.
After the last election, the previous Government having left some 1 million young people unemployed, I helped to co-found the Million Jobs campaign. Last year, we drafted a manifesto to tackle the problem of youth unemployment, which set out five steps the Government could take to reduce youth unemployment. They included abolishing national insurance payments by employers of young people; educating school pupils about the apprenticeship opportunities available to them; encouraging firms to invest in young people through employment; removing of barriers preventing employers giving honest constructive feedback to applicants; and, finally, giving every unemployed young person a mentor. In the 2013 autumn statement, the Chancellor adopted the first of our manifesto recommendations by abolishing the jobs tax for any person under the age of 21. At this point, I pay tribute to and thank Lottie Dexter, the director of the Million Jobs campaign, for her tireless effort and leadership.
The Government have introduced a number of other policies over the past four years to tackle youth unemployment. Recently, they implemented the £1 billion Youth Contract, which will create 500,000 new job opportunities for young people by supporting employers and work experience placements financially. Indeed, many of the young people we represent in this House already benefit hugely from the Youth Contract and will continue to in future. Furthermore, the Deputy Prime Minister announced in July 2013 that eight core English cities outside London would be able to bid for a share of £50 million to help young people into work through the Youth Contract.
Apprenticeship schemes have been hugely beneficial in decreasing unemployment of young people, while providing a welcome boost to the national economy. I pay tribute to my Essex colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), for his sterling efforts promoting the scheme. The Government have taken steps to create a greater number of apprenticeships that are applicable to the current workplace. For example, a £25 million higher apprenticeship fund has been introduced to support up to 10,000 degree-level apprenticeships in sectors such aerospace and renewable energy technologies. Today, there are more than twice the number of apprenticeship schemes available to young people as there were in 2010, enabling more than 1.8 million young people to enter the workplace. In Braintree, I have witnessed this at first hand: the number of my constituents entering an apprenticeship has increased by almost 140% since 2010.
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on launching the Million Jobs campaign. We have heard great things this morning about apprenticeships—I have an apprentice—jobs fairs and the formal commitment of our hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North, and so on. Does he agree that two ongoing measures will make a difference: the introduction of direct payments to employers, rather than through training colleges, for apprenticeships; and the removal of the loan system for funding apprentices over 24, which will help reduce total unemployment?
Mr Newmark: Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are reducing the barriers in order to help young people into work. That is the thrust of the two points he made.
It is important that we continue to promote these new opportunities in schools across the country in order to move towards a more vocational education system. In 2010, a study by the economist Alison Wolf found that 350,000 16 to 19-year-olds were in line to receive unfortunately poorly respected qualifications that had little value in the employment market. Replacing low vocational qualifications with new tech levels that will drive up educational standards is another step the Government are taking to prepare young people for work in the future.
Wage incentives for employers have also been put in place to stimulate demand for working young people. Now, any employer that gives a young person who has been on benefits for six months a job could potentially receive up to £2,275, and the Government have also ensured that payments of £2,200 are available to providers who take on 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in education, employment, training or are from disadvantaged backgrounds. That has provided the long-needed encouragement for employers to begin to proactively seek out the young unemployed and ultimately give them a foot on the employment ladder. The Government have also introduced the new enterprise allowance, which has given young unemployed people with great ideas the opportunity and means to start their own businesses and work their own way out of unemployment. Under the last Labour Government, the number of NEETs increased by a third and youth unemployment overall increased by 40% between May 1997 and May 2010. Thanks to the work of this Government, the total number of 16 to 18-year-old NEETs is the lowest in a decade, while the implementation of a pre-apprenticeship training programme called “traineeship” will ensure even the most vulnerable young people have full access to employment opportunities. That has already positively affected both the voluntary and the community sectors and is particularly aiding young people who are currently not in education, employment or training.
This Government have acted on the calls from the public to reduce youth unemployment by using a variety of policies in combination, and although there is still much to be done, there is clear evidence that the Government are succeeding in addressing the issue of youth unemployment and that their long term economic plan is delivering for young people, not just in Braintree but up and down the country.