By Harry Phibbs
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The House of Lord held a debate on youth unemployment on Thursday. This sort of issue is generally debated in a rather less partisan way in the Lords than it would be in the House of Commons.
The Labour peer Lord Adonis said:
School standards are still not nearly high enough, particularly in the many hundreds of comprehensive schools where a majority of teenagers are still not leaving with essential GCSEs. That is the reason why the previous Government concentrated the academy programme on the lowest performing schools-to give them a "big bazooka", in the words of the Prime Minister. I urge the Government to focus new academies and free schools in disadvantaged areas and to do more to support the recruitment of highly motivated teachers into such areas by, for example, expanding more rapidly than planned the excellent Teach First programme.
The Conservative peer Lord Bates spoke about job creation opportunities in the north east. He talked about his role as a patron of Tomorrow's People and added:
If we drum into young people that there are no opportunities, the situation is absolutely dire and there is no hope, we should not be surprised to find that that is the world view they take, asking themselves, "What is the point of applying?"…
The north-east is home to two of the enterprise zones. Of course, there is also the element of making work opportunities-particularly low-paid work opportunities-attractive to young people. Raising the tax thresholds, which has taken 84,000 north-east people out of paying tax altogether, is making those positions more competitive and giving people a better wage than was the case before those thresholds were raised.
The Bishop of Chester was worried about the morality of old people staying in work longer and doing the young out of jobs. But the Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud gently squashed this example of the "zero sum game" fallacy.
There is good evidence to show that there is a positive correlation between having both more older people and more younger people in the workforce. The person who has done the best research in that area comes from the Benches opposite in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who is not present but has done excellent research on this matter.
Lord Freud pointed out that while the numbers working for the public sector are falling there are more jobs being created in the private sector:
The Government seek to turn round the economy to get those jobs provided by the private sector. Indeed, private sector employment overall has gone up by 45,000 in the quarter, a quarter of a million in the year and by 634,000 since the election.
Among the queries raised by Lord Adonis was:
Will the Minister also tell us what progress has been made in creating the 100,000 work experience places also promised for this year in the youth contract? I strongly support work experience placements, provided the young people are treated properly, but they are of short duration-as little as two or three weeks each-and are not, of course, a substitute for real jobs paying real wages.
Lord Freud replied:
Again in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, we have placements for work experience and apprenticeships in the DWP and across government. We have already put 49,000 people through work experience, and about half of them are now off benefits after taking part in the scheme. The success rate is virtually identical to that of the future jobs fund, but the difference is that the work experience scheme has cost £325 per placement, whereas the future jobs fund was running at around £6,000 a place.
A welcome example of the Government achieving improved value for money.