While kickstart has been well received by many, there have been frustrations for some. My constituent, Francesca Harding, who runs Butterwick Kennels in Sedgefield, has been particularly disappointed by the performance of Adecco as a gateway provider and the working relationship with Jobcentre Plus. The rules around advertising positions, citing potential age discrimination and all of that, have frustrated the process of getting young people in. It concerns me whether that is a local misunderstanding or whether we need to look at the rules to get even more young people engaged in these schemes.
My constituent Deb Barrow runs a recruitment agency, and she focuses on employing local young people. Unfortunately, the system of kickstart has let her and the local young people of Gower down. It takes, from the point that she gets the job given to her, nearly four to five months for that person to be recruited. That job has by then gone.
On Friday, in the youth hub in Darwen and Blackburn, we launched the first kickstart programme in that sort of venue. We look forward to sharing our experience with the Department, because as you know, Mr Speaker, where Lancashire leads, many others will follow.
Bosworth and the east midlands have a fine tradition of automotive logistics. One of the biggest problems is that that is the area changing most rapidly in keeping up to date with skills, which puts pressures on employers to have those skills. What are the Government doing to ensure we are equipped to move into the green era and deal with the automotive nature of the logistics sector, as we go forward over the next 10 years?
Disabled people face huge challenges when changing careers, partly due to the fact that they often wait for three months to be approved for access to work, even before they receive their first payment. Will the Minister meet me, the Hull-based charity Choices and Rights Disability Coalition, and Disability Rights UK to discuss how together we can look at improving access to work?
For years I have tried to point out that one reason for HGV driver shortages is that people cannot afford the cost of £3,000 to £4,000 to do the training and sit the tests. Is it time for the Government to consider some sort of grant scheme, so that people get their training paid for them, leading to a welfare saving in the long run? It is win-win, so when will the Government step up and do it?
I thank my hon. Friend for her response. I pay tribute to the local team in Barrow and South Lakes for their hard work in helping people into jobs, and giving them the skills and experiences they need to get into the job market. Indeed, I am looking forward to opening Barrow youth hub on 30 September. That said, many of my constituents are concerned about the changes to universal credit and the potential cliff edge. Will the Minister explain what mitigations are in place to protect those who have concerns about their future?
Jobcentre staff across the country are doing a fantastic job, not least in the Rochdale youth hub, which serves my Heywood and Middleton constituency, but as my hon. Friend will know, getting young people into work is a cross-Government effort. What steps are being taken to work with the Department for Education to ensure that young people have the skills necessary to take on these high-quality jobs?
T7. Despite the Government’s best efforts, many freelance and self-employed people in my constituency and throughout the country had a very tough time during the covid restrictions. Within the remit of her own departmental responsibilities, but also in her discussions in the Cabinet, what is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage people to take that extra risk in pursuing a future means of access to work by becoming self-employed? (903401)
Many pensioners will be relying on pension credit to get by after the Tories’ brutal triple lock betrayal. Will the Secretary of State follow Scotland’s lead and commit herself to introducing a proper take-up strategy for reserved benefits, including pension credit, and will she consider the automation of payments to ensure that more people receive the support to which they are entitled?
T2. When a domestic abuse survivor decides to leave an abuser, having a safe, affordable place to escape to is key. Otherwise, they face the risk of homelessness. The benefits system should be there to protect women and children who need to escape, but unfortunately it can often act as a barrier—for example, when a survivor leaves a working household that is not subject to the benefit cap and then becomes a lone parent in an out-of-work household that is subject to the cap. Will the Secretary of State commit today to exempting domestic abuse survivors from the benefit cap so that they can have the best possible chance of accessing a safe and affordable home? (903396)
We have heard a lot from those on the Treasury Bench about how much money will be spent on the plan for jobs and the kickstart programme. Can the Secretary of State set out how she will measure success in this programme, and will she commit to coming to the House regularly to update us on progress?
I welcome the Minister’s response, but my two local jobcentres are seeing a number of people fail to turn up for their appointments with work coaches. That appears to be driven by the lack of sanctions because of the pandemic, so what is my hon. Friend doing to make it easier for jobcentres to use sanctions?
It is really important that young people who are looking for that first break into employment do not pay the heaviest price from the pandemic. That is why the youth hubs, including the one in Burnley, are so welcome. I thank all the local jobcentre staff for the work they have done to set that up. To encourage young people to go and use it, will the Minister confirm what support they will get when they go into the youth hub, and would she like to join me in visiting the one in Burnley, so that we can get as many people through the door as possible?
Last Friday, I was very pleased to see a young apprentice at a local Staffordshire engineering business whom I had met previously when she was studying at Stafford College. Will my hon. Friend explain what she is planning to do to help the jobcentre in Stafford and how the Government will provide more employment opportunities for young people in Staffordshire to help to level up the west midlands?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all her team are doing to support people back into work. In conversations with my local jobcentre staff this week, they reported very positive progress. They asked what opportunities there might be to consider extending kickstart-style schemes or incentives, so they are able to help out-of-work adults as well as young people. I wonder if my hon. Friend could help me to answer their question.
I thank my hon. Friend for her earlier answers. Before this terrible pandemic hit, I had the opportunity to visit my local jobcentre in Clacton. Its staff are enthusiastic and devoted to their work, but that workload has increased dramatically as our hospitality and tourism sectors have been hit. These sectors are vital to the Clacton economy. Is the Minister taking account of our often overlooked and deprived coastal areas as the Government continue their important work of helping people affected by this terrible pandemic back into work?
Disabled people require support to get back into work. Disability is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as
“a physical or mental impairment”
“has a substantial and long-term adverse effect”
“ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”
Of the 2 million in the UK with long covid, three in 10 have experienced symptoms lasting longer than a year, including fatigue, difficulty concentrating and shortness of breath. This is resulting in widespread disadvantage and discrimination, and is erecting barriers to employment. Will the Minister commit to recognising long covid as a disability from the point of diagnosis to ensure that workers have support and protection against discrimination in the workplace?
Today is a day of action for the “Right to Food” campaign, which I fully support. I can offer the Minister one possible policy to alleviate food poverty: drop the benefit cap. Food insecurity disproportionately affects families who are also most affected by the cap. The Child Poverty Action Group found that lifting the cap could take 150,000 children out of poverty. Will the Minister please explain her reasoning for not lifting it?
Last week, former Work and Pensions Minister Lord Freud described the benefit cap, which is now hitting 120,000 more households than at the beginning of the pandemic, as “ghastly”. Efforts to protect incomes during covid have been undermined as increased universal credit and housing allowance rates led to more families being capped, with numbers rising as the grace period for universal credit expires. If the supposed aim of the benefit cap is for families to go into work and to cut their housing costs by moving, will the Minister explain how families have been supposed to do that in the past 12 months, when neither option was effectively possible?
I am one of those people who do not think it is a good idea for everybody to work from home, because it means that young people do not have older workers that they can observe and chat to, to learn the ropes. However, while a lot of office space sits empty or underoccupied, would my hon. Friend consider encouraging employers to make that space available to charities and training providers in order to train young people in the skills they need?
Careers fairs can be a fantastic way of promoting opportunity in the local area, which is why I plan to host one in my constituency of Meriden in the coming months. Given the strengths of jobcentres and their local relationships, what support can they provide to help make careers fairs such as mine a success?
The Lakota Training Group, set up by Joanne and Paul in Stockton, does incredible work, helping the long-term unemployed to develop the skills and confidence they need to get great jobs—they go above and beyond to change the lives of so many people. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to help training providers such as Lakota continue to help people find work and unleash their full potential?
I thank the Minister for her answer. In Truro and Falmouth, and around Cornwall, hospitality businesses are struggling to recruit staff at the moment. Does my hon. Friend agree that UC claimants could be provided with hospitality sector-specific training, and, potentially, with further incentives, to ensure that these vacancies in this hugely important sector are filled?
As the furlough programme comes to an end, a great many people will be concerned about their prospects. Does my hon. Friend share my appreciation of the work of the Bolton and Leigh jobcentres and all the work that they have done to make sure that they are fully prepared to support people during this difficult time? Will she also welcome the fact that many employers locally are reporting that they have jobs for people to go to? (901900)
I thank the Minister for her answer. I agree that helping young people to get into work through this crisis is of paramount importance, but I was deeply concerned to hear, in a business roundtable organised by our local enterprise partnership, that that data is being gathered only at a regional level by the DWP. This means that the LEP and the councils cannot assess how well Oxfordshire is doing or measure the efficiency of any interventions that we might put in place to do even better. I thank her for her explanation, but can she give us any timeline on when we can have this data broken down to at least upper-tier council level? And can she meet me and officials so that we can understand how to ensure that young people make the most of this scheme?
When she plans to publish her Department’s review of the special rules for terminal illness. (900011)
What recent steps her Department has taken to help young people into employment. (900042)
I have recently received correspondence from the learning and skills lead for automotive engineering at Lincoln College in my constituency, which is shortly due to hold Autoinform 14-19, a practical taster event that aims to allow young people to spend time in workshops with local employers and industry specialists looking at electric cars, acoustic vehicle alerting systems, diagnostic methods and the MOT test. One difficulty is securing schools’ buy-in with the scheme. How does my hon. Friend believe the Government can support organisations such as Lincoln College to ensure that we help as many young people into employment as possible?
The Government have brought in some brilliant measures to get young people into employment and I witnessed that at first hand on a visit to NORI HR. We are also hosting an education summit locally, and I welcome the support from our local training providers such as North Lancs Training Group, but can the Minister set out what measures are in place to help jobcentres and training providers to work together so that people are fully aware of all the opportunities available to them?
Across Keighley and Ilkley, businesses care passionately about giving young people the skills they need for a successful career, and these include Byworth Boilers, an excellent business that offers apprenticeships to help local residents to take their first step on the career ladder. The desire from local businesses is there, but they often need Government help to turn this into a reality, so will my hon. Friend confirm how her Department is helping to give companies such as Byworth Boilers the chance to deliver for young people?
I thank my hon. Friend for her response. Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, given the high rates of unemployment in hospitality. Today I visited one of our local hotels, the Hilton Cobham, which has now fully reopened and is looking forward to welcoming the guests who enjoy Runnymede and Weybridge’s local attractions such as Thorpe Park, the Brooklands Museum and, of course, the birthplace of Magna Carta. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the next step in lifting the restrictions and invite people to visit and stay in Runnymede and Weybridge, to go to our fantastic pubs and restaurants to eat, drink and be merry and to support—[Inaudible.]— economy and jobs?
We have heard a lot about youth unemployment this afternoon. The House of Commons Library tells me that it has increased by 10%, with a 110% increase in the number of young people claiming unemployment benefits. Those statistics are concerning, especially for the Clacton constituency, where historically we have struggled with youth unemployment. We must get these young people back to work. The new lifetime skills guarantee will help, but what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury about the introduction of national insurance contribution relief for employers who hire young people, as we have done for those that hire veterans? If discussions have not taken place, will they soon? (900062)
The kickstart scheme was launched with much fanfare but it has been a bit of a flop, not to mention a headache for many businesses such as METERology in my constituency, which has been given a total runaround by the Secretary of State’s Department. Recent figures suggest that if the UK Government maintain a rate of 400 new employees starting each day, they should hit their target of 250,000 new jobs in 625 days—that is two years—so what more are they going to do to ensure that kickstart can really live up to its hype rather than just be a slogan for the Chancellor’s naff hoodie?
Youth unemployment is rising and one route out of this is through apprenticeships. One of the problems with apprenticeships can be apprenticeship pay, often described as apprenticeship poverty, where it costs more to attend work than the young apprentices earn. What is the Minister doing across Departments to address that injustice? (900061)
As society leaves lockdown restrictions and recovery accelerates, will my right hon. Friend confirm that universal credit is designed not only for people who are unemployed, but to support people into work and to continue to support them while they are in employment? (900070)
According to research by the Resolution Foundation, we are facing a U-shaped unemployment crisis, which will hit the youngest and the eldest workers the hardest. For women who are already being forced to work beyond their expected retirement age, this only adds to their financial hardship and many fear that they will never find work again. Do the Government have any plans to help, or will they continue to let down these hard-working women, many of whom started in the labour market when they were just 15 or 16 years old? (900066)
This Government are focused on getting more people into work through an ambitious plan for jobs. However, last week I was contacted by a constituent in Redcar and Cleveland who is a qualified primary teaching assistant looking for work. She told me that, every time she declares her autism and epilepsy, employers sadly decide not to pursue her applications further. What more can the Government do to encourage employers to give differently abled people such as my constituent the equal opportunity of work? (900073)
On that point, after the Battersea incident, a group of campaigners gave evidence to various Committees of the House, which resulted in a crane register being developed. The register was scrapped after 2010. Does the Minister have any views on whether that should be brought back? In my view, it should.
The issue of health and safety with regards to cranes used in construction was brought into sharp focus in my constituency of Poplar and Limehouse by the collapse of one such crane on 8 July last year. It is with great sadness that I pay tribute to the friends and family of June Harvey, who died as a result. The collapse also destroyed the homes of those who lived around June, and temporarily displaced many other residents in the surrounding area. It is important that this trauma and pain is given the recognition it deserves.
On the night of 8 July around 100 residents had to evacuate their homes after a nearby crane collapsed and were temporarily housed in two hotels. One of the hotels was relatively close to the site and situated among amenities in Whitechapel. The other was much further away, in Canning Town, and with almost no such amenities near it. Clearly neither of these temporary housing situations were ideal, and all those constituents were uprooted from their lives. They were unable to return to their homes, some for weeks, only having the possessions that they grabbed on their way out with them. This meant that some could not go to work; for example, a constituent who worked for Transport for London was unable to access his uniform. Families who were already having to educate their children from home were subsequently forced to do so in cramped hotel conditions. All of this, against the backdrop of the covid-19 pandemic, has continued to cause great disruption. However, none of this compares to the loss experienced by the family of June Harvey, and of course many more could have lost their lives or been seriously injured in Bow that day.
The crane was operating in a built-up residential area, as evidenced by the number of constituents who had to leave their homes that night and go to alternative accommodation. I am in no position to draw conclusions on who is to blame for the collapse in Bow or assert causation; it would be simply wrong for me to do so. Rather, I wish to bring attention to the human stories around this issue and raise concerns more generally about the ongoing practices within the construction industry, especially in regard to the use of large cranes in residential areas.
Indeed, there continue to be a number of incidents and accidents involving cranes. In Battersea in 2006 two people were killed in a crane collapse, a crane operator and a member of the public; 10 years later Falcon Crane Hire was fined £750,000. The same company was also responsible for a similar collapse in Liverpool in 2007, resulting in one death. Closer to home, there was a collapse in Canary Wharf during work on the HSBC tower, with three workmen killed. It was found at the time that there had been three further crane scares in the previous six weeks and that safety paperwork had gone missing. These incidents must therefore be set in the context of campaigners and trade unions raising concerns about the under-regulation of health and safety in the construction industry amidst a drop in inspections and cuts to the Health and Safety Executive, particularly since 2010.
Trends of deregulation are widespread, most notably with regard to the safety of cladding, which has also affected many of my constituents and was pulled into sharp focus by the Grenfell Tower fire. The latter has rightly been pointed to by many as a warning of what could continue to happen should health and safety regulations not be tightened. Evidence upon evidence makes it clear that the regulatory framework needs to be looked at again to ensure the safe usage of safe cranes as part of safe construction of safe buildings. We need robust legislation and robust enforcement.
Crane safety relies in part on adherence to the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, which place duties on people and companies that own, operate or have control of work equipment. The Health and Safety Executive, in laying out how to comply with this protocol, writes that equipment must be
“safe for use, maintained in a safe condition and inspected to ensure it is correctly installed and does not subsequently deteriorate”.
This provision does not, however, contain any legal requirement for certification of those operating cranes, only stating that such equipment is to be
“used only by people who have received adequate information, instruction and training”.
The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 also apply to cranes. These regulations set out that crane operations must be
“planned by a competent person;…appropriately supervised; and…carried out in a safe manner.”
The approved code of practice for this piece of legislation defines such a person, who can also be responsible for assessing such equipment, as someone with
“appropriate practical and theoretical knowledge and experience of the lifting equipment to be thoroughly examined”.
These two regulations do not strike me as being sufficiently robust. The definition of a competent person able to test equipment and plan a crane operation is worryingly vague, and as is often the case with this Government, it takes responsibility from their hands. I therefore urge the Minister to tighten up regulations around crane usage and the construction industry more generally.
The Grenfell fire tragedy is also a warning to us all in relation to how such incidents as I have dealt with are responded to by Government. When we look beneath the rhetoric, the endless legal complexities and the passing of the proverbial buck, the truth is that years have passed since the Grenfell tragedy, yet still no one has been called to account. One of the many frustrating battles the Grenfell community has been obliged to fight was simply to be rehoused, with some of the most vulnerable survivors still not rehoused years later, due to the severe lack of investment in affordable housing.
I am conscious that the investigation into culpability for the aforementioned Battersea crane incident took 10 years—10 years—to discover that 24 bolts were faulty in the crane that collapsed. I believe it would be unjust for my constituents to have to wait that long, and I ask the Minister today what steps her Department will be making for this investigation to be concluded in a much swifter manner. The verdict on Battersea was reached only roughly four years before the incident in my constituency. If the same time were taken in relation to this latest incident, we would be waiting until 2030.
With investigations taking so long, it is really hard to imagine any sufficient action being taken as such collapses are forgotten. In the meantime, while no organisation has been found legally liable for the negligence or criminal health and safety offences that may have caused this incident, my constituents, who have done nothing wrong and who have been bereaved, are suffering great distress, grief and post-traumatic stress disorder, and they face uncertainty and hardship.
To conclude, the incident that took place in my constituency last year has had a lasting impact on many of those constituents and residents who have had to leave their homes. Many have contacted me even recently due to worries that there may be further works at the location that might lead to further crane usage. When I was visiting residents at the two hotels in the weeks following the incident, someone who had witnessed the accident at first hand described to me that they still feared the crane collapsing when they were going to sleep at night in the hotel room. We must have swift answers about what happened locally, including how the tragedy was, and indeed is being, handled, so that those affected can achieve a sense of justice and closure, and we can be assured that something like this can never happen again.
On that point, after the Battersea incident, a group of campaigners gave evidence to various Committees of the House, which resulted in a crane register being developed. The register was scrapped after 2010. Does the Minister have any views on whether that should be brought back? In my view, it should.
I do not want to pre-empt anything that the Minister is going to say, but the HSE is clearly underfunded and it is not able to undertake inspections proactively, as it should. The UK record’s is quite bad when it comes to having enough inspections. Does she agree that the HSE needs to be funded properly so that it can be proactive, as opposed to reactive, in dealing with such matters?
Sadly, the pandemic has meant that many people in my constituency of Aylesbury have lost their job and, for the first time in decades, find themselves looking for work. How can my hon. Friend ensure that the Jobcentre Plus estate and its staff are equipped to help jobseekers who are in their 50s and 60s, who have paid their taxes and their national insurance for their whole working lives and now need bespoke personal assistance to find a new job and continue to contribute to the economy?
Many businesses in remote rural communities, as in North Devon, are a long way from a Jobcentre Plus, and therefore would not usually use the jobcentre to advertise vacancies, particularly given poor public transport. What assurances can my hon. Friend give that rural businesses will be actively engaged by Jobcentre Plus, as it is especially important that young people looking for work in such rural communities are able to access local jobs through the kickstart scheme?
May I pay tribute to Worthing jobcentre, which has been very proactive in dealing with new benefit claimants and will have a lot of extra work, alas, with people who find themselves out of a job because of the pandemic.
Work coaches offer important support to a diverse range of claimants, but self-employed claimants can really benefit from the wisdom of someone who has direct experience of setting up their own business, so what specialist support will be available to UC claimants looking to boost their incomes through self-employment in the future?
May I start by thanking all the staff at Burnley jobcentre, who are doing an amazing job in supporting people day and night?
As a result of the pandemic, unemployment is increasing in Burnley, impacting on those who find themselves out of work for the first time as well as young people looking to enter the world of work. What steps is the Department taking to support people in Burnley who find themselves in that situation?
Unemployment has not really been a major issue in Cambridgeshire for some years, but with over 8,000 people furloughed in the city of Cambridge and 300 jobs in Chatteris lost recently, there is now real fear. Cambridge City Council is appointing an economic recovery officer, but overall where is the plan for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough? Where is the strategy to secure quality jobs in future?
In June, the Prime Minister promised an opportunity guarantee for every young person. With 800,000 young people now not in education, employment or training, and only 4,000 kickstart placements to date, the Minister recently told the Work and Pensions Committee, “Watch this space”, and that details on the guarantee would land at the Budget. If the Prime Minister announced it and she supports it, did the Chancellor not get the memo or has the Treasury once again blocked support where it is needed? Can the Government not get their act together on a jobs promise such as the one Labour has proposed so that young people out of work or training at six months get the opportunities that they need?
What steps her Department is taking to ensure universal credit payments are not reduced in the event of a claimant receiving two payments in the same monthly assessment period as a result of a wage payment being delayed by a bank holiday or weekend. (912996)
The Minister is absolutely right that the kickstart scheme is a wonderful, innovative scheme, which should be applied to Northern Ireland, but it has not yet been rolled out there. I wonder whether the Minister will be honest with us and tell us whether that is the fault of the UK Government or the fault of the local Communities Minister, who has been allocated the money but has not yet applied it to the scheme? Will the hon. Lady encourage her to get on with applying this scheme to Northern Ireland in the next telephone call that she has with the Communities Minister in Northern Ireland?
Happy International Women’s Day, Mr Speaker.
Last year, youth unemployment went up by 420,000, reaching 600,000, and it is set to reach 1 million, yet the Government’s kickstart programme has got only 4,000 young people into work, despite employers providing placements. Will the Minister explain by what date her Department’s own target of 200,000 placements will be met?
It is wonderful to hear from the Secretary of State about the progress on the kickstart scheme. Does she know that one of the sole traders in West Worcestershire, who is keen to take on a kickstarter, discovered that they needed a company number to do that? Also, with farmers in my constituency saying that they are lacking labour, has she thought about setting up a seasonal agricultural work kickstart scheme? (913048)
It has been 19 months since the Department for Work and Pensions announced the review into the special rules for terminal illness and, in that time, an estimated 6,000 people have died waiting for a decision on benefits claims. Can the Minister explain why there has been such a delay, assure us that every possibility is being pursued to rectify this and reassure those who are still waiting? (913045)
As unemploy-ment has been going up in recent months and is set to increase further, will my hon. Friend join me in commending the efforts of jobcentres around the country for all their work, especially the jobcentres in Leigh and Bolton that serve my constituents so well? (913053)
A number of constituents have contacted me regarding issues with the Child Maintenance Service, which we have raised with the appropriate officials, but there are long delays, which cause much distress to families in Stockton South. Will my right hon. Friend please address this with officials in her Department so that we can get much-needed answers and solutions? (913054)
I thank the Minister for that answer, but at a time when all of us know constituents who are struggling through the crisis which has brought them such hardship through no fault of their own, are the Government really going to impose the benefit cap on tens of thousands of families with children when the so-called “grace period” comes to an end? Is that really true? If it is, can she tell me this: how is that fair?
As you well know, Mr Speaker, South Ribble has many brilliant small businesses that are keen to provide a kickstart opportunity for a young person. For example, Mark Wright Landscapes got in touch saying that it was worried that it was too small to participate. In that instance, I was able to direct them to the great North and Western Lancashire chamber of commerce, which acts as a gateway. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking that small business and encouraging others in Lancashire and beyond to create a job and give an opportunity through kickstart to as many young people as possible?
With youth unemployment set to reach 1 million and 600,000 already unemployed, can the Minister provide some updates on how her Department will meet the 250,000 kickstart programme target that it stated it would meet? The numbers that the Secretary of State has set out today are worryingly low. Will she also consider removing the six-month requirement, where a young person has to be unemployed for six months before they qualify for the kickstart programme?
Back in 2013, my constituency of Delyn had an unemployment rate of 5.2%; thanks to successful aspirational Conservative policies, this was down to just 3% before the pandemic took hold, but now sits at around 6%. With some sectors—particularly tourism and hospitality—more severely impacted than others, will my hon. Friend confirm that, despite many things being in the hands of a Welsh Government who, I hope, are in their final months in power, the UK Government will continue to provide support and generate opportunities for my constituents to get back into work as soon as possible?
The Government’s emergency income support schemes have helped millions of people, but unfortunately there are gaps in support. Will the Government look again at how to help PAYE freelancers, the newly self-employed, directors of limited companies, and particularly women for whom periods of maternity leave have made it even more difficult to come within these covid emergency schemes? They need help; they are suffering real hardship. (911339)
The Secretary of State should be ashamed that right across the UK, food banks, schools, charities and communities have had to mobilise to feed hungry children because of the inadequacy of the welfare state. Analysis from the House of Commons Library shows that 680,000 of these children could be lifted out of poverty if universal credit was not cut and child benefit was increased by just £5 per week. Why will she not implement those changes? (911323)
The covid-19 pandemic has presented some stark economic challenges for Crawley affecting people of all ages. What support has the Department for Work and Pensions put in place to help workers get back into work across my constituency? (911341)
I have a constituent who, over the space of the two and a half preceding years, was sanctioned for a total of 1,100 days. Does there not come a point at which it is clear that the sanction regime does not work for some individuals, ceases to be a proportionate response, and becomes cruel and unusual? Will Ministers look at ways of making sure that those individuals who are suffering in this way get treated with a lot more respect and dignity? (911325)
The kickstart scheme has been a fantastic initiative in helping to secure valuable work placements for more of our young people in Blyth Valley, but it is currently only available to businesses with more than 30 employees. What assessment does my hon. Friend make of lowering this threshold to allow for smaller businesses to be given the same opportunity? (911345)
People who receive legacy benefits were excluded from the uplift to universal credit, but the Government have now announced plans for an uplift this April of 0.5%. If people are claiming ESA in the work-related activity group, that equates to 37p a week, which is derisory. We need to ensure that people on legacy benefits receive a proper degree of support, so as part of the Secretary of State’s review of the UC uplift that she mentioned earlier, will she commit to providing a similar uplift to legacy benefits? (911332)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hosie.
I thank the Minister for her opening remarks. The regulations are needed to address deficiencies in retained EU law on chemicals and GMOs legislation arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The Minister has outlined the regulations, but I will cover them briefly in my remarks.
EU law has played a vital role in ensuring that the framework that regulates chemicals and GMOs operates coherently and effectively. That framework includes regulations such as the biocidal products regulation that the Minister mentioned; the classification, including of hazards, labelling and packaging, or CLP, regulations; the regulations concerning the export and import of hazardous chemicals; and the GMO regulations, which lay down measures for the contained use of genetically modified micro-organisms with a view to protecting human health and the environment. We support this instrument, which ensures that retained EU law relating to chemicals and GMOs continues to operate coherently at the end of transition.
The Minister also outlined, as does the explanatory memorandum, why, if the changes were not made, several chemicals regimes in the scope of the instrument would not be consistent with the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol when the transition period ends. The reasons for the instrument are clear, but I want to focus on several concerns about its effective implementation and the transfer of functions to the HSE.
The first concern relates to HSE duties as it becomes the GB regulatory authority. Leaving the EU and the European Chemicals Agency means that the HSE will take on new responsibilities. From 1 January, businesses that wish to apply for an active substance to be approved, or for a biocidal product to be authorised in Great Britain, will need to apply to the HSE instead of the European Chemicals Agency. As the Minister said, the territorial extent of this instrument is Great Britain except for certain provisions. The HSE will take on the functions that the ECHA performs where these are still relevant in Great Britain. For example, it will co-ordinate the active substance evaluation process for Great Britain. It will also introduce its own processes and systems for receiving and processing applications.
The Minister said that she has confidence in the HSE’s capacity, but she will appreciate why I am asking questions about it. The new demands pose concerning questions about whether the HSE is adequately funded, staffed and resourced to deliver its new responsibilities, particularly on top of the additional work it has undertaken due to covid. Since 2009-10, funding for the HSE has been cut by £144 million in real terms: by more than half since Labour was last in Government. Although in May the Government announced £14 million more funding for it, that still leaves a substantial cut.
We know from a response to a parliamentary question that the Government have recruited only 37 full-time equivalent inspectors since March. What review has the Department for Work and Pensions undertaken with the HSE about its resources, systems and processes, and how it will effectively carry out its extra duties, such as confirming the hazard classification and labelling of chemical substances after the end of the transition period?
Is the Minister confident that the HSE will be able to cope with that increase in responsibilities? What assessment has she made of any new specialist skills that may be required? Could there be an economic impact on the chemicals, pharmaceuticals or plastics industries if there are any delays in required work being carried out by the HSE? Has that risk assessment been done as part of any review that the Department has undertaken? There may be a need for further recruitment, and difficulties have been experienced in the past year in finding necessary specialists. Can the Minister therefore guarantee that any extra staff will be in place by the first week of January, ready for EU exit?
With the HSE potentially having to navigate and regulate stand-alone GB schemes and parts of the EU chemicals schemes simultaneously, there will be additional pressure on it. At the same time, staff will be making new regulatory decisions for UK’s entire food and chemicals markets, with limited access to EU data. Not having adequate resources and systems will also put the incredibly hard-working HSE staff under enormous pressure, which is why we and the Government must not ignore this.
None of us wants questions about the HSE’s capacity to deliver an effective chemicals regulation regime into 2021 and beyond. Indeed, this issue has been raised before, and in February this year the Government said that they
“are making sure that the HSE…have the resources and evidence they need to ensure the safe management of chemicals and to protect public health and the environment.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2020; Vol. 672, c. 159WH.]
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution, which I am sure the Minister noted. It relates very much to the next point that I was about to make.
In February 2019, Mary Creagh, the then Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, also raised concerns about how the new functions would be taken on within the UK and the budget in relation European Chemicals Agency funding. That is not to say there should be direct comparison of EU-wide budgets and what the UK needs, but the HSE and other agencies involved need to be sufficiently equipped in order for our scientists to deliver safe and effective products on to the UK market. For the new work now required of the HSE, other agencies within Northern Ireland and others across industry that will be involved in a proportion of the new work that will be now taken on, what assessment has been made of the level and type of additional resources required?
My second question before I conclude relates to the Northern Ireland protocol. I thank my colleagues in the other shadow departmental teams for their input on this. The Northern Ireland protocol will mean that a number of areas of law in Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the EU after the end of the transition period, as the Minister commented. Changes to the standard policy approach for unfettered access are needed for highly regulated goods, such as chemicals. This will require a strong focus on transparency requirements to ensure that UK regulators are provided with the requisite information, in parallel to that provided to the EU. With regards to unfettered access and the forms required for highly regulated goods, what estimate has the Minister made of costs to business of the additional transparency requirements, and how many exports does she expect will be covered by them?
In conclusion, the amendments to the 2019 regulations relating to the withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland protocol, are necessary to ensure that retained EU law relating to chemicals and GMOs continues effectively from January. However, I would welcome reassurance about the planning and resourcing for the new functions that the HSE, particularly, and other agencies will take on.
This is one of around 20 statutory instruments that will need to be tabled before the House rises for recess. Will the Minister update us on the timetabling for the remaining SIs relating to the Northern Ireland protocol? With only two weeks until Christmas, she will understand concerns that there may not be enough time for all these to pass through the House before the end of the year with the necessary scrutiny. If she is unable to update us today, perhaps she will be able to forward that information to me after.
I thank the Minister for her responses, but I would be grateful if she will clarify one point. She talked about how the HSE’s existing capabilities could be built on, and said there had been some scoping and mapping. As we are so close to the end of transition, can she say whether any risks and concerns have been raised either by DWP or the HSE to her directly about readiness for 1 January, and whether any resources might still be required?
I am really pleased to hear that the Government and HSE have been engaging with businesses. However, I am still hearing concerns from businesses that are worried about re-registering pre-existing chemicals that have already been registered, and any potential need to prove that new levels of testing have been met, particularly animal testing. Can the Minister give an assurance that no new tests will be required for pre-existing chemicals by the HSE, and particularly no new animal tests?
I appreciate what the Minister just said. What would be useful, maybe in writing, is an absolute confirmation for the industry and for animal rights organisations that any pre-existing chemical that is currently registered under the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals regulation, and will need to be re-registered with the HSE, will not require any new levels of testing due to moving their registration over. Of course, it will be difficult for new chemicals that come on board later, but just so that we can be absolutely sure, will the Minister say that no existing registered chemical will require any new levels of testing? That would give me and the industry reassurance.
I thank the Minister for her responses to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown, and I understand that some of the REACH regulations are covered by other SIs. However, these are very important points, so could I just probe her on one thing, which relates to the reduction in animal testing that the BPR has promoted? She has given some assurance that this will remain part of UK policy, but could she also give an assurance that if there is any change to that policy at any time, that change will come before the House? I do think people across the country will want to see us keep that commitment into the future.
Last week, I met with Ameon, a building services company based in Fylde that is looking to grow its team due to the recent construction boom in the north-west. In construction, qualifications are vital to building a career. Will my hon. Friend outline how the kickstart scheme interacts with sixth-form and further education colleges to help enrolees to get valuable experience of work and certified lifetime skills?
Small and medium-sized enterprises in my Havant constituency are major local employers and already support apprenticeships in large numbers. What steps is my hon. Friend’s Department taking to help kickstart gateway providers, particularly local authorities, to help SMEs to benefit from the scheme?
More than a dozen local businesses and charities have put forward applications, working with myself and the South Cheshire chamber of commerce. They are keen to get going and want to give young people opportunities. When might they be able to start deploying the roles?
The kickstart scheme is proving to be a great success in my North Kensington jobcentre, with many placements already made and a number—for instance, in gyms—awaiting the end of lockdown. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is critical that we get young people into work, especially in London, where the cost of living is so high?
Young people are particularly at risk of being left behind as a result of this pandemic. Will my hon. Friend assure me that as we get our economy moving again, she will ensure that younger people have the chance to develop the skills that they need for future employment?
In the previous Parliament, Members will recall that the apprenticeship levy scheme was a bit of a flop. It let down businesses, young people, local authorities and colleges. With my local area seeing a 182% increase in unemployment, youngsters are having their lives blighted by joblessness now. What urgent action is being taken to work with local authorities, with employers and, of course, with colleges to promote apprenticeships as a viable future option?
Partnership will be crucial to drive down youth unemployment. I know that areas such as Greater Manchester are keen to understand how kickstart performs locally to assist in making the initiative a success. Can the Minister give clarity as to whether all the information relating to kickstart participation, which now comes in terms of gateway organisations, number of job placements applied for, sector information and so on, will be shared with mayoral combined authorities such as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority so that they are able to identify gaps that may then require more local partnership intervention?
I am sure that, like me, the Minister wants to ensure that kickstart works for disabled people. I would like to know whether the Government have carried out an equality impact assessment of this scheme, and whether they will publish it. Will they also commit to the following: support from Access to Work from day one of employment; access to kickstart for recipients of employment and support allowance; and disability awareness training for all employment advisers? These small changes could help to ensure that every young person is able to benefit from kickstart.
It is great to hear that progress is being made on that, and I am sure the Minister would agree that its success depends not just on quantity, but quality. Can she confirm what measures are being taken to ensure that these coaches have the right experience and training to ensure that they provide real value? In recognising that people will have vastly different needs, what will be done to ensure that they are connected with the right coach, rather than just a coach?
I am encouraged to hear about the progress being made on the kickstart scheme. Does my hon. Friend agree that schemes that provide young people with not only a job placement and coaching but wider personal skills training and even opportunities for social action are more likely to be successful in equipping young people for their careers and incentivising employers to keep them on?
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and appreciate the work that the Department is doing in this important area. Youth unemployment remains a challenge in Workington. Can she outline the steps that her Department is taking to assist my young constituents at a local level?
There is no doubt that the universal credit system has stood up well to the unprecedented increase in demand placed on it this year, including by being flexible and responsive in the way that the Minister described. Will she join me in thanking the staff at the UC service centre in St Austell, which I believe is the busiest and best performing service centre in the country, for their excellent hard work and dedication this year? Does she share my concern that all we hear from the Opposition is dragging down the system, which is working so much better than the legacy system we inherited, and while they call for it to be scrapped, they never say what they would replace it with?
My hon. Friend will be aware that since March, because of covid, youth unemployment in my constituency of Harlow has, sadly, risen by 134%. Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the extraordinary work of the Harlow jobcentre, and to the education, skills and training provided by Harlow further education college, which will be at the forefront of creating jobs? Can she set out how Harlow businesses can access the kickstart scheme and the apprentice funding announced by the Chancellor?
Nearly 15,000 people are relying on the inadequate support provided by universal credit. So, to get a grip of the jobs crisis, what discussions is the Minister having with the Chancellor regarding reasons for using the furlough scheme to keep people in work and to incentivise employers to use it as flexibly as possible—for example, to allow workers at risk of redundancy a trial period in a new role, rather than proceeding to make them redundant?
The Government’s investment in work coaches is hugely welcome. I have seen for myself what an important role they play in helping people into new roles and careers in Workington. Will the Minister join me in encouraging people across the country to consider joining the DWP as a work coach? (909508)