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Eye Clinics

10.12 pm

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to present this petition tonight on behalf of the people of Bromsgrove and Redditch. They are concerned about the prospective loss of their eye clinics, especially given that they raised some £70,000 to pay for eye treatment to be delivered locally. The petition of the people of Bromsgrove and Redditch declares:

To lie upon the Table.

Crown Post Office

10.13 pm

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): This petition is presented by the residents of Croydon and others, supported by more than 4,000 people. It declares that the petitioners object to the Post Office's proposal to close east Croydon's Crown post office and states:

To lie upon the Table.

30 Jan 2002 : Column 397

Inner Cities

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Dan Norris.]

10.14 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): It gives me great pleasure to have secured this debate, and I want to focus on how we should strive to break the cycle of poverty in our inner cities. Poverty manifests itself in a number of ways: lack of access to good-quality housing, poor health, high levels of unemployment, low rates of pay, high crime rates, and poor educational performance. Unlike the Tories, the Labour party believes that poverty breeds further poverty, that unemployment can lead to crime, and that living in poor, overcrowded housing can result in poor health and have a detrimental effect on a child's education. Each aspect of poverty is linked, and we cannot effectively tackle one aspect without tackling all of them.

I want to use the debate to focus on the effects of unemployment on our inner cities, and to consider how poverty affects pensioners, who have passed employment age, and children, who have yet to reach it. I shall focus on my constituency, but I shall also use our experiences in Glasgow to examine the position more broadly in Scotland and in the United Kingdom as a whole. Above all, I want to use this opportunity to pose questions and to offer solutions.

Our children are our future, so tackling childhood poverty is crucial, not least because our children need and deserve to grow up in a secure and protective environment, and because childhood experience lays the foundations for later life. Children's experiences and their outcomes in later life are fundamentally influenced by their family circumstances. Children growing up in low-income households are more likely to have poor health, do badly at school, get involved in crime and later in life become unemployed and earn lower wages. That is why I welcome the pre-Budget report "Tackling child poverty".

I welcome the excellent start that the Government have made. Families with children in the poorest fifth of the population are now on average £1,700 a year better off. There have been increases in child benefit, and the introduction of the children's tax credit has been announced. There are now 1.2 million fewer children in poverty as a result of the measures that we have introduced since 1997. If we are to reach our target of halving child poverty by 2010, we must ensure that this programme continues, that progress is regularly monitored, and that the initiatives are implemented as a result of changing circumstances.

I should now like to consider how poverty affects our pensioners. My constituency has one of the highest concentrations of people aged over 60, not only in the UK but in Europe. Almost a third of the electorate are over the age of 60. I wholeheartedly welcome initiatives such as the minimum income guarantee and the pensioner credit, which have taken some of our poorest pensioners out of poverty.

Although I realise that the introduction of the stakeholder pension will ensure that future pensioners have an income that will protect them, a great many elderly people in Glasgow, Anniesland do not have any pension other than the state pension. The Government

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must ensure not only that we protect future pensioners, but that the needs of today's pensioners are recognised and addressed.

Approaches are being taken to ensure that successful regeneration is shared by our citizens and, in particular, helps unemployed people get back into work. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) has an Adjournment debate on Friday, and she will draw attention to the problem of unemployment in Glasgow. I shall focus on a few key areas.

I have had a long-standing interest in schemes designed to reduce unemployment, particularly the intermediate labour market and transitional employment initiatives. The Wise group pioneered the ILM approach in Glasgow some 18 years ago, and local authority housing was insulated and improved at the same time. From 1996 to 2001, ILM projects in Glasgow ensured that some 7,500 long-term unemployed people found jobs.

Glasgow's economy has been doing rather well in recent years. The number of jobs in the city rose by 8 per cent. between 1996 and 2001—from 346,000 to 375,000, which is an increase of 29,000 jobs. Over the same period, the number of jobs in Scotland as a whole grew by only 0.2 per cent. Registered unemployment in Glasgow has fallen from 32,000 in 1996 to the current figure of 18,000, which is a fall of 44 per cent. compared with 34 per cent. for Scotland as a whole.

Despite that initially positive picture, it must be remembered that the starting point is poor. The unemployment rate in Anniesland is 6.9 per cent., more than double the national average, and some areas in Glasgow still have some of the worst unemployment levels in the United Kingdom. Despite a recent upturn in its economic performance, parts of Glasgow are missing out. In its deprived areas there are social inclusion partnerships, known as SIPs, where additional help is given. There are two SIP areas in Anniesland, but that is not enough.

In some parts of Glasgow the average employment rate is only 33 per cent., compared with a Scottish average of 78 per cent. The employment rate in Glasgow as a whole is only 58 per cent. Why are parts of the city not benefiting from the recent economic upturn? One reason is that about half the jobs belong to commuters, who work in Glasgow but do not live there. The other main reason, on which I shall focus, relates to the large number of people receiving some form of income support.

In 1999, 19,000 people were officially registered unemployed but more than double that number—39,000—were claiming incapacity benefit. A further 19,000 were receiving lone parent premium, and 42,000 were receiving other benefits. That amounts to a grand total of 119,000. The officially defined unemployed form only 16 per cent. of the total number of unemployed people in the city.

That is partly due to the last Government's manipulation of the unemployment figures. They deliberately moved people out of those figures, and into the benefit figures. Those unregistered unemployed people would be better described as the hidden unemployed. Incapacity benefit claimants, in particular, significantly outnumber the officially registered unemployed in Glasgow. Even if we accept that many of the hidden unemployed could work given suitable support and opportunities and that real medical, physical or social

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reasons prevent many others from entering the labour market, that still leaves a large number who are unemployed and capable of work, but not included in the official unemployment figures.

Some may ask whether this really matters. I happen to think that it does. If Glasgow's employment rate is to get anywhere near the Scottish average, we must find ways of helping the hidden unemployed to get into work. Glasgow needs more of its people to be actively engaged in the labour market.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Is not one of the barriers the high rent and council tax in Glasgow? The loss of rebates is a serious disincentive to becoming employed. Glasgow city council has come up with a useful proposal that would allow them to be continued for those who stay in work, but a council tax cut is also needed. Glasgow needs a fair share of the money that is available.

John Robertson: That is an excellent point. It is part of the reason why people get into such a state with the benefits system. My hon. Friend has obviously read part of my speech, although I did not let him see it in advance.

At present most schemes designed to help unemployed people are restricted to the officially registered unemployed, but in Glasgow, as I have said, there are far more unregistered unemployed residents. Many more unemployed people, both registered and unregistered, need to work in the city to get near the Scottish average employment rate. Does it make sense for so many Government and European schemes to be artificially restricted to helping jobseekers alone?

There are some signs that things are changing—for example, the new deal for the disabled with its emphasis on incapacity benefit claimants, and the action teams for jobs with their remit to assist the workless. But given the nature of unemployment in Glasgow and the number of unregistered unemployed people, we need more flexibility to use existing systems or new programmes to help that large group.

In the 1990s, the economic development agenda in Glasgow tended to focus on measures designed to reduce the official unemployment rate. That agenda needs 21st century ideas to concentrate on a more subtle strategy designed to increase the city's employment rate. Glasgow's economic potential cannot be effectively maximised until we get significantly more of our residents into work. Getting on one's bike to look for work is not the answer for those people. The last Conservative Government caused the problem and the Labour Government need to solve it. ILMs and transitional employment initiatives have a key role in implementing that agenda by focusing on those furthest removed from the labour market—what some call the hard-core, long-term unemployed.

Some pioneering developments involving ILMs are being developed by Glasgow city council in partnership with other local agencies. A proposal called the Glasgow full employment initiative is being developed, which aims to create full employment in specified deprived parts of the city. Each scheme would cover 400 to 500 households.

Within full employment areas, there would be a commitment that individuals or indeed whole households would be offered a regular job with continued after-care

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support, or a subsidised job with a full wage through an ILM scheme. They would be offered quality support and advice to overcome barriers to employment and full access to and integrated support from all existing employment services already available in the area.

If people later lost their job, the FEA would start them straight away in other alternative employment, which may be on an ILM scheme. The aim is that people will never again have to go on the dole. In effect, the FEAs would be offering a job guarantee. I would be interested to know whether the Minister can find ways to support that initiative.

The work of the FEAs will also involve proposals to the Scottish Executive and the UK Government for a pilot actively to use unemployment benefit and/or income support in a benefits transfer package. Technically, the legislation already exists to do that. At present, that is only available to registered unemployed working links clients. Permission will be sought for a benefits transfer pilot to be available to all the unemployed people with the FEA—registered and non-registered unemployed.

Glasgow's unemployment problems cannot be easily solved without changes at a national level in terms of the welfare structure and the avoidance of benefit traps. However, that does not mean that nothing should be tried locally to achieve full employment in deprived areas.

I think the Minister will agree that we need more flexible and innovative local labour market measures. We need fewer one-size-fits-all, top-down imposed approaches and we need to break down the artificial barriers that mean that help is available only to the registered unemployed and not to the non-registered unemployed. We need more freedom to explore the active use of unemployment and income support payments to meet individual employment and training needs.

There is no quick fix or magic cure as regards the best way to relieve poverty for the young, the old or, for that matter, the long-term, hard-core unemployed. For those furthest removed from the labour market, we will continue to need an array of different approaches and measures. However, I am sure that within the economic development toolkit there will always be a place for ILM or transitional employment type measures. The Minister will, I hope, be interested in what I have said about Glasgow's latest efforts in that regard.

The old adages, "No experience, no work" and "You need a job to get a job" still hold true for many people in Glasgow and other UK cities, particularly those furthest removed from the labour market. Because ILMs tackle that issue head on and provide unemployed people with much needed work experience, they must continue to be a major plank in economic development policies for cities. ILMs are not competing with the work first approaches of the employment zones or action teams for jobs. Instead they should be seen as complementary. Indeed, why not refer all those people who are failing to get jobs through the employment zones, action teams for jobs or the new deal to an ILM straight away?

I have raised important questions and, I hope, some solutions. They are a blueprint not just for Glasgow; I believe they could be developed in any of our inner cities. To use that much used saying, much has been done but there is much to do. I want to see this Government do it.

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10.30 pm

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