Page last updated at 22:14 GMT, Monday, 23 January 2012

Labour urges action on youth unemployment

Labour has called for "urgent action" to tackle youth unemployment during an opposition day debate on 23 January 2012.

Opening the debate, shadow chief secretary Rachel Reeves condemned what she described as a failure to act on youth unemployment, describing the most recent figures as "shocking".

Statistics released from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds hit a record high of 1.043 million in the three months to November.

Ms Reeves called on the government to enact Labour's five-point plan to "get people back to work" and "get the economy moving", and accused Conservative MPs of being "in denial".

Intervening, Conservative MP Graham Stuart called for "a degree of humility", asking: "Would you recognise every Labour government in history has ended with higher unemployment at the end than it started with at the beginning?"

But Ms Reeves disagreed, saying: "Unemployment has reached three million on two occasions, both under Conservative governments. At the last election, unemployment was falling. Today unemployment is rising."

She claimed the jobs crisis was a result of the choices the government had made, and accused ministers of implementing budget cuts "too far and too fast".

Very little was being asked of those with the "broadest shoulders", Ms Reeves argued.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander claimed the previous Labour government oversaw a 40% rise in youth unemployment.

He said the government's £1bn Youth Contract programme would help up to 500,000 young people find education and employment opportunities.

"Across the wider economy we are doing everything that we can to foster renewed prosperity, create new jobs across the UK and return the country to sustainable growth," Mr Alexander told MPs.

Mr Alexander said the government was taking "tough decisions" to tackle excessive levels of executive pay, arguing the highest paid "cannot be disconnected from reality".

The previous Labour government had, he claimed, presided over the growth of a "distorted culture" of "bonus entitlement" in the banking sector.

"After 13 years of Labour government we have gone some way to dismantling that culture... but we accept there is a long way to go to fundamentally change attitudes to pay," he told MPs.

MPs went on to reject Labour's motion, which called on the government to take action on youth unemployment and introduce a tax on bankers' bonuses, by 302 votes to 225, majority 77.

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