HC Deb 22 April 1980 vol 983 cc199-202
5. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of unemployed people in the United Kingdom; and how many are under 25 years of age.

Mr. Prior

At 10 April, the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom was 1,522,921. An age analysis of this figure is not yet available, but about one in three are under 25.

Mr. Canavan

Will the Secretary of State come clean and admit that the Government have finally abandoned even the pretence of attacking unemployment and are instead attacking the victims of unemployment by reducing their job opportunities and their benefits? The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that one in three of the unemployed are young people under 25 years of age. In view of the fact that this number is likely to increase to even more alarming proportions, so that thousands—possibly over a million—young people will be unemployed and roaming the streets, will the right hon. Gentleman say when the Government will finally abandon their strategy of using unemployment as an economic weapon?

Mr. Prior

The Government are not using unemployment as an economic weapon. The effect of the policies that the Government are adopting are more likely to lead to sustained employment than the sort of measures taken by the previous Government.

Mr. Alan Clark

Does my right hon. Friend reflect on the increasing number of unemployed people who were formerly in work making things that are now being made abroad and imported into this country without let or hindrance? Does he reflect on the fact that there is a traditional and historic Tory remedy to correct this situation?

Mr. Prior

I reflect on a number of Tory remedies to correct what my hon. Friend speaks about. If my hon. Friend is talking about import controls, he should address his remarks to the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

While many hon. Members do not believe that short term measures are necessarily the answer to all our problems and feel that there is no substitute for a real job, may I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind, in future deliberations with his colleagues, that some of us were disappointed by his decision to scrap the small firms employment subsidy and the job release scheme? This decision will hit particularly hard some young people who are unemployed in the difficult regions. Will he consider these measures once again?

Mr. Prior

The number of people being aided in one way or another by Government measures is 401,000. That does not reduce the number on the unemployment register by 401,000. The registrable effect is somewhere in the region of 192,000. This shows that the Government are giving considerable aid, through a whole range of policies, to try to help with the unemployment problem.

Mr. Marlow

Will my right hon. Friend consider gradually extending the Manpower Services Commission youth opportunities programme into a system of national community service, whereby young people would have the opportunity to work, socially and environmentally, within the community and possibly in a cadet form of national service? This would bring together people from different backgrounds and, perhaps, solve some of the problems exhibited in Bristol not long ago.

Mr. Prior

It would be very expensive. My hon. Friend must recognise that a considerable increase in public expenditure would be involved. In the meantime, we have increased the youth opportunities programme by 25 per cent. this year compared with last year. The more that we can divert the effort of the youth opportunities programme into social work, home insulation work, and so on—and that is beginning to take place—the better for the whole community.

Mr. Harold Walker

The right hon. Gentleman refutes the charge that the Government are using unemployment as an economic weapon, but will he recall that when the House debated employment and training a month ago he confirmed to me that the Government were relying entirely on unemployment as a means of getting down the level of wage settlements?

Mr. Prior

I certainly never said that. The right hon. Gentleman is clearly putting words into my mouth. The financial and monetary policy operated by the Government is precisely the same as that operated by the previous Government. I remember well Mr. Jenkins of The Guardian accusing the previous Government at the time of using unemployment as an economic weapon. The Government resisted it at the time as I do now.

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