HC Deb 22 July 1980 vol 989 cc253-4
4. Mr. Sever

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many persons are registered as unemployed at the Birmingham Soho Road employment office; and what percentage of that figure is constituted by ethnic minorities.

Mr. Jim Lester

At 8 May, the latest date for which unemployment figures for ethnic minority group workers are available, the number of people registered as unemployed in the Handsworth employment office area was 4,729 of which 43.3 per cent were of ethnic minority origin.

Mr. Sever

The Minister will be aware that this figure represents a substantial proportion of the local population on the dole in that area. Will he, with his right hon. and hon. Friends, undertake to introduce immediate policies designed to create jobs and employment opportunities in the centres of our big cities, especially to take in those who are disadvantaged in many respects, other than job opportunities, in the ethnic minorities?

Mr. Lester

Yes. We take this matter seriously. One has to put this figure against the actual number in the ethnic minorities living in the community. The most reliable figure that I can obtain for the Handsworth area is that the ethnic minorities represent about 50 per cent. of the population. One has to judge the figures against that.

The hon. Gentleman asks what can be done in inner cities to ease the problem. We are spending £ 16.1 million this year on the inner city programme for Birmingham of which this is part. Special schemes are being run by ethnic minorities in areas to help meet the problem. The TOPS measure is used considerably by ethnic minorities. In fact, 81 per cent. of those finishing TOPS courses in March 1980 came from the ethnic minorities. All our measures, including the youth opportunities programme and the STEP programme, are designed for all races. [Hon. Members: "They are being cut."] They are not. The are being expanded in inner city areas.

Mr. Snape

Is the Minister not aware that unemployment among black youths is the greatest social problem facing Handsworth and the adjacent borough of Sandwell? His reply is complacent. to say the least. The National Front is again rearing its ugly head in an attempt to stir up racial problems in the area. The hon. Gentleman should consult his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to see what action the Government can take to solve the problem. At present, the Government appear to be contributing to it.

Mr. Lester

I reject the charge of complacency. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made clear where we stand on the question of ethnic minorities within the community. The report on Handsworth, in terms of criminal acts and vandalism, was produced in 1977, during the period of the hon. Gentleman's own Government. I did not see any great action following that report.

Mr. John Grant

A month ago, before today's appalling unemployment figures were announced, the Minister said at the Dispatch Box that he would be taking new initiatives in this area. What has he been doing for the last month? Sleeping? Where are these new initiatives? What is he doing about the points raised with him by the Commission for Racial Equality on what is probably the most potentially explosive social issue arising over unemployment?

Mr. Lester

The hon. Gentleman should know that instant solutions are not the answer. We met the Commission for Racial Equality and we are considering the paper that it put before us. It is essential that any schemes that are introduced are not racially orientated, but are available for all people.